Don’t Wait for a Smile - Digital Photography School
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Don’t Wait for a Smile

It’s simple.

Take photos of your baby — or if you’re a professional photographer, of your client’s baby — in whatever state they’re in. Serious, curious, grumpy, sleepy, silly or sad.

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For true lifestyle photography, shooting how people are naturally is what makes the photography truly editorial and photojournalistic. These are the kinds of images that will tell a story or show an emotion. Don’t just wait for a smile.

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Of course, be respectful if they had just fallen and are wailing in pain, for instance. It may not be a good idea to be in their face with your camera. But if you can discreetly snap a shot with a zoom lens, then go for it! (Wait – did I say that out loud?!!)

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From that shot, you can capture mommy soothing her baby or daddy kissing a boo-boo, which are moments to be treasured.

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Too often I witness photographers waiting for the “perfect” timing to snap a shot: when baby is smiling, when the little boy is looking straight into the camera, when the girl stops playing to look up.

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Capture the natural moments and you will capture personalities and stories behind the faces.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Annie Tao is a Professional Lifestyle Photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area who is best known for capturing genuine smiles, emotions and stories of her subjects. You can visit Annie Tao Photography for more tips or inspiration. Stay connected with her on her Facebook page

  • http://www.tootimidandsqueamish.com/ Marcy

    Great advice. That second photo is fantastic!

  • http://photocooker.blogspot.com/ Matias

    So simple yet powerful. I totally agree. The first photo is brilliant! :)

  • http://bigbearnelson.tumblr.com Greg Nelson

    That’s great advice! Some of my favorite pictures of children are when they aren’t smiling.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tallok/5690274180/

  • Tom_Vienna

    Thx Annie,

    great example pictures!

  • http://dsdphotography.co.za Dewan Demmer
  • Eddie Fletcher

    My thoughts exactly…. we don’t see enough pictures of crying babies / kids…. Lets face it, they spend most of their time in floods of tears….

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/eddiefletcher/6236769484/

  • http://www.wazariwazir.com/ wazari

    Great tips, thanks for sharing…

  • http://dayswithmaia.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/p9030682b.jpg Cel

    My baby’s photo..:)

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/debthepicturelady/ Deb

    We recently had a new edition to our family. My husband and I went to the hospital to meet our new great nephew. I brought my nikon w/the 50mm 1.8 lens. I wanted to get a few shots (my first newborn shots) without causing any interruption. The room was pretty dark. They wanted a really calming environment. I left the hospital feeling disappointed that maybe I didn’t get anything… But I was pleasantly surprised… Here’s one of my favorites:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/debthepicturelady/6251821753/in/photostream

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck
  • http://www.xkalmedia.com Mark K

    For that matter, the same advice applies to any age; forget cheesy, fake smiles, you’ll get better results.

  • http://selfhelpphotographer.com Spyros Heniadis

    I find some of the best shots don’t have any smiles at all. Sure the smiles are nice, but there is so much more than the smile, and I love capturing it.

  • ccting

    I never wait for smile… I used to shot 1500 within hours… i mean I used to… lol

  • http://www.poodlepoddles.blogspot.com Angela

    I definitely agree. I especially like photo #2 – so cute :)

  • Mathew

    thank you for reminding :)

  • Dave

    Thanks for this, sometimes I go crazy trying to get both my boys to smile and the results often times are just ok. Seems like the winners are the ones when they don’t say a word or know I’m there.

  • http://bluecloverphoto.com Amy P

    I took a school daycare photo of a child screaming. It was the 3rd time her teacher brought her in and the only time she sat at all for the fall portrait during the day. They family ended up purchasing my biggest package just because it was their child, and likely very “her” at this stage of her life. Sometimes those shots are the ones worth taking. You just never know.

  • http://www.activityphoto.com Wayne H

    Candid portraits always offer a more realistic view into the personality of the subject I think. I find some of the most captivating images are of people caught on the the street in the midst of their daily lives.

  • http://thingamajigblog.blogspot.com Shutterbug

    Thanks for the tips! Quite often I want to get people smiling for my photos, but now I know that I can still take great photos without having the subject smiling!

  • http://www.paandp.com Rob Fielding

    I’ve just purchased a Sigma 150-500 zoom originally to capture wildlife.
    Yesterday was the first occasion to use it…at the park with my 3 grandchildren.
    97 photos taken…only 3 duds.
    Some priceless expressions of them engrossed on the swings & on the scooter…money well spent BUT don’t tell my good lady wife others wise I’m for it!

  • Lindsay

    We did a photo shoot in a park with my 2 year old, and my husband met us at the park. When my daughter saw her daddy, she went running for him, but tripped, fell, and cried. My husband picked her up, and one of the best shots from that day was her snuggled into daddy’s shoulder. It came out far better than the ones we were trying to get a smile out of her!

  • http://www.personal-photo-organizer.com/michellenahom Michelle

    A good reminder…thank you! You’re absolutely right, the moments that we capture “unposed” are usually the most precious.

