Your Best Lines To Make Clients Laugh or Act Natural

Your Best Lines To Make Clients Laugh or Act Natural

In my recent article “Capturing Real Moments And Connecting With Your Subject,” I saw a comment from a reader who had a great idea. The comment was from Catherine Cattanach, and here’s the excerpt from the comment:

I’m just wondering whether you might consider writing an article on these one-liners that are effective in generating natural smiles and laughs, and then in the comments section people can contribute what works for them?

I think this is a great idea, because I have never been able to find any great lists of things to say to clients on the web. I’ve sort of just had to make stuff up as I go, and learn from trial and error.

So, what are your best and most successful tricks for making your subjects comfortable while you’re behind the lens? We want to hear from you! It could be a joke that you tell, a one line phrase, or simply a tip or trick along the way that helps your clients feel comfortable. I’ll start everything off with a few of mine and then we’d all love to hear what you all have to add…

1.) If I’m photographing an engaged couple, things can get pretty steamy between the two. They are going through a time in their lives of absolute bliss, and they are in that in-between stage where they aren’t dating, but they aren’t married yet. When I tell them to kiss while I take a few shots, sometimes I’ll say something to the effect of “Whoa there, let’s pull it back a litte, I didn’t say make out!” Here’s an image I got recently just after saying something like this…

2.) When photographing children (which I don’t do terribly often), I’ve found that things work best when they feel like they are in control and have a say in how things will go. Any time they can have authority, or prove me wrong in some way, they are happy. I know I’ve shown this image here before, but it’s a great example of this technique. This boy was NOT happy to be on a photoshoot, and we only had about an hour of time, so I had to figure out something quick. I found a brick ledge along a path and simply made a bet with him. I told him, “You see that ledge over there? That’s a big ledge and I think it’s probably too big for you to jump off of. What do you think?” Well, as you can imagine, about .5 seconds after uttering those words he was running over to the ledge and jumping as high as he could in the air. I got this shot of him just as he landed…

3.) Another thing I always do with children is give them a choice for a shot. If I have two spots I know I want to shoot at, I’ll ask the kids, “Ok, we’re going to take pictures at these two spots, which do you want to go to first?” Just that little amount of control over the situation is often enough to lift their spirits and get them excited. For this image I said, “Alright, we need to get some pictures along this path here. Do you want to walk toward the camera or away from it?” The older brother immediately said ‘away’ and I asked him to hold his sisters hand as they walked. Once they were about halfway down the path, I told the younger sister that whatever she did, DON’T look back at the camera!

Alright, there’s my tips, now we want to hear from you!

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James Brandon is a landscape photographer and educator residing in Dallas, Texas. Join 20,000+ photographers and get access to his free video tutorial library at his website. James also has an online store full of video courses, ebooks, presets and more. Use the coupon code "DPS25" for an exclusive discount!

Some Older Comments

  • Lindsay June 11, 2013 01:13 am

    Help! I've had some sessions with difficult 3-month olds! One mom wants all smiley pictures, which the babies didn't give me a lot to work with. I do have some with smiles, but they're not my favorites. Do I give them my least favorites without the smiles or do I give them the ones with lots of smiles?

  • Tom December 28, 2012 07:08 am

    When shooting with a female model on location, I chose to let her see some of the photos on the back of the camera. Upon seeing one of the shots, she said "that's a good one of my face". I responded, "it's about time we got a good one of your face". When she punched me in the arm, I knew I had created the desired effect.

  • Aubrey September 4, 2012 05:41 pm

    Alot of times I say "you practiced in the mirror before you came huh?" I then carry on for a minute from there with the client depending ton each personality. But that has always got a smile and I feel it makes them feel more comfortable and like theyre "doing it right."

  • Molly August 30, 2012 04:23 pm

    I used to work at a portrait studio for 6 months...the best line i ever used that worked for families and couples - young and old - was when setting up and if everyone looked stiff i'd say "okay pretend that you like each other!" would usually get a chuckle out of parents, a funny look from a sibling, or a cute giggle/look from the couple...worked for engagement pictures and also my grandparent's 50th anniversary. :)

  • Alec May 14, 2012 11:06 pm

    If I am doing a sibling shoot or a couples shoot I will sometimes have one of them stand aside and tell a joke. It almost always works!

