In a portrait session a few years back I had a mom scream over my shoulder at her kids.  It was like a shockwave hitting me from behind.  The kids smiled, but I didn’t take the image.  I couldn’t.  I was laughing too hard.  One of my natural responses that happens when I’m really uncomfortable and upset and just don’t know what to do.  

I get it, Mom.  You’ve paid thousands in orthodontia.  You got everyone dressed and to the portrait session.  You put up with the comments, the sighs, and the rolling eyes as you drove in a mad dash to the session.  All you wanted was a portrait of your HAPPY family all smiling and looking at the camera.  

The problem.  The smiles aren’t real.  They are not only fake, but they are also painful and look ridiculous when you review them later.  

Let’s take a few moments to help you get what you really want without causing any undue stress on you, your family, or anyone within shouting distance of the session.  Here are a few tips for smiling success!:

  1.  Don’t coach your kids to smile prior to the session.  Everyone smiles naturally.  Smiling is one of the most universal human responses regardless of age, race, culture, or religion.  The way babies get attention from their caregivers at an early age is to smile.  It gets them positive rewards immediately. 
    Having your kids practice their smiles teaches them to pull their lips back over their teeth without actually squinting their eyes.  This is a fake smile and looks more like a grimace.  
  2. Do tell your kids that they are going to have fun and just relax.  Taking the emphasis off of taking portraits is probably the best way to get the child to smile and just have fun.  If they are expecting a reasonably good time, they will most likely have one. 
  3. Don’t put a lot of emphasis on the session.  This is just something that the family is doing.  It will all turn out and be a good time, however, if there is a lot of performance stress being put on the child they will produce a lot of performance anxiety as a result.  Most children will be curious about what is going on.  Certainly, no need to make it a secret and increase anxiety in that manner, but treat it as if you are going to visit a distant relative or family friend that the child has never met.  Something as simply stated as “We are going to have a photograph taken of our family today” is going to provide enough structure for many children without adding more stress.
  4. Do just have fun yourself during the session.  A real professional photographer is skilled at seeing everyone in the portrait individually and interacting with each person as needed to get the right expressions.  As the parent, just allow the photographer to manage the kids, the spouse, and the pets.  This will allow you to be more present in the sitting yourself and respond to the photographer’s cues as things arise. 

The worst-case scenario is that you don’t get images of your family smiling big toothy grins.  Just know that until recently in history teeth in images were actually a forbidden thing.  Just look at images like the Mona Lisa or other famous painted portraits.  Many fine art portraitists to this day believe that a toothy smile degrades the image quality.  Some portraitists actually ask you not to smile in your portraits to produce a more timeless and artistic look.  A good portraitist will try to get smiling, serious, as well as simply relaxed images to find the look that best fits you naturally. 

If you have any other questions about working with family or pets during a session feel free to ask us.  We are always happy to help.    

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