  • http://attmail nathan ford

    Ihave been telling people for years to take their as you see them , let their photos tell a story , so many times they wait and they loose the best of the best . their expressions make make the story . rule of 1/3 and focus take the pic. you will be a lot happier with your photos.

  • Mark Bausman

    When I shoot the high school games the cheerleaders are always posing and smiling for the camera. What they don’t realize is that these shots rarely make it to the website. Real people are far more interesting than posed people. Most of the time.

  • Mary

    Some of my favorite pictures are pouts!

  • http://www.mattdutile.com Matt Dutile

    Solid advice Annie. Exactly why they call it a moment ;)

  • http://www.karenskellyphoto.com Photographer Aspen CO

    I always capture the kids playing, or whatever they want to do, but I always try to capture a smile and them looking at the camera as well. Usually, those are the only images the parents purchase.

  • http://daryleverett.wordpress.com Daryl Everett

    LOL Perfect timing! I just did a shoot last weekend where the 1 year old hated my camera. We got some adorable super sad faces!

  • Lorri A

    When I’m taking photos of children in particular, I get them involved in something, that way they forget I’m there, I’ve captured some priceless images through the years. Totally agree with NOT waiting for the smile when there are so many more emotions we can capture.

  • Prabir DasGupta

    All the pictures are excellent but the last one takes the cake. It is a wonderful picture and one can say so much about it- I mean what it evokes in one’s mind…… To me it appears to be … The father is thinking about the grim harsh world ahead to be faced by the little baby and the baby is just oblivious of it at all. This picture is simply classic. God bless you Annie for taking such a marvelous picture.

  • Andy

    Finally…somebody gives some realistic advice on shooting kids…or anyone for that matter

  • http://www.amrlovesphotography.com Angela Rader

    I totally agree! I stopped trying to capture the perfect smile and just let nature takes it’s course. I love getting photos of children in their own world. Not all pictures have to be staged.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashiqpm Ashiq

    Nice article. Thanks.

  • Ashiq

    Kids captured in their natural manner and behaviour will be better than most of the posed ones

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashiqpm/sets/72157624143332194/

  • http://www.blueskyphotography.net.au Benn brown

    Great advice and tips!! Couldn’t agree with you more:)

  • Marc Laubscher

    This is great advice and it’s true not just for children, but adults as well.

    I take a lot of “candid” photographs of friends and others at motorcycling events in and around the town where I live and most of the people find the photographs of themselves fascinating, because you tend to capture some of the more interesting moments and expressions that way.

    It’s interesting to hear the people’s stories around their own thoughts and emotions when they see the photographs later!

  • Mike

    Great advice, I just wish my clients felt the same way! They want that smile gosh darn it!

Some older comments

  • Marc Laubscher

    July 22, 2013 11:48 pm

    This is great advice and it's true not just for children, but adults as well.

    I take a lot of "candid" photographs of friends and others at motorcycling events in and around the town where I live and most of the people find the photographs of themselves fascinating, because you tend to capture some of the more interesting moments and expressions that way.

    It's interesting to hear the people's stories around their own thoughts and emotions when they see the photographs later!

  • Benn brown

    November 13, 2011 10:20 am

    Great advice and tips!! Couldn't agree with you more:)

  • Ashiq

    October 24, 2011 05:30 am

    Kids captured in their natural manner and behaviour will be better than most of the posed ones

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ashiqpm/sets/72157624143332194/

  • Ashiq

    October 23, 2011 05:08 pm

    Nice article. Thanks.

  • Angela Rader

    October 23, 2011 12:42 am

    I totally agree! I stopped trying to capture the perfect smile and just let nature takes it's course. I love getting photos of children in their own world. Not all pictures have to be staged.

  • Andy

    October 22, 2011 12:36 am

    Finally...somebody gives some realistic advice on shooting kids...or anyone for that matter

  • Prabir DasGupta

    October 21, 2011 07:05 pm

    All the pictures are excellent but the last one takes the cake. It is a wonderful picture and one can say so much about it- I mean what it evokes in one's mind...... To me it appears to be ... The father is thinking about the grim harsh world ahead to be faced by the little baby and the baby is just oblivious of it at all. This picture is simply classic. God bless you Annie for taking such a marvelous picture.

  • Lorri A

    October 21, 2011 06:07 pm

    When I'm taking photos of children in particular, I get them involved in something, that way they forget I'm there, I've captured some priceless images through the years. Totally agree with NOT waiting for the smile when there are so many more emotions we can capture.

  • Daryl Everett

    October 21, 2011 04:37 pm

    LOL Perfect timing! I just did a shoot last weekend where the 1 year old hated my camera. We got some adorable super sad faces!

  • Photographer Aspen CO

    October 21, 2011 10:42 am

    I always capture the kids playing, or whatever they want to do, but I always try to capture a smile and them looking at the camera as well. Usually, those are the only images the parents purchase.

