When I first started photographing kids, I was sometimes a little baffled by how to get a genuine smile from them. Especially from those who are old enough to “Smile on Demand.” While the Smile on Demand (S.O.D.) is ok, as a parent, I myself want to have the genuine look of joy my kids exude frozen in time forever in a photograph, and I love giving that gift to other parents.

Every kid is different and what works for some will not work for others. But for most kids (and even adults) who seem to be giving me that S.O.D., I’ve devised a little trick for getting kids to smile naturally in photos 99% of the time. I call it the Serious Face. It’s so simple and it’s effective on most anyone who isn’t a trained model or actor. Here’s how it works.


Here’s the Smile on Demand. Not bad. Still super cute. But it’s missing that genuine, real smile quality. Every mom can tell if her kid is really smiling or fake smiling in a photo. I’ll let you in on a little secret, too. If you have 10 technically perfect photos that don’t have that genuine smile, and one slightly blurry one with the “real” smile, moms will pick the imperfect one every time. I would anyway.


Now, here’s what I do. I ask the kids to give me a serious face. You could also try mad face, clown face, etc. But I find asking for the serious face to work best. Here’s why. From my own research, not many people, especially kids, can hold a serious face on demand without laughing. It’s almost impossible. Here’s what happens…


Seconds after giving me the serious face, a slight smile starts to creep in. They can’t hold it! I’ll even say “hold the serious face! Don’t smile!”


Then they laugh. It happens every time. You have to try it.


But it’s not the laugh we’re after. It’s that real smile that shows up a split second after they are done laughing. Watch for it. Keep your camera ready. Have your settings dialed in so you’re ready to go. Sometimes I’ll even set my camera to continuous shutter so I can just hold it down and make sure I capture every frame for those few seconds.


Here’s the before and after. It’s a very subtle difference, but one that can set you apart from those photographers who aren’t able to capture this kind of expression. It’s one more reason parents will hire you, because try as the might, they can’t get this kind of photo with their cell phone.


Guess, what? The Serious Face trick works on many adults as well! Learn more ideas for getting a natural expression from adults in our Natural Light Couples Workshop DVD and my favorite, Photography 101.

CREDITS: Photographs by Tanya Smith are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.