So I guess this also applies to adults as well! But I am mostly interested in 3-10 year old children who may need different techniques than older children and adults

My kid has recently taken to wearing a super wide, cheesy, very fake looking smiles when posing for photos.

I would like to teach them to use a genuine smile when posing*. Which they do have when they excited/happy, (but not posing).

I recall my Dad trying to teach me, and also recall it being a rather laborious and unpleasant experience. So I would some pro-tips on how to teach my kid, and other young subjects/models to smile nicely.

Any tips on coaching kids, to use a nice non forced looking, smile?

*Being able to smile warm and genuinely, is a very useful life skill; so I would like them to be able to use this skill for times outside photographic posing as well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the onus is more on the photographer to use their charm and wit to make the subject smile naturally rather than having to force it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Feb 2, 2020 at 19:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mr_Thyroid Un huh. So any tips on wielding ones charm and wit, to encourage someone to smile naturally? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2020 at 1:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DarcyThomas Jokes and subterfuge in the answer below just about covers it - or just talk to them, ask them to describe their perfect ice-cream sundae, ask them a stupid hypothetical question - "if you had to be named after a cheese what cheese would you choose?" - anything that distracts them from the ordeal of having their photo taken. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Feb 3, 2020 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Imre Yes useful thanks. I have edited my question to be a bit more specific now. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2020 at 19:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Get it over with quickly. In other words, practice to be fast. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 3, 2020 at 21:57

2 Answers 2


Avoid posing your subjects

You'll get more natural expressions if you can compose shots where the subject is actively doing something, rather than just looking at the camera - and you may well find that these make better scenes for your memories or to share with your friends. So, if you can concentrate on photos of your child concentrating on riding a bike or constructing a model, you might be able to avoid the problem much of the time.


"Smile!" - Click - "Relax!" - Click (the real photo, without the cheesy grin). This works surprisingly well even when your subject has learnt what you're doing. Sometimes I even say that I'm going to take the "real picture" followed by a "fun shot" afterwards. The nice thing here is that when people relax after holding a pose, they tend to retain a natural version of a smile.


The favourite of family photographers everywhere, though largely dependent on whether you have a gift for comedy. I get quite good results with adults by setting them up to pose and then breaking the tension with a gently sarcastic comment, perhaps like, "No, look like you're enjoying this!". I expect some friendly teasing to work well for children, too.

Offline coaching

This part is outside of my experience, but I think it might be possible to change the perception of the camera and get the subject to treat it more like one of their peer group rather than a very critical judge. Perhaps we can try exercising the child's imagination to pretend it's not a big scary black lens. Or, for less imaginative types, attach or hold a favourite toy near the camera (a bit like the old "watch the birdie") to redirect their attention?

With modern equipment, we have some advantages that early photographers didn't: there's no need to hold still for seconds at a time (although we do tend to carry this attitude still). With instant review and almost unlimited exposures, we can chimp the results together with our subjects and discuss which we prefer ("Shall we try another like this one?").


It's hard getting people to relax, and there's a risk that the harder you try, the more tense you and they will both feel. We need a stock of techniques to break the stiffness and let the subject move and breathe naturally.


For a group of kids

  1. Tell them to put an "angry monster face". Take a photo.

  2. Tell them to put a "happy face". Take the photo.

You can play with a lot of concepts.

Sad faces, roaring animals, statues, all heads to the left side (bend, not turn), looking for an UFO in the sky, swimming underwater.

You get the idea.

Some will make a more chaotic group than others, so, depending on the kid's mood and objective of the photo, choose the right concept for the situation.

Just one thing, you need to give clear instructions and be in a "hype" mood like a host of a kid's TV show. Grab their attention before taking the pictures. But you do not have much time, so prepare the camera beforehand.

For one kid alone

If you need more specific photos, like single child portrait, you can in fact guide to the overall pose (sit straight, feet pointing that way) and then tell them to make the most ridiculous face they can.

  • If the kid is shy, the best photo will be the reaction to this request.
  • If the kid is not shy, use the same method as for a group of kids.

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