How to get genuine smiles when photographing shy kids

Kids, just like adults, come in all forms of shapes, sizes, and personalities.

We might know this to be true for everyday life, but do we really know this as photographers?

Using the same methods to photograph shy kids that you use to photograph outgoing kids simply won't get you the same results.

Because let's face it: if you can't find a way to get those genuine smiles out of "shy" kids, then you aren't performing your job at 100%.

Your clients trust you to capture photos of their kids the way they know them. But, can you honestly say that you can do it?

As a "shy" person myself, I've been able to put myself in my client's kid's shoes when it comes to photographing them.

How can I make them comfortable?

What can I do to have them open up to me?

When's the best time to ask for them to be involved in the photo session?

All these questions run through my mind before I ever photograph a child, especially a seemingly shy child. Let's go through the thought process and break it down even more so you can start getting genuine smiles and expressions out of shy kids at your photo sessions too!


Break the ice

Before any photos are taken, I like to get to know kids first.

This helps me in a few ways. First of all, it helps me feel out what type of personality the child has. Having 4 kids myself, I can pretty much instantly tell how they respond to strangers and what it might take to warm them up if they aren't chatty right off the bat.

Getting on their level helps a ton, so just crouching or squatting down to talk & interact with them before the session begins is where I like to start.

Then, you can ask them questions about their name, how old they are, favorite color, etc. This lets them know that you're interested in who they are and it will help free any tension they are feeling.

Some kids might not respond quickly, or at all, but don't let that deter you. Make sure the family is also involved in the photo-taking process too!


Give them space

Being a shy kind once, I can personally say that being exuberant and "up-in-your-face" is not the way to go about winning a quiet kid's heart.

Sometimes you just have to give them space and let them warm up to you.

During this time, let them see YOUR personality by interacting with their parents and family members. Once they see you are a person to be trusted and easy to talk to, they might just feel comfortable with you around too.


Shoot from afar

If the children that you're working with happen to not warm up to you as quickly as you need them to, this this can be a good way to break the ice AND get in some photos.

While I don't do shoot this way often, I like to bring a longer lens (my favorite is the sigma art 85mm) so I can back WAY up and give the kids some space.

This allows the child to interact with the rest of the family more freely without feeling like they are front and center of the action - which is exactly how a shy kid will feel when you single them out.

So don't forget to bring a longer lens on photo day in case you need it!


Don't forget to smile

This should go without saying, but don't forget to smile while you're taking their photos.

I mean, how would you feel if someone was trying to get you to open up to show them your genuine expressions and they kept a straight, uninterested face?

It would be pretty awkward, right?

So make sure that YOU also bring your smiley face to your photo sessions - trust me, it will make a TREMENDOUS difference in your work!


Don't force it

 Whatever happens during a photo session with a shy kid ( or any kid for that matter), forcing them to cooperate will rarely yield in a positive outcome.

As an adult, do you enjoy being forced to do something out of your comfort zone?

Of course not!

And that should be taken into high consideration when working with children. Unlike adults, they don't always have the courage or discipline to get past fears and awkward moments on their own - so forcing them to do something will probably leave a bad taste in their mouth.

Now this isn't to say you can't get kids to do your bidding during a photo session. It just means that you have to be extra creative about it!

Encouragement, prompting, and bribery can go a long way, so use those wisely and save the forced posed shots on someone else - like a dad or a crazy uncle.


Use prompts

When you're stuck on how to get gets to loosen up for their photo session, using prompts can turn any sour session into something lively and fun!

For a shy kid, it might be harder to get them to make silly faces or act like their favorite animal on command, but there are plenty of ways to encourage them to participate.

My personal favorite for quiet kids is to have them look at me and not smile. I take a few photos and tell them "whatever you do, don't smile."

This usually brings on a grin. Then I remind them again to "NOT SMILE," and then comes an even bigger grin. Before you know it, they are full out giggling and showing me their authentic smile.


For more pose-free prompts, download our FREE kids prompting guide here!


Photographing shy kids might be a little tricky at times, but it's always the challenging sessions that bring the most fulfillment!

Next time you photograph a shy kid, keep these tips in mind and you'll do just fine.

Do YOU have any tips to add when photographing shy kids? Share them in the comments below!

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1 comment

  • I guess it depends on the kind of session you’re doing, but I’ve found that if you get the parents in on it, not aggressively, but you get them tickling and making silly faces, that helps quite a bit!


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