How to get a natural expression when photographing kids

Life Looks LIke Week 34 | Down Cellar Studio

Have you ever asked a kid to smile and say cheese and got the most horrendous, unnatural, photo that looks nothing like the child you know? Of course you have. We all have.

So I stopped. I literally never ask the kids to look at Auntie Jen and smile. Why? Because they either rebel and look away or if they do look at me, I get a fake, awkward expression that drives me crazy. The result is that neither of us is happy and that’s not the experience I want for them to have with the camera.

The Alternative? Make it conversational

Kids love to tell you what they’re doing. Here are some examples of my asking my nieces and nephews questions about what’s going on, what they’re holding, what kind of progress they’re making on something and the resulting expression that can achieve.

  • Me: “Riley, what are you up to?”
  • Riley: “Swimming!” {Tone: Are you kidding me? You know what I’m doing, silly!}


  • Me: “Aila, can I see your necklace?”
  • Aila: “Sure, Auntie! See? It’s pretty!!”


  • Me: “Teaghan, can I see your cake?”

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  • Me: “Oisin, how many blueberries have you picked?”
  • Oisin: “THIS many!”

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  • Me: “Kids, show me your new horses!”

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  • Me: “Aila, whatcha painting there munchkin?”

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It’s such a simple trick, and I’ll be honest and tell you it doesn’t work 100% of the time, but most of the time, the child gets caught up in answering the question or showing you the thing they’re making/using/learning that they just light up. Capture THAT moment and I promise you’ll be happier with your photos.

BONUS Tip for Photographing Kids:

  • Get down on their level. Standing over a child at your natural height can cause all sorts of problems with shadows and angles. If you really want to capture a child’s true expression in most cases it’s ideal to get a direct shot of their face. So squat down, or sit across from them at the table. That tiny bit of extra effort will yield impressive results.

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