I love photographing families and children. I love getting to meet some gorgeous kids and lovely parents. I love creating beautiful portraits that you can hang on the well or keep forever in a photo book to treasure the memories in days to come.
But there is one thing I hate about my job... I call it the cheese grimace!
You know the one; your gorgeous child normally has the most beautiful natural smile, but in photos they stretch their face, pulling back their cheeks as wide as they can to show off every single tooth in their mouth! If you need an example, witness the image to the left (my own son; oh, the photographer's shame!). It just doesn't look natural (compare to the image below which is much more relaxed and natural).
And yet, I've found that more than half of all children will pull this face at some point - most usually between the ages of about 2 and 6. Some do it when we say 'cheese', and some do it whenever a camera is pointed in their direction...
...Which can make my job a little difficult, but as a professional photographer I have my ways round this little obstacle. So I'm sharing with you some simple dos and don'ts for your family photoshoot to ensure we get natural beautiful smiles and avoid the cheese grimace!
The first bit of advice I'd offer is to trust your photographer. With my years of experience as a family photographer, come not only technical skills of using a camera and crafting light, but also the knack of engaging with kids and getting natural reactions from them.
I've seen the cheese grimace countless times, but I have many ways to encourage natural smiles and reactions. Leave it with me, I will chat to your kids, tell them jokes, play games and you'll get beautiful portraits of natural smiles. I only need a smile for a split-second and I can capture it in an image - even if it seems like they're not smiling much, please trust me and resist the temptation to say cheese.
Some kids may be a little more reticent, and I may ask for your help to get them smiling and laughing, sometimes this will be singing songs or make faces behind me - I'll let you know when I need help, and I'll give you some tips on what I'd like you to do (usually, it will be making a fool of yourself - kids love it when mums and dads get silly!).
When the cheese grimace shows its face, parents sometimes panic. They're thinking 'I want natural portraits of my gorgeous child, I don't want to hang that cheese face on the wall' and so they say "don't smile" or "don't make that face". This is just going to confuse your child. They think they're meant to smile for the camera, then they're told not to.
The best course of action is not to draw attention to it - if they start to act and behave naturally, without thinking about how they look or trying too hard to smile, then natural reactions are what I'll capture.
If I were to tell you to "just look natural" or "try to smile normally", the chances are you'd tot ally forget what natural or normal even look like. You'd probably start concentrating really hard on how you're smiling and, by trying to be natural, you'll become less so. Whilst 'looking natural' is exactly what we want them to do, telling someone to do it, especially a child, and expecting them to be able to act upon it is really hard.
My goal is natural, I'm aiming for 'normal' smiles, but I'll find my ways to coax them out without asking for it explicitly. Leave it with me - my aim is for us all to have fun during the photo session and the relaxed laughter, giggles and smiles should just happen.
If you're relaxed, your children will relax too. Have fun, go with the flow and enjoy your photo session. But, please, don't say cheese!