  • Kirsten May 2, 2012 09:23 am

    I agree that a lot of the suggestions are offensive to most people. When working with the public, you NEVER want to cross a line that would give you a bad reputation

    I do a lot of kids shoots and my best tool is "Mr. Squeakers" a little yellow squeaky bear. He likes to hide in my scarf or on my head. I tell the kids that Mr. Squeakers is very shy and likes to hide, but if you smile or laugh really loud he likes to squeak. Also works on "SERIOUS" clients like teenage brothers, and pets too!

  • Angela April 18, 2012 03:49 pm

    When I have little kids that don't always cooperate, I tell them whatever they do, do not say Monkey Buggers! They usually do and grin, then it's a perfect smile!

  • Thanks for your information, it's good to share ideas March 18, 2012 05:29 pm

    Here's mine. Before i take portrait shots of young ladies, i position them at the back close to the background then tell to cat walk three steps towards me and pose. This make them feel like a model, comfortable and beautiful, most times it creates a natural smile. The trick is to have them walk, pose then do anything with their body or hair, etc. It works everytime.

  • Katie C February 13, 2012 10:02 am

    I capture school age children and for the younger ones I tell them to say 'monkey' and after they say it I say did you just call me monkey and that usually gives me a good natural smile and for the middle/high school boys I tell them if they don't give me a good smile then I'm going to photoshop a kitten in the picture pawing at their face :) Also, try asking them if that's their real smile because most of the time they will say "no" and follow up with a genuine smile. Thanks for all the tips!!

  • Kris November 14, 2011 04:46 pm

    Hi Everyone, Thanks for all your tips and tricks! all these are very helpful. I'll share one ... not to get a smile but to capture true tender moments from a couple. I usually do this to conclude the session or even when the couple has totally warmed up to you.

    I simply play a love song though an ipod and portable speakers. I tell them along the lines of "I'm going to play you a song and I want you to have your moment with each other... I want you to tell each other why love each other and re affirm each other... you can cuddle, kiss, dance...etc etc..this moment is yours"

    I then have roughly 4mins to capture the most itimate connection usually left reserved for their dates.

    also make sure they are in perfect lighting :) and also make sure they are alone and you use a long lens so you can give them as much space as possible

    Let me know how you go :)

  • Kendra October 30, 2011 02:06 am

    This was very helpful. I'm just starting my own photography business and my first official shoot since I started is coming up soon. I really needed some ideas to make everyone act natural so this was a great article. It also helps that the couple are close friends of mine.

  • Robert October 24, 2011 02:26 am

    I use the line: I will try one more shot to see if I can catch you all with your eyes open.

  • Chuck October 23, 2011 04:05 pm

    When I want senior girls (who hasn't figured out that I am never serious) to laugh naturally, I very seriously say "Give me your pouty european supermodel look". Most girls laugh immediately, some try doing it and then crack up and a few just glare at me (and I know I have my work cut out for me).

  • Rich April 18, 2011 05:08 am

    Say "Daddy's got smelly feet!"
    Say "Mommy's got a big bottom!"

  • naz April 9, 2011 06:30 am

    "I like to take 2 sleeping pills and a laxative so I can sleep like a baby"

  • FotOz April 7, 2011 09:59 pm

    When photographing a wedding party, most people are pretty tense.
    My usual line is to say, "Okay folks. I'm going to take this on three," and as I say "three" I take the shot.
    Straight away people lighten up, have a laugh etc - then I taken four or five more rapid shots.
    I usually get my best shot at around number four.
    After that, I do the countdown thing again but vary the number at which I shoot.
    Becomes a real ice-breaking exercise for the remainder of the day.

  • Andy April 6, 2011 06:33 am

    One thing that has worked well for me is to find out what sporting teams/musicians/tvshows those being photographed might like and then I say just before the shot "now shout out xxxxx rules with a big smile on your face". So if they like one team then I say the name of their main competitor. This works really well with big sports fans and teenage boys and you get some really great facial expressions.

  • z. lynn April 6, 2011 01:37 am

    Thanks so much for the tips!

  • Robin April 5, 2011 08:15 am

    Great tips. The best shots are always the ones in which you are able to capture their true sense of self. Getting people out of their heads can be hard sometimes.

  • Christina Aubin April 5, 2011 08:12 am

    When I'm photographing a couple or a family and they seem stiff with each other or not close enough I always say "Pretend you like each other!" It almost always cracks them up and they cuddle up for the photo.

  • Toni Johnson April 5, 2011 07:23 am

    These tips are great... : )

    With kids I'll often tell them to watch for a bug that keeps landing on my camera, because if it does I wanna SQUISH it! That gets their gaze in my general direction at least for a little while... I also threaten to tickle them, or actually DO tickle them...

