Motherhood

8 Ways to Take Beautiful Photos of Kids

8 Ways to Take Beautiful Photos of Kids

Do you like taking family photos? Growing up, the only time my family took a real picture was for our annual holiday card. And 100% of the time, you could point out at least one sibling in the midst of a total meltdown. (For two years in a row, it was all three of us.) “Good enough,” I remember my mom saying. Why is getting kids to stand still — let alone to smile on command — so impossible? We asked four family photographers to share their secrets for capturing real moments with kids…

8 Ways to Take Beautiful Photos of Kids

by Nicki Sebastian

Get on their level, literally. “When you’re under three feet tall, there’s nothing more intimidating than someone towering over you with a camera. Getting eye to eye with a child is the best way to ease into their environment. After you’ve been identified as an adult-sized kid, the photography part becomes secondary — which leads to natural photos of children in their element. — Nicki Sebastian

Ask questions.When’s your birthday? What are you going to be for Halloween? What’s your favorite ice cream? When you land on a topic that they’re excited about, ask follow-up questions that get them to that happy place. Kids can’t help lighting up when they’re talking about something they love.”
Christine Han

8 Ways to Take Beautiful Photos of Kids

by Julia Robbs

Play pretend. “To encourage a child to look in a certain direction, ask them questions. I once asked Toby to see if there was a bug on my camera lens and ended up getting this beautiful shot. If I want them to look into the distance, I’ll ask them to try to find birds or planes in the sky.” — Julia Robbs

Just play. “Allow them to play while photographing them. It might take longer to get your ‘shot’ because they can get a little crazy, but you’ll get something genuinely beautiful.” — Julia Robbs

8 Ways to Take Beautiful Photos of Kids

by Nicki Sebastian

Go rogue. “Let them do something they’re normally not allowed to do: jump on the bed, play with their food, stand on the furniture. The newfound freedom will make them beam. Then show them the photos; kids light up when they see themselves in action. If all else fails, a staring contest between siblings always ends with laughter.” — Rebecca Reed

Humor works. “Fellow photographer Jeff Z., who does a ton of school portraits, asks kids to say things like, ‘Stinky cheese! Broccoli cookies! Smelly feet!’ Kids will inevitably crack up. Pick words that rhyme with ‘cheese’ so you their faces go in the direction of a smile.” — Christine Han

by Julia Robbs

Lash it up. “My all-time favorite way to photograph kids is to focus on their eyelashes. I do this with adults, too. To me, it doesn’t matter if they’re looking straight at the camera if I can capture that quiet moment.” — Julia Robbs

Last, but least, go for the gold. “Poop jokes never fail.” — Nicki Sebastian

Do you like taking family photos? Do you have any tips?

P.S. 9 times to take photos of your children, and 11 cool ways to display family photos.

(Top photo by Nicki Sebastian.)

  1. I just had a baby, only a month old…
    I can’t experiment this upto a year, still a great post,**bookmarked**

    The only shoot I had for now is on the my luxury beddings…
    :=D

  2. I have a tradition of making a picture of my son each month on the 17th, the day he was born. Over the years (I’ve been doing it for 18 years), I’ve learned that the best pictures happen when my son is busy doing something he loves.

  3. Jen says...

    Always work:
    1. Tell them whatever they do, do not smile! Under no circumstances, don’t even think about it! When they inevitably do, keep it going: what happened!? I said no smiling allowed!
    2. Get something wrong like the alphabet, or their name, or anything that they think is so silly that you don’t know. Basically, act the fool!
    These not only work for photos, but are a great way to get a kid out of a funk. If my son is grumpy or frustrated or when he meets a new person and is being shy, one of these will perk him up!

  4. I love taking a photo of my three kids in the same place every year. We go to Sardinia every year and I always get a photo of the children sitting on a stone wall outside the kitchen door. There are photos of my sister and I with our cousins on the same wall as children so it means a lot to me. And at Christmas, I always get a shot of the kids sitting on the front step of my parents’ house. It’s so fun to see them grow up in these photos.

