I love images of non-smiling children but the difference between a serene expression and a grimace is a very fine line. Children are carefree and happy little people, but also are able to express deep emotions- far better then we give them credit for. Parents have become real professionals when it comes to taking photos of their children laughing and smiling (mostly posed smiles), I feel its my responsibility as their photographer to capture all of the emotions they can express with a simple glance. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good belly laugh and smile as much as the next person, but I feel its equally important to capture the thoughts of your child through expressions. I love to deviate from the typical forced smile, or even the real ones during a session with your little one.
So how do I do this without creating a grimace or frown? Here are a few ways I, as their Photographer, achieve those meaningful expressions from children I barely know:
- I try to let them get out all the fake smiles they are trained to preform when in front of a camera. Like mentioned in an earlier post I love to use the Red Light/ Green Light game when I’m using Basic Posing with Children. On “Green” they have about 15 seconds to act like a crazy, make silly faces, yell, or shake their bones, but on “Red” they have to calm down, stop, and follow direction…then its “Green” again and so on. I let them get comfortable with me taking pictures of them without barking out to many orders or new ideas on them from the start.
- After setting up a shot with basic posing and getting them comfortable in the moment, we share some smiles, jokes, maybe some animal noises, and laughter. Then I just sit there when we are both basking in the moment we just had- this typically results in an authentic expression which is non-smiling yet still joyful and thoughtful.
- I find it useful at times to spend some moments alone with the child, the parents step back a bit and give us some breathing room. Parents and grandparents can sometimes go over board with excitement sometimes overwhelming the child as well as me. More often then not their excitement is great, but if i find that their hovering is unhelpful, I will ask for a little space to move around.
- I never tell a child to ‘say Cheese.’ This generally gives you the most fake smile they have access to! You will be setting yourself up for a session full of painfully forced smiles and can be hard to get the child to break out of that flow once you get started.
- I ask a lot of questions during the session, this keeps the child focused on me and you can actually see the “Wheels Turning” in their head. I ask easy questions of course like: how old they are, what they had for breakfast, who is who in the family (names), are they in school, what their favorite color is, and what they are going to be doing after we finish. You can get some amazing expressions in between breaths.
6. Body Language- The position of the whole body even if you are just shooting a tight head and shoulder shot, you want to think about the entire body – head to toe. Keep this in mind when you are trying to capture an honest facial expression you will need to make sure the body language matches.
7. When something feels or looks forced I will guide the child to take a deep breath and slowly let it out with their mouth slightly open. This works best with older children, but it helps prevent a pursed-lip and tense face. This technique works well with adults as well, prevents clenched teeth and an overall uncomfortable expression.
8. Not all kids are the same, I try to be open minded and stay calm in any situation. You have to be flexible and try different things with each child, even if they are in the same family.
The last thing you want to do is create portraits that don’t display their honest character, but I always try to get both sides of their personalities. Some are calm and deep, while other children are buoyant and giggly. As someone that is not around them every day you don’t truly know what personality is really natural, but their parents will! And you want them to say “WOW, you really captured my child’s expression!” Present the parents with a variety of images because you never know which image will speak to them.
These images were created by LJPhotography, Laura Jane Middour out of Corpus Christi Texas.