    For adults, I've actually said, 'Do I have to tickle you too, mom/dad?!' That almost always gets a smile. : )

    I'm always telling my clients to 'touch cheeks' or get 'cheek to cheek' - it's funny because the kids don't always know what I mean and put a finger to their cheek, and we all laugh at that.

    For couples I'll say something like, 'Ok, get nice & close and act like you like each other for a few minutes!' They love that... : )

  • Rachel April 5, 2011 05:15 am

    I have four boys, ages 7-13. Because I am constantly wanting to do photo shoots with them It's been a challenge to keep them fun and get shots that they aren't all sulking. This helps- I start off by telling them I'm not gonna ask them to smile- not even one time. I let them take turns telling jokes (because this mom isn't all that funny) they have each other in stitches. The one time I am funny is when I make fart noises with my mouth; gets them every time! It's unexpected, and totally hilarious to them. You can make enough different noises that is works for more than one shot;) I am a bit shy so have only used this on clients that I know really well. Thanks for the suggestions, this is the biggest challenge for me when I shoot people, and what keeps me from really pursuing portrait photography.

  • Singapore guy March 30, 2011 04:04 pm

    Typically in asia, nothing sleezy at all. So clean jokes are all I ahve to offer. But i find letting the couple have some private time before a shoot helps relax the mood.

  • Daniel Maran March 30, 2011 07:42 am

    Hi my name is Dan, I am a photographer based in St Kilda East, Melbourne, Australia.

    When i was based in London, I did a shoot for the BBC in the CBBC department for the department head Richard Deveral.
    The client needed a portrait of Richard for a magazine article and told me that Richard doesn't really smile and will not smile... So I introduced myself to Richard and had a very little chat. I looked at him for a moment and wandered what i could say to make him smile, because i find very important people are always stuck in board meetings and among quite serious people, so when i started shooting Richard i took a few shots to break the ice to see how he would react and then just said, 1-2-3- SMILEY!!!!
    I find something child like or childish that the person doesn't really expect workx well.
    Hope that helps you all.
    Dan xx

  • Jonathan Payne March 23, 2011 04:14 am

    One of the best lines I've heard was used on me by another photographer at a wedding. My wife and I were sitting at the bride's table and he was taking pics of the couples. He turns to us and tells my wife to put her hand on my chest , then he tells me "okay, put your hand on her chest". That one got great smiles from both of us as the realization hit. It's in my bag o' tricks now.

  • Beau Hause March 22, 2011 04:14 pm

    I shoot a lot of photos with a group of guys and I have good luck trying to get their friends to make them laugh while in front of the camera.
    Give me your best gangster look! (results in best gangster look followed by laughter).
    Say farfetnugen!
    Ok, everyone get really close! Whoa, not that close, what are you guys doing?

    Some really good ones here, I'm going to use some of these!

  • Catherine Cattanach March 22, 2011 03:29 pm

    Ideas for weddings/adults...
    Right now then I want everyone to look as gorgeous as possible.
    OK, I need everyone to get in focus.
    Ask for a fake laugh: "everyone shout HA HA HA!" (Genuine laugh follows)
    Pair the bridal group off boy/girl, and suggest the bride and groom kiss. "Now EVERYbody have a kiss."
    When you've got a single subject and a big lens pointed at them: "This is a bit like being at the dentist, isn't it?" (Won't create a laugh obviously, but will get you a responsive smile).
    Sometimes also if I have a single subject and they're looking a bit stiff in front of the camera I'll just quietly slip something in amongst my posing suggestions like: "OK now I'd like you to scream" (or swear, but you need to be confident you've got the right client for this!). They're usually a bit shocked and will laugh even at the thought of it - it doesn't really matter whether they actually do it or not. But if they give it a go they'll probably also burst out laughing afterwards too.
    Right, that's probably quite enough from me! Thought I'd better add my two cents since I kicked off the discussion in the first place :)