    • Taylor says...

      This is so sweet:) We do the same thing, but we do it on our wedding anniversary. There is a photo of the hubs and I on a staircase at the hotel from our wedding, and every year we go back and snap a picture. It’s fun to look at them from just the two of us to all five of us. Maybe one day we’ll get a picture with everyone looking at the camera, smiles would be a unicorn ?

  5. Jenna says...

    I recently discovered a trick with my three year old niece. I simply ask her if there is something on my face, she looks up and focuses right on me. Works every time!

  6. Rose says...

    My friends are always saying I take great pictures of their kids. My tip? Get close. But my real secret is the background: keep it simple, as few elements as possible.

  7. marie says...

    I think the ‘smile’ attitude we tend to have with pictures is totally wrong. Children (and all of us) loose their natural faces – some kids even fake smile as soon as a camera appears. I never ask my daughter to smile for a camera. Never. I even asked my family to stop asking her for a photo smile. We take a lot of pictures. With all sort of expressions. And many of them show a full hearted smile ! Just like this.

  8. Nichole says...

    Great suggestions! Trying them all. . .

  9. Lisa says...

    I read this tip here, and from then on I’ve been telling everyone I know. If you take photos of small children / babies, use the “live shot” setting, and you can go back and select the best frame. Also – they’re mini videos. I was so bummed that I didn’t have many videos of my first born as a baby because … newborns, but when I went back I had taken all these Live Photos so had lots of mini videos, which had all the gurgling sounds and newborn jerky movements
    Other advice that I received (from Bryan Adams of all people … long story) is to try and take as many videos as you can, even short ones. There’s so many cute habits that they have, particularly when very little, that disappear in such a short space of time. It’s nice to have a record of them

    • That is a story I want to hear.

  10. I have a tip that works for adults and kids alike. Just before the shot, get everyone to fake laugh. For adults, it can be a exaggerated posh laugh and for kids more of a evil villain type of laugh. Without fail, those fake laughs turn into real ones. I have the most stunning photos of my whole wedding party ‘fake-laughing’ and now do the same thing with my little boy. The result is always spontaneous and natural. Best of all, I always remember those sweet moments when the fake laughing turned genuine.

  11. Good catch on the super hero jump! It almost looks like real wallpaper :-)…

  12. Beautiful photos! I love capturing the moment like this so much. Thank you for sharing the tips!

  13. My darling 11-month-old son has recently learned to smile intentionally. This involves a lot of teeth and nose crinkles. It looks nothing like his gorgeous spontaneous smile of true delight. But it is adorable in its own special way.

  14. Jill says...

    My dear friend and talented photographer had a tip for taking quick photos of a wiggly toddler. Have them sit down on something a little off the ground.. like a suitcase on its side or a low bench or step. For those few precious seconds they enjoy being propped up long enough to capture a couple non-blurry photos. It has worked for our boy!

  15. These are such helpful tips! Although I don’t really photograph children these will most definitely come in handy if I ever do!
    Thank you so much :)

  16. Stacie says...

    It’s true, poop jokes NEVER fail. For anything. Hahaha

  17. Carly says...

    Give them Cheerios! My favorite photos of my brother and me from when we were babies are the ones where we’re putting a single Cheerio in our mouth in which our mouth makes a sweet ‘O’ shape.

  18. Anne says...

    Would love anyone’s tips or favorite places for getting prints made! Just looking for decent quality for framed photos that won’t cost a small fortune. I have been neglecting this and it makes me sad when I realize I still have basically no photos framed in our house of our little one.

    • frames are the most expensive part, so I like to get cheap frames wherever I can find them (target, yard sale, whatever) and then make prints based on their sizes. as for print quality, I’m a photographer and I use nations photo lab and have always been very pleased as far as quality goes. here’s a link to a breakdown of some printing sites! https://www.pcmag.com/roundup/353850/the-best-photo-printing-services

    • Ellen says...

