This one is for all the parents out there who want to get more “natural” looking expressions from their little (and in some cases not so little) ones.
Patience is a virture and without a doubt the trick to getting “the shot” or even better “the shots” is to be PATIENT! You cannot “order up” the perfect expression from your subject(s) … take your time. Let them warm up to you. Given that pro photographers often take 100 frames for every keeper image, you can press that shutter button as often as you like!
The following advice applies, in general, to children older than 3 years. Under this age you probably want to just point and shoot. Almost everything they do is “natural” in those early years and they really don’t take direction all that well either.
Generally, when you ask a young one to smile you will be smiling too, as rarely are they really understanding the meaning of the word. They will mimic their trusted parent? Since a lot of early learning is by repetition if your smile is forced or more a grimace then that is what you’ll get in return.
Try a little reverse psychology. Ask your subject(s) not to smile, but to give you a “serious” face, with you putting on a corresponding “serious” face. You are going to get a wide range of “looks” on this one. Generally, you are looking for dreamy look, which often happens as they transition from one “face” to another. Given that they will be trying all sorts of “faces” for you, go crazy on that shutter release. For DSLR users remember you need to anticipate their expression and press the shutter early rather than later as the mirror swings up and blocks of your view of the exact moment the picture is taken. Mirrorless cameras that have an electronic viewfinder don’t suffer from this problem. Plus they are quieter in operation too.
Always make a portrait session fun. If you try and over direct the child(ren) they will start to freeze up at the sight of your camera or even hide from just hearing that you want to take some pictures. A portrait session shouldn’t last more than 10 to 15 ins and even if they appear happy to continue close it down anyway and let them know they can do it again soon.
Want a laughing shot? Acting the goofy fool or having an accomplice doing silly things should evoke a grin from your subject(s) and is another way of keeping your young subjects engaged in the process without stressing them out.
With older children (and sadly with many adults) you should always do a bit of an act of what you want, throw in exaggeration and they will probably hit the right “note” for you as they wont go as far as you did in demonstrating. Result, natural looking expression. And that is your objective!
I have no idea where the “Say Cheese!” instruction came from but it is guaranteed to produce a forced smile. Some photographers have their personal favorite saying to try and get the subjects to smile in a natural way. Any word that forms a more oval mouth is better than “cheese”, get them to say “plum” or “oats” as an experiment. Another way to loosen your subjects up is to use a remote control and give it to them. They often become fascinated that they can control your camera without touching and the sudden blink of the shutter firing draws their focus deep into the camera, which is where they should be focusing (unless you are trying for the “look over there” gaze.
You know you are on the right track when the whole face is engaged in a smile. You can’t miss it when it happens.
Sometimes an “engaged” look is really what you after. Get your subjects involved in their favorite pastime/hobby and set your focal length to more than 100mm and stand back.
So in a nutshell, keep your photo session(s) short, don’t give very specific directions but do demonstrate the “look” you are looking for. Use a bit of misdirection to get them to look away from the camera or use the remote release trick to really get them au naturale. If they have a favorite toy make sure they either have it or it is close by sometime their playing will produce the delight in their face that you are looking for.
Although Mosaic Images Photography’s focus is on wildlife, landscape, streetscapes and abstract you can find great prints or Instant Downloads (for your screen saver or digital photo frame/TV) at Mosaic Images Photography website to make a splash on a blank wall you have at home or office.