If there is one main reason why I love photographing children and families, it’s because children are so intensely present and authentically themselves. Children naturally are who they are. They radiate their truth, whether it’s serious intensity or incandescently joyful, and my job is turn those real moments into memories for you. While I don’t believe in forcing a child to smile (there is nothing worse than asking a person to say “cheese,” am I right?), I love documenting joy most of all. Here are 5 easy steps to get your children to smile naturally and easily during family photos.

How to get your children to smile during family photos:

Don’t ask them to smile.

Children are intuitive and they can smell pressure a mile away. Do me a favor and don’t tell them to smile during the session or even in the weeks leading up to our time together. Instead, casually mention to them the day or so before your session that you’re going to a park with a friend (Hey there!) and that she’s bringing her cool toy of a camera. Mention how fun it will be and how excited you are to play with her! Your children will get on board with you if you are excited, and they will be eager for the session when the day comes. In my years of experience, preparing them in advance and telling them to smile doesn’t work. It often makes the situation worse and they arrive to the session nervous and pressured to behave.  My sessions with families are fun! It’s a time to play, explore and document the love and joy that you have with one another. No expectations! Which brings me to my next point…

Don’t plan how the session will go.

With children, especially toddlers, one can never 100% plan ahead on how the session will go. My job is to keep you guys moving, playing, chatting with one another and feeling at ease. All your job is (although I consider our session more to be a time of play than a job) to show up feeling relaxed, excited and able to roll with the punches. Unlike engagement or commercial portrait sessions, children run the show. So, if I need to photograph mom and her littlest one first, because he/she is shy and wants some more time to cuddle and get adjusted, that is totally fine! We’ll roll with it! Being flexible is key.  

Hey Mom and Dad – have FUN!

Your little ones will sense how you’re feeling leading up to and during our photo session. If you’re relaxed and feeling playful, they will follow your lead and play with you! This is your moment to shine! Be silly; dance and sing with your children like you would in the kitchen. Dance and twirl with your wife, and kiss her like you would at home! The more comfortable and relaxed you are in front of the camera, the more your children will be too. And it’s in those moments…that we can get some stunning photographs of you interacting, connecting and loving your family. For those are the photos I love most to capture and gift you with. 

Please, please, please don’t say “Cheese”

Seriously. Just don’t. Say It. There is nothing worse than a fake and forced smile from your child. I am here to document the real, the raw, and honest expressions, feelings and emotions from your child. While I will do my darn best to make your little ones erupt in a fit of nonstop giggles (be prepared for ridiculous dancing, hilarious kid-jokes and silly facial expressions – hey, I used to be an actress!), I also am not going to force your children to smile for my camera. Some children are naturally serious, and sometimes one just has a bad day! I’m not going to make their day worse (and trust me – we all know how forcing a smile can make an upset child’s day infinitely better…), and I want to capture the connection you feel for one another as a family.

Let the Photographer Lead

If someone goes into the profession of family and children photography, chances are they know how to work with children – and love doing it! While I love and rely on my families to help me out with favorite jokes, insiders and characters that their kids know and love, I also have a ton of jokes and silly dance moves up my sleeve! Remember to step back, and allow your photographer to take control and lead your family session. As family photographers, we have seen and done it all. From the shyest and quietest souls to the screaming tantrum-throwing toddlers, you can bet I’ve experienced it. I’m not here to judge your parenting or discipline skills, so don’t worry about how you should act or talk to your little one, but also if your children are running around, not listening to you, let me quietly lead. 


I hope these tips help you for your upcoming family session! 🙂 Here is a few of my favorite images from a family session I had at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, New York. This family followed all of my above steps for an easy, joyful and seamless family session perfectly! They came to the session ready to have fun and they even dressed up beautifully! 

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I'm Helena! As a creative storyteller, I document magical moments through my lens and my pen. A lover of childhood, fairytales and natural light, I'm inspired to share the light around me. I'm the ultimate Disney nerd, and I'm obsessed with cats and expressing my love for the simple joys of slow, daily life.

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Helena Woods is a destination newborn and family photographer based in France and New England and travels worldwide. She is known for her natural light, modern classic, and emotive photography style.