If you, like me, prefer candid over posed, and real life over perfect (though I tend to think real life IS a perfect picture) then you probably prefer genuine looks, be it happy or somber or natural reactions, over the generic, stiff “cheese!” You’re a mom with a smart phone. You’re a budding professional. And you’re tired of trying to be a comedian and photographer at the same time. I feel ya. These are some tried and true ways I draw out the “natural.”
1. Mix Up the “Say Cheese!”
What’s a rule if you can’t break it? I’ve read photographers claiming you’ll never hear them tell you to say, “cheese.” Normal, bland, monotone “cheese,” I agree, but have you ever heard a little 18-month old beam out a “Cheeeeeathe!”? Only to see the parent’s melt a thousand melts and put on the most heartfelt smiles?
When I was shooting the girls in the above picture, we tried a cheese at first. Little sister loved it; older sisters, meh. Next the girls covered the eyes of the sister below them and on the count of three, lifted their hands and hollered, “CHEESE!” Oh, yes. Use it, but make it big, dynamic and dramatic.
2. Use Tongue Twisters
These lighten the mood, relax the face and bring a smile right up to the eyes. I’ve used it on anyone older than toddler. I’ve used it for an individual to say quickly to me. I’ve used it for a bazaar love message.
The picture of the couple? I gave them their directions, snapped a few pictures and said, “Done!” To which they replied, “But he didn’t even say it!” That’s okay, I got what I was going for. (A few tongue twisters I use are listed in the link below for a free quick-tip sheet!)
3. Inspire Action
Kids like to move, so get some organized action going! Make it something that has a definite start and finish. Racing is an epic example. Give them the old, “Ready, set, go!” Take the picture before the action (Oh, the anticipation!), take it during (Oh, the joy!) , take it after (Oh, the triumph!).
Do it with one. Do it with the whole group. For the kids who won’t sit and “cheese” this tip is priceless. It should probably even be listed first…
4. Play Hide and Seek
I’ve done this a few times and the kids always think it’s awesome sauce because we’re playing. Painless picture-taking. Well, for them. This is not painless for the photographer because it involves some pretty spot-on technique for snagging a quick focus and exposure.
If you can finagle being the hider, you have an advantage. The seeker is more difficult, but can make for some pretty cute images. As always, practice makes… you know.
5. Let Them Play and Interact
Does anyone smell a lame tip? No, really. Sometimes we need to be reminded to try less and snap more. Put on your long focal length lens, back up and let the subject play, move, and just get used to things. Let Dad and Mom try their secret smile tricks.
The little girl in these pictures is a little bashful and a lot reserved. Along with some of the tips listed above, we read books, played bubbles, puddle stomped and romped the playground. By the end of it, I had even earned the right to call her name and get her to look and smile.
Ultimately, don’t get discouraged. Try these tips and put your own twist on them. Some will work all the time. Some will work randomly. I’d love for you to share one of your go-to tips in the comments!
If you found these tips helpful, click over to Jessica’s blog for a Free Quick-Reference Guide, including extra hints. Click to this post: For the Love of Natural and look for the Guide at the at the bottom of the post!
Thank you Jess Lintula of Naturally Captured Photography for contributing this article.