  • Catherine Cattanach March 22, 2011 03:18 pm

    When I'm photographing little kids I have a "spider" in my camera bag, made out of a fabric hair scrunchie with googly eyes and pipe-cleaner legs stuck on it. This fits over my lens, and gets the kids looking right at the camera. I ask them whether they think the spider is a boy or a girl, and what I should call it (if they have a sibling I might suggest that kid's name, or the name of my subject). I can reach out and wobble the spider's legs, or sometimes even spin it so it's upside down, the silly spider... (can be hard with a heavy camera and lens combination!). My spider likes it when the kids call it names - say stinky socks, say squashed bananas, etc etc. The kids tend to get right into this! We can also talk about what the spider might like to eat etc - it opens up a whole conversation.
    If I'm photographing a whole lot of kids in a short space of time (like at a kindergarten) I ask very simple questions - which do you like best, jelly or icecream? Pizza or hotdogs? Chippies or chocolate? Slugs or worms?
    Sometimes we do "Italian" photos: say spaghetti! Ferrari! Salami! All those good words that end in the 'ee' sound and make them look like they're smiling...
    And if I'm really desperate, the threat of tickling and the slowly reaching hand usually get a smile even if it's a shy one.

  • Kaitlin Roten March 22, 2011 03:20 am

    When photographing guys I'll tell them how to stand and when they get it right I'll say, "wow that's your cool pose!" and go off from there abutting "bringing out his cool pose". I'll often say something about a cool pose #2 as well. It gets them laughing and makes them feel really cool.

  • James Hoagland March 22, 2011 02:19 am

    I find that telling the clients we are taking a few test shot can sometimes yield the best result because they are more relaxed.

  • tim March 21, 2011 03:32 pm

    Going table to table at weddings, I'll have my partner take the secondary camera and get in front of the group while i sneak around to the sides for more candid angles.

    When the groups notice me, my partner will say something to the effect of "Ignore him he doesn't know what he's doing" or "he's not the real photographer"

    this usually gets laughter and distracts the group for a more natural setting.

    We'll continue the banter back and forth to more their attention from one to the other. Usually gets good results from both cameras.

  • Mike Thorsen March 21, 2011 12:32 pm

    With kids, telling them "Don't smile!" usually works.

  • Haley March 21, 2011 07:05 am

    When I know a teen can handle sarcasm and I want to liven up the mood a bit, I say "Alright, now I just want you to stand there and look pretty. (wait a few seconds) EPIC FAILURE!" That usually makes them laugh :))[eimg link='' title='R29' url='']

  • Lucy Blayney March 20, 2011 08:19 pm

    Everytime from my 2 year old toddler to my nan, gives me a great smile when I ask them to say "Boobies" in a silly childish way with a big grin on my face. Loving the comments here.

  • Qais March 20, 2011 01:56 pm

    great article!
    -After I ask couples kiss for a shot, I tell them "I said KISS not stick your tongue in her/his mouth".
    -For group photos at a wedding, I ask them if they are excited today? and to show how excited they are?
    -For kids, make funny noises/faces or say jokes like "There's a skunk in the garden, ewww, somebody farted, it's you" and point at the kid.
    -for jumps, I ask them, person with the highest jump gets extra drinks tonight from the bride and groom.
    -for destination weddings, I would say "the dinner is on me tonight".

  • 2ManyCars March 19, 2011 04:50 pm

    I mainly shot college age students and the line that has always worked over the years is " Now think of that special someone, whether they're real or imaginary!" Always worked.

  • Judi Lamb March 19, 2011 11:50 am

    Some Americans feel the same way you do, Mindy. Many of the above comments are base and insulting to the people being photographed.

    My suggestion is to take about 10 minutes before the shoot to get to know the people you're photographing, even the youngest children. Find out what they enjoy and during the shoot, elaborate upon that, and share some of your own experiences related to what they enjoy. Taking the time to get to know your client, showing interest in who they are, and speaking to them with respect helps put them at ease and relax, which allows for the most natural photos.

    The goal, for me anyway, isn't to 'make them smile' but to achieve the most natural expression by creating an environment in which people feel cared for, tended to, and engaged with by someone who just happens to have a camera in his/her hands to record that moment in time. By the way, in this environment, you'll see many warm smiles.

  • PatriciaD March 19, 2011 10:31 am

    I am just getting into photography and ADORE some of these but I do have a brother-in-law who is soooo dry and determined NOT to smile. We've just accepted it and gone on. I would hate to be a professional photographer working with him to get a smile...argh!! He's a great guy, wonderful father and super husband to my sister but he WILL NOT smile in photos. And to make it worse he's a photographer, too. Wanna beat him sometimes.

    But, I do have say, you really, really need to know your audience because you don't want to lose customers by saying something offensive.

