You've booked your family photos, but you're secretly thinking...What if my kids don't smile for the camera?

This is by far one of the most common concerns I get from mamas prior to family photos. You are not alone in wondering this. Now let me tell you the answer to this burning question. The answer is...

picture perfect photos might not happen...and that's ok!

Repeat this 5x over until you start to believe it because this is the honest to goodness truth. Little ones are busy exploring, learning, and interacting, and in general, they have a hard time sitting still, never mind, smiling pretty for the camera. So first things first, let go of all your expectations around that. You'll have a much easier experience when you do.

Besides...who wants those awkward, stiff smiles and poses anyways?! Do those kinds of smiles even make good memories?! Honestly...not really! I'd much prefer the authentic you. Meaning if your little one is feeling shy, let them be shy. If they're feeling snuggly, embrace it. If they are full of energy and won't sit still, roll with it. Hold their hand, run in the field with them, come down to their level and ask them what they've discovered. To me, those are real moments worth capturing and ones that really tell a story.

Beautiful mother daughter embrace during golden hour fall family photos at Glenmore Reservoir.
Beautiful father daughter moment during golden hour fall photo session with Love & Sunshine Photography.

Ok. I get what you're saying, but I still want the smiles. How do I get perfect smiles for my photos?

I will tell you this as a mother of a toddler and an experienced family photographer, my go-to prompt to get natural, beautiful smiles is THE TICKLE!! If I want a smile, I give a tickle (or ask my clients to give one) and there you have it, a genuine smile. This is a NO-FAIL prompt that works EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. (except for that one time with my own ha!) So if you're wondering how to get a smile at home for photos or at a session, don't forget (or underestimate) the tickle.

Other solid choices include:

  • singing/playing a favourite song,
  • bringing along a favourite toy,
  • or asking about a favourite subject.

Engaging children with things they love is always a great way to get perfect, authentic smiles. A good photographer will ask these questions beforehand, so they've got some intel.

I must add, to increase the odds of perfect family photos make sure you choose a location your kids will be comfortable at.

I recently did a family mini session of my own, and my little guy can be quite slow to warm up (some days anyways!) Well, he did not like being in a studio space! He did much better at our summer photo session in Fish Creek because

he had been there before and was comfortable exploring nature. I lived, I learned for my own session, and for my clients' sessions. I realize now just HOW important it is to think of these things beforehand.

Beautiful golden hour family photos at Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary AB in the fall.

Ok, But did you know the best way to get camera-ready smiles for family photos?


You know your kids better than anyone. You've got plenty of inside jokes or fun games that you play together that'll bring out smiles and laughter more than any professional can. Use it to your advantage! Play, throw them in the air, run & jump, have fun, relax. Your kiddos will more often than not follow your behaviour and mood. The bonus here is that you get to be yourself in front of the camera and you get authentic smiles and beautiful memories captured forever!

but what if i freeze up in front of the camera?

Your photographer will be there to help you relax and remind you of tried-and-true games and prompts. A good photographer will even ask you for some pointers beforehand, so if you're feeling nervous, they can remind you what to do or try them themselves. It's important to find a photographer who does the work to get to know you prior to the session if you really want those perfect smiles and beautiful moments in your photos.

BUT what if my kid is just not into it?

Remember what I said at the start...that's ok. Some sessions your kids will be happy and relaxed, other sessions may be more challenging. Trust your photographer to capture the magic of your family regardless. Remember, you don't need 100 good ones, just a few!

Beautiful mother daughter moment at golden hour during fall family photos in Glenmore Reservoir Calgary AB.
Beautiful mother daughter moment during fall family photos at golden hour in Glenmore Reservoir.

But wait, there's more! What is one thing I never recommend doing to try to get a smile during family photo sessions?

Do not tell your child to "smile for the camera" or "look at the camera."

It immediately takes them out of the moment and causes them to freeze up and look awkward, nervous, or worse, annoyed. You may feel like you're helping, when in fact it's more often than not, pushing those smiles further away. So promise me you won't do that at your next family photo session!

Beautiful fall family photos during golden hour at Glenmore Reservoir in Calgary AB.

Just remember, You don't need perfect smiles for perfect moments when getting photos done.

I get it. We all want those perfect smiles from our loved ones. My best advice - start a solid relationship with your photographer by allowing them to get to know you and your family, plan according to your littles and what will make them happy, but most importantly, let go of all expectations and just be.

A good photographer will get magical photos that tell your family's story regardless of the smiles.

What do you think? Do you like my approach to get perfect smiles for the camera? Yes?

Then share this post!

Hey it's me

Welcome to my blog

I'm Marcella (pronounced Mar-Sella), your friend behind the lens at
Love & Sunshine Photography in Calgary, Alberta.

Lover of nature, travel, dogs & chai lattes. And most importantly, my family.

Creative by nature, I genuinely love taking and editing photos, and thrive on building relationships and capturing beautiful, heartfelt, authentic connections.

This is where I’ll share my latest sessions, tips for clients, and perhaps even some inspiring info for running your own business.

Marcella xo

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