      We’ve been using Mpix for prints. The quality is just so much richer than what you get at a photo center at your pharmacy these days.

    • Kelly says...

      I really adore artifact uprising! I don’t have a lot of wall space, but I get their heavy prints that are designed to fit into the wooden block. I’ll put my new favorite photo in the block, and the old one goes into an ikea photo box. They’re really true to color, and they hold up well for heirloom level shots. For quick and easy, though, you can’t beat Social Print Studio, which can even use your Instagram account. A mini brag book for grandparents or a mini sticker pack for kids make great gifts!

    • Anne says...

      Thank you! This was helpful!

  19. Laura C. says...

    I usually ask my girls and their friends to say some cartoon name, like “Peppa Pig!” or “Spongebob!”, and they always smile because they don’t expect me to ask them those things.
    What my daughter’s teacher does is to tell them in English, “if you want to smile”, and the kids answer very happily in English, “say CHEESE!”

  20. Tina says...

    No offense, but I was kinda hoping for an all things royal Wedding re-hash post for today!! So, whadja think?!?!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha, we cover motherhood on mondays, but i talked about it on Instagram stories, if you’d like to see!
      https://www.instagram.com/cupofjo/

  21. Jessica G. says...

    We had a photographer ask us to bring candy our kids loved. She held it and dished it out to them as they worked with her for photos. It worked like a charm.

  22. Mac says...

    My photographer friend uses a minion fart gun from the movie Despicable Me and it works like a charm!

    We did family photos last summer with my entire family; parents siblings, grandkids, the works. My 2 year old daughter refused to wear underwear which I didn’t think would be a big enough problem to fight with her about but there are a few good ones ruined with little glimpses of her bare bum!

  23. Jill says...

    Isn’t it always a bummer when photographers don’t know how to get good shots of your kids? My son will not smile on demand no matter the amount of high pitch squeals you make at him. Even less actually! :) Sometimes I just want to tell the person taking pictures to do candids instead!

  24. Kris says...

    I love these suggestions, thank you! My daughter ( 2 1/2) is in a phase where she mostly hides her face when she knows I’m trying to get a photo of her. Rarely will she voluntarily smile, but when she does *heart melts* Usually I yell “oh my god what is that?!” but that trick is getting old, LOL.

  25. Fiona says...

    The words that sound like “cheese” thing made me laugh so much! – When we were little, my sister and I lived in Latin America (a couple different places), and the photographer’s trick was to ask all the little girls their names slowly (Mar EEEEa, SofEEEEEEa etc.), again thinking it made them get their grin on – My sister Heather was caught in full TTTTHHHHHHH and made for the best school pictures :)

  26. kiki says...

    Being one who photographed kids full time for three years before full burn-out (kidding, not kidding), I learned you’ll get 90% of your shots in the first 15minutes. After that, you MIGHT land a golden one, but it’s never guaranteed. Get the “bread and butter shots” right away!! And parents, if you’ve hired a professional photographer, do NOT stand next to them trying to get your kids attention or get them to smile. That will only get you awkward pics of your kids looking just off camera. Stay quiet, still, and out of sight unless the photographer directs you otherwise!

    • t says...

      Yes! In fact when we are doing just kid photos our photographer makes us (parents) leave.

  27. t says...

    Taking a photo of one kid is no problem. It’s two or more when it becomes and issue for us. And in our household we like to send out a family photo holiday card that shows our faces. We are all clearly posing but people that we rarely see enjoy actually ‘seeing’ us on the card.

    The photos I have up in my house are the candid cherished memories. Those darn holiday photos are so tough to get!

  28. Marcie says...

    I have two boys, ages 6 and 4, and when I am trying to get a cute picture, I ask them to make other silly faces. I say “Make a mad face!” “Make a surprised face!” “Pretend you just saw a dinosaur!” and then I ask them to make a happy face. It works!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so cute, marcie!