  • Matt Dutile

    October 21, 2011 10:06 am

    Solid advice Annie. Exactly why they call it a moment ;)

  • Mary

    October 21, 2011 09:22 am

    Some of my favorite pictures are pouts!

  • Mark Bausman

    October 21, 2011 09:05 am

    When I shoot the high school games the cheerleaders are always posing and smiling for the camera. What they don't realize is that these shots rarely make it to the website. Real people are far more interesting than posed people. Most of the time.

  • nathan ford

    October 21, 2011 06:58 am

    Ihave been telling people for years to take their as you see them , let their photos tell a story , so many times they wait and they loose the best of the best . their expressions make make the story . rule of 1/3 and focus take the pic. you will be a lot happier with your photos.

  • Michelle

    October 21, 2011 06:26 am

    A good reminder...thank you! You're absolutely right, the moments that we capture "unposed" are usually the most precious.

  • Lindsay

    October 21, 2011 06:06 am

    We did a photo shoot in a park with my 2 year old, and my husband met us at the park. When my daughter saw her daddy, she went running for him, but tripped, fell, and cried. My husband picked her up, and one of the best shots from that day was her snuggled into daddy's shoulder. It came out far better than the ones we were trying to get a smile out of her!

  • Rob Fielding

    October 21, 2011 04:42 am

    I've just purchased a Sigma 150-500 zoom originally to capture wildlife.
    Yesterday was the first occasion to use it...at the park with my 3 grandchildren.
    97 photos taken...only 3 duds.
    Some priceless expressions of them engrossed on the swings & on the scooter...money well spent BUT don't tell my good lady wife others wise I'm for it!

  • Shutterbug

    October 21, 2011 04:22 am

    Thanks for the tips! Quite often I want to get people smiling for my photos, but now I know that I can still take great photos without having the subject smiling!

  • Wayne H

    October 21, 2011 04:21 am

    Candid portraits always offer a more realistic view into the personality of the subject I think. I find some of the most captivating images are of people caught on the the street in the midst of their daily lives.

  • Amy P

    October 21, 2011 02:05 am

    I took a school daycare photo of a child screaming. It was the 3rd time her teacher brought her in and the only time she sat at all for the fall portrait during the day. They family ended up purchasing my biggest package just because it was their child, and likely very "her" at this stage of her life. Sometimes those shots are the ones worth taking. You just never know.

  • Dave

    October 19, 2011 07:24 am

    Thanks for this, sometimes I go crazy trying to get both my boys to smile and the results often times are just ok. Seems like the winners are the ones when they don't say a word or know I'm there.

  • Mathew

    October 19, 2011 05:51 am

    thank you for reminding :)

  • Angela

    October 19, 2011 03:34 am

    I definitely agree. I especially like photo #2 - so cute :)

  • ccting

    October 18, 2011 08:45 pm

    I never wait for smile... I used to shot 1500 within hours... i mean I used to... lol

  • Spyros Heniadis

    October 18, 2011 02:26 am

    I find some of the best shots don't have any smiles at all. Sure the smiles are nice, but there is so much more than the smile, and I love capturing it.

  • Mark K

    October 18, 2011 02:18 am

    For that matter, the same advice applies to any age; forget cheesy, fake smiles, you'll get better results.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    October 18, 2011 02:01 am

    Great tips indeed!

    Here is a Gerber look:

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/the-new-gerber-baby/

  • Deb

    October 17, 2011 10:23 pm

    We recently had a new edition to our family. My husband and I went to the hospital to meet our new great nephew. I brought my nikon w/the 50mm 1.8 lens. I wanted to get a few shots (my first newborn shots) without causing any interruption. The room was pretty dark. They wanted a really calming environment. I left the hospital feeling disappointed that maybe I didn't get anything... But I was pleasantly surprised... Here's one of my favorites:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/debthepicturelady/6251821753/in/photostream

  • Cel

    October 17, 2011 09:00 pm

    My baby's photo..:)

  • wazari

    October 17, 2011 08:48 pm

    Great tips, thanks for sharing...

  • Eddie Fletcher

    October 17, 2011 07:50 pm

    My thoughts exactly.... we don't see enough pictures of crying babies / kids.... Lets face it, they spend most of their time in floods of tears....

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/eddiefletcher/6236769484/

  • Dewan Demmer

    October 17, 2011 07:48 pm

    one of my Favourite Photos does not have baby smiling
    http://dsdphotography.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Teddy_Care_baby_photographer_Johannesburg_DSD-826x1024.jpg

  • Tom_Vienna

    October 17, 2011 06:55 pm

    Thx Annie,

    great example pictures!

  • Greg Nelson

    October 17, 2011 08:07 am

    That's great advice! Some of my favorite pictures of children are when they aren't smiling.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tallok/5690274180/

  • Matias

    October 17, 2011 03:39 am

    So simple yet powerful. I totally agree. The first photo is brilliant! :)

  • Marcy

    October 17, 2011 01:44 am

    Great advice. That second photo is fantastic!

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