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From Grumps to Grins

May 11, 2017

Laura Morita

This article was originally published on February 24, 2016 and has been updated to include current product information.

As any parent knows, getting a child to cooperate in front of the camera can be an exercise in futility. Why won't they just do whatever we say and stand wherever we want and smile with just the right number of teeth showing? Do they have to be so difficult? Well, the short answer is yes. They do. So, we can either choose to nag and whine and complain and beg (I'm guilty of all four) or we can try to figure out ways to get them to cooperate.

Whether you are photographing your own kids or someone else's, sometimes those kiddos just aren't interested in posing for you, but here are some tricks I use to get cooperative kids.

1) Play with them

Seems simple, but it's so easy to forget. Kids might not be interested in standing there and saying cheese. In fact, please avoid ever telling your child to say "cheese" unless you want fake smiles. Play with them, and you'll get perfectly natural smiles. If you can engage them in things they like, you'll love the results.

2) Take a lot of pictures

Getting that perfect smile and expression doesn't happen with just one click of the shutter. I often take an entire series of images, just waiting to capture that perfect one. I don't always start out getting what I'm looking for.

You can see here how excited my son was when I told him to sit right next to his sister.
I mean, really, how could I torture him???

But I kept plugging away. I got the cheesy smile...

I got the scared kid. Jeez, my kid is weird...

I got the questions..."why must you torture meeeee?"

And then finally, the stars aligned, and I got natural expressions from both my kids. This is hanging on my wall. I shot 44 pictures to get this shot. And in the process, I got many others that also capture the personality of my kids. Don't always just look for that perfect smile. You'll find that you often love the ones of your kids showing their personality so much better than the one of them smiling stiffly at your camera. 

3) Capture their daily rituals

While there are ways to get your kiddo smiling in a field of flowers with their perfect little outfit, don't forget to capture the little things they do all the time. When they're enjoying their regular activities, they're less likely to care that you have your camera.

4) Capture movement

Kids love to move. And trust me, I know it's hard to capture movement. Many times I have wanted to shout "JUST SIT STILL!!!" But, when do your kids ever really sit still anyway? Get them moving, and you'll capture their childhood. When I know I want to capture movement, I set my shutter speed to at least 1/500sec, maybe even 1/1000 sec. I also might choose a deeper depth of field by setting a smaller f/stop to ensure I get my subjects sharp. This means that I have to increase my ISO, since both a faster shutter speed and a smaller f/stop means I'm letting in less light, but in order to capture movement, it's necessary, and worth a little extra noise (the look of grain in an image), in my opinion.

1/500sec, f/5.6, ISO 1250 with the Canon 5D Mark III and 16-35mm f/2.8L lens at 16mm.
1/800s, f/8.0, ISO 640 with Canon 5D Mark III and 16-35mm f/2.8L lens at 16mm.
5) Be sillier than they are

I swear, this is my best weapon. If you want genuine happy smiles and aren't showing them your smiles, you're in for a battle. Be goofy. The sillier the better. They'll follow you around just waiting for the next silly thing you're gonna do.

6) Let them SCREAM

Sometimes it can be frustrating for a kid to be forced to take a bunch of pictures. Acknowledge it. Let them scream. Let them get their frustrations out, because guess what happens after they scream?

They smile...

8) Bribe

Let's face it. Sometimes kids need a little motivation to cooperate. It's not the end of the world if you slip them a few candies to get them to show their pearly whites. It's entirely possible that I've bribed with more than just a few pieces of candy. Sometimes an ice cream sundae after the session is required. Sometimes.

9) Just take one

Sometimes, you're just not going to get a kid that wants to have their picture taken. Try as you might, sometimes, they just aren't in the mood. In instances like this, maybe you'll be able to get one smiling picture... You have to be ready for it. Get your settings where you want them. Maybe snap a picture to be sure your exposure is what you want.

Plan ahead what your composition is going to be, and if you toggle your AF focal point, put it where you want. When you're ready, say something silly. Get their attention. And be ready to start shooting. You might only get one. But one may be all that you need.

10) Know when to stop

Sometimes, you gotta know when it's time to call it quits. Especially when you're photographing your own kids, if you constantly are pushing them to the brink of insanity, they're gonna crack. You won't get the picture you want, and you'll set them up to start hating your camera. When it's no longer fun, it's time to call it quits. This might mean that you're done for the day, or it might mean that you need to just put down the camera for a little bit while you engage with your child. It can be frustrating when you know they could cooperate and just let you take the stupid, freaking pictures, I mean, come ON. But if you respect their boundaries and don't always push them, you'll have future successes with your camera and child.

Want to learn more about capturing stunning photographs of your kids? Check out this Canon Online Learning course by photographer, blogger, and CDLC contributor Jennifer Borget.

Laura Morita
Laura Morita

Laura, a professional child and family photographer, has a love of photographing children and families that is contagious and hopes to pass on her knowledge to you so that you can take better pictures of your loved ones.

Laura Morita

Laura, a professional child and family photographer, has a love of photographing children and families that is contagious. She also has a love for teaching and enjoys when she sees the lightbulb come on when her students understand a concept. She teaches online editing workshops, presented on child photography and editing at Click Away 2014, and gave several presentations on child photography at Canon's Live Learning San Francisco center in 2014. Her goal is to make the process of photography fun, while still teaching the technical aspects to help your photography go from “blah” to “ta-da!”

Laura began honing her eye for photography long before she knew how to use a camera. She spent years learning from her father, a talented photographer and a natural teacher, who gave slideshows of his slide film when she was younger. Those early lessons on composition, light, and visual impact still influence how she shoots today. He remains her biggest fan and best critic to this day. 

Laura first started shooting with a Canon EOS Rebel when her second child was one year old. For the first year, she kept the dial on “Auto” until she was truly ready to learn how to take control over her camera and have creative freedom. Now, eight years later, she is taking beautifully posed and candid portraits, which are colorful, fun, full of life and, most of all, capture the essence of her subjects. She hopes to pass on her knowledge to you so that you can take better pictures of your loved ones.

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