  29. Sophia F. says...

    My only trick is just to take a miiiillion photos. My high energy four and two year olds will never slow down, so when I decide to take photos I don’t bother trying to get the best shot, I just take twenty in a row of their being themselves, and usually at least one is an in-focus keeper!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!!! i take 20 and figure one might be good, haha.

    • Mina says...

      I do this two, but weirdly, I often find the best shot in the first one or two of the bunch…

  30. jeannie says...

    I love the idea of focusing on eyelashes rather than making someone look at the camera. Interesting post.

  31. Anon says...

    Well fed,well rested kids and plenty of natural light :)]

    2nd picture is so so beautiful..well all of them <3

  32. Anon says...

    Well fed,well rested kids and plenty of natural light :)

    2nd picture is so so beautiful..well of them!

  33. Mel says...

    When I took newborn photos of my son I wanted my 3-year-old to be in some of the photos with him. I made up a joke to get her to relax when she was getting tense – ‘There were 5 dinosaurs in the woods, then one of them… ( I made I farting noise with my mouth)’. I got some of the sweetest and most genuine smiles as she laughed! I never underestimate the power of sillyness when parenting!

  34. Ruth says...

    These are great but authenticity is important. One of my favorite shots of my daughter is when she was 9 months old, in full tears, because we had her try to put her toes in the sand at the beach (the horror!). Obviously I love seeing her sweet smile but pics like this are also so treasured.

    • Louisa says...

      The intro to the post says “secrets for getting joyful reactions from kids” — but none of the featured photos show smiles! – Secretly we all love a more tender photo, I think.

      We just had passport photos done and they require a “neutral” expression. And seeing my 4-year-old daughter try NOT to smile was so hilarious. I will treasure this little mugshot for years remembering her crazy “don’t smile” face!

    • Sophia F. says...

      This! I adore the shot of my then-toddler daughter sobbing covered in espresso grounds that I had just taken away from her. And now that she’s four, she too thinks it’s hilarious.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so sweet, louisa!

    • Anon says...

      The pretzel and beer tears!! ???

    • Congee says...

      Oh my gosh, I remember those pics of little Toby! So melty! I have read your blog for so long! It one of the few I do read, you are like a dear old friend! ❤️

  35. Leah says...

    All of the photos in this blog post are beautiful. That one of Toby makes my heart swell! Thank you for the professional tips, photographers!

  36. Em says...

    Former private school photographer here, I’ve found asking them to tell me their favorite joke works really, really well. I was usually on a time crunch (like, needed to be done in less than 5 minutes) and this never failed. Even with the middle school students :)

  37. Jenny T says...

    Why only try to capture joyful reactions? One of the most beautiful things about kids is that they’re often an open book on the range of human emotion (and sometimes you get to see the whole range in a span of minutes). Of course, capturing hard emotions needs to be done carefully and with respect. But the result is often a whole lot more interesting than a series of only the happy moments.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i agree. we should do another post about that kind of photograph. my friend sharon once had a series of photos (taken gently by a friend at the park) of her comforting one of her sons after he fell down. it was so, so sweet and tender — one of those moments that are so rarely captured but such a big part of motherhood. xoxo

    • Jessica G. says...

      I prefer candids. My walls are covered with them because you can’t beat a true moment of joy on a child’s face. I have pictures of them blowing out their birthday candles, swinging on a swing, jumping on the bed, etc on my walls and love looking at that. I also have pictures of them staring dead on at the camera or snuggling with their dad. Candid, real life moments are just my favorite.

  38. Sandra says...

    Yes, bathroom jokes really are the way to go with our 7 year old. I got the best picture of him and his grandparents because I told them all to smile and say “butts,” or something along those lines. They are all cracking up in the photo.

    But I also prefer the shots that are just natural and genuine. Meltdowns, weird faces, etc., are such a part of early childhood, and I’m glad we have some photos of those moments too.