The camera can be pretty intimidating for anyone. Kids, parents - heck, even I can be pretty timid in front of the lens! While some are naturally super outgoing and "model ready", most require a bit of time to become comfortable enough to allow their true selves out.
As a parent, it's natural to coax your child as they're being photographed, "Come on, smile, honey!". This inevitably leads to a forced grin that is unlike "their" smile. The smile that makes their eyes light up, cheeks round - that smile that makes just your heart completely melt.
Think of the last time a friend grabbed a camera or phone and shouted "smile" to you. Were you happy with the result or did your nose wrinkle as you looked at the forced smile staring back at you?
Forced smiles rarely look genuine. Smiling is more than just the formation made with our mouths, as our eyes play a huge role. Being prompted to smile often results in squinty eyes, or even sometimes, eyes opened unnaturally wide.
For this reason, I always avoid telling anyone to smile while photographing them. It's awkward and the results won't be real.
Photographs are meant to be a reflection of the individual's personality, their soul, them. Emotions and feeling can't be turned on or off with the flick of a switch, they need to unravel on their own to truly look natural.
Did you know that photos with unprompted, natural smiles actually cause you to feel more when viewing the image, compared to when you look at pictures with fake smiles?
You're probably thinking, "Okay, great. No coaxing forced smiles...but I do want my child to smile in their photos".
Hoping for happy, smiling photos is an understandable desire! And it can totally happen even without ever using the word "smile".
The key to getting those natural smiles is interaction. Think about how excited you become when someone brings up a topic you're truly passionate about. Your eyes widen, you feel a sudden sense of energy, and you can't help but let a smile form. The trick to getting natural smiles in photographs is through conversation, touching on topics special to whomever is being photographed. For some, a mix of jokes and ridiculous always brings those happy, smiley results you're after.
Keep in mind, that smiling is not always guaranteed. There could be a multitude of reasons for this, such as insecurities or mood (I know I'm not the only one who has been "unable" to smile when I'm not feeling my best, either mentally or physically). Remind yourself that it's really okay if some or all of the photos are without smiles and reflect a more serious look. You are still documenting these moments and receiving a reflection of who they are, what they were feeling, at that point in time.