How to photograph more natural smiles

As well as being a professional photographer capturing families and children outdoors, I also teach Mums and Dads how to get the best from their DSLR cameras including how to capture beautiful, natural smiles from their children.

My first bit of important advice I can give is to create as fun an environment as possible and try not to use the word CHEESE! My favourite images from both photo shoots and when I’m out snapping images of my own children, are often the in-between shots where they are not thinking about the camera and are just enjoying themselves. The trick is to make taking photos fun.

Here are some of my top tips for capturing natural smiles and games and I play to deliver natural-looking ,fun images.

X marks the spot

I use this all on the time on photo shoots as younger children really don’t want to spend time sitting down waiting for you to take a photo! I work out where I want to take my photo, take at test shot to check I’m happy with where I am sitting, and then I place 2 sticks to make an X on the ground. I tell the kids that this is a game where they have to race to the spot, sit down for the count of 5, and then they can run off any play again. Inevitably the first shot is a write off as they collide, and the last shot is usually them speeding off with half a leg in the frame, but within the middle shots there will be a keeper where the kids are counting and laughing at the same time.

Image source: Nina Mace Photography
Image source: Nina Mace Photography

 Reverse psychology

This works with most children I meet – If you ask them NOT to do something (in a slightly fun voice) they will always be tempted to do exactly that! I say to the kids that “whatever they do I do NOT want them to smile”. I then start saying “hang on, I can see one sneaking out there” and we always end up with lots of natural laughter.

Image source: Nina Mace Photography
Image source: Nina Mace Photography

Let the kids be kids!

I use taking photos with my kids as an opportunity to just go out and have some fun. As we have had some gorgeous sunny evenings recently, we have been visiting our local parks and have been playing down by the local river. Paddling and looking for fish was great fun and I dressed the kids in clothes I wasn’t worried about getting wet or dirty. I have some lovely images of my kids really being themselves and it was a fun family evening for us.

Image source: Nina Mace Photography
Image source: Nina Mace Photography

Playgrounds are also generally great for taking photos in. There are lots of great shapes in the playing frames for interesting compositions, and swings make for a great photo and lots of natural smiles.

Image source: Nina Mace Photography
Image source: Nina Mace Photography

Finally, don’t stop shooting

Most digital cameras will have a continuous shooting function which I like to call paparazzi mode. It’s when you keep your finger down on the shutter and the camera keeps taking photos until you release it. For example on all of my Canon cameras I have changed my settings from one shot to continuous shooting. If I want, I can still take only one shot by depressing my finger once and then lifting it up but if I want to take more I can. To find out how to change the settings on your camera just google the model and make along with the words multiple shots or continuous shooting.

Had a go at some of the tips and games I’ve described?  I’d love to know how you get on so let me know in the comments section below.

Nina Mace

Nina Mace is an award-winning children's photographer who also trains beginner parents and professional photographers. Her work has been recognised by the Guild of Professional Photographers when she won Children's Photographer of the Year. Her work has also been featured in magazines and blogs including Child Photo Contest and Vogue. To see more of her work visit Nina Mace Photography


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