  • Steve Andrade March 19, 2011 10:29 am

    Great tips!!!!! I used to assist my father back in my younger years when he was a professional wedding and event photographer. He used many techniques to make people respond to get the magical response for that one photo. One that I remember most is when the would take pictures at the brides home. He would take one of the father and his daughter (bride) and to get emotion he would say "today is your daughter special day, and today she will no longer be daddy's little girl'. Wow, the reaction sometimes led to watching a grown man cry. My father got some amazing photos that I will never forget!!!!

  • Ros March 19, 2011 10:06 am

    Taking a photo of my heavily pregnant friend with a large group of her work collegues was fun; as a few of them said 'cheese' and 'sausages' I just shouted "PUUUUSSSSSHHHHHHH". They all laughed so much I thought she'd laugh the baby out!

  • Victoria March 19, 2011 09:36 am

    I always tell adults to say "Sex please".

    I recently took a photo of my parents aged 88 & 85 - saying the above is the only way I've ever got my Mother to smile for a photo.

  • Tracy March 19, 2011 06:32 am

    I've found that while shooting teenagers baby talking them works great! It doesn't seem to work on 2 year olds...they just think you're crazy...but a 17 year old boy finds it hilarious to have a 30-something chick saying, "Oh, Bill's such a cute little boy...yes you are, you're so cute!" etc... and making dumb noises and sounds. It's worked every time I've tried it. :)

  • Victoria Suzanne Smith March 19, 2011 05:50 am

    With children, I have always had good luck asking a question about stinky feet. "Does Dad have stinky feet?" "do you have stinky feet?" "Phew! I smell stinky feet I s that you?" "wanna smell my stinky feet? they are extra stinky?" i usually pretend like i am going to remove my shoe and put my foot in front of their face. Be careful b/c sometimes (especially in an outdoor shoot) the kids may run away screaming. I learn and sing children's songs too. "i'm Ready!" for spongebob fans, and party in my tummy for yo gabba gabba fans.
    Another good tool,(depending on the child) is music. Get them dancing, or dance yourself. I have danced and sang shake yo booty countless times. I think if anyone set up a camera and watched me shoot kids i would be an instant hit on youtube!

  • T-Fiz March 19, 2011 04:03 am

    Sometimes I'll have them do some exaggerated emotion just to get them out of character and to relax a little bit like, "Smile BIG," "Gimme a wink," or "Now whip your hair around." Although, one line that I use that never fails to get a laugh is, "This isn't that kind of photoshoot." ;)

  • Twanet March 18, 2011 05:40 pm

    Hi guys!

    Thank you so very much for this post and all your comments, I had so much fun reading it!
    I absolutely loved all the tricks you can try with the kids, it is quite hard to get kids to pose for the camera, they get bored so easily so I will absolutely love to try out your tips!

    I appreciate it very much!

  • Josey March 18, 2011 05:35 pm

    When taking big group shots at a wedding, saying 'now pinch the bum of the person sitting next to you' always gets a good response. :)

  • Louis March 18, 2011 05:03 pm

    I usually take a picture and look innocent saying, "I didn't know it was loaded!!" You have to be ready for the expressions that follow.

  • Fifi March 18, 2011 03:12 pm

    Great ideas everyone! Thank you!

    For kids, I tell them to say: "monkey butt".

    Anything with butts or farts makes kids laugh.

  • Michael Camiller March 18, 2011 03:05 pm

    In the company of young lovers I came across the long lingering kiss and I said, "Whoa! You had better have a break and get some air." It broke the ice and laughter followed.

  • Mindy March 18, 2011 02:18 pm

    My, what a rude reply, Barb. You'll note that I said "some" of the comments, not all. But, you know, whatever - go ahead and try whatever you'd like with your clients. I know my clients well and none of the sexual or "booger" comments would go over well with them.

  • mmmmhhhhmmmm March 18, 2011 01:42 pm

    Teens are the easiest to make smile. For instance, if photographing a teenage girl, just tell her to smile for her boyfriend. She'll give a polite smile. (Get ready to click now) Then say "He's not THAT ugly, is he?" She'll burst out laughing! Works every time! -=works on guys too, just reverse the sexes (I hope!)=-


  • Barb March 18, 2011 12:05 pm

    Mindy (post above) please don't speak for all canadians, not all of us are as uptight as you. These are fantastic ideas.

  • Photography By Jimbo! March 18, 2011 11:21 am

    I'm loving the comments in this thread - quite a few that I am going to definitely try. One that I have used is (especially with kids and young teens)

    "whatever you do, don't say cheese... I'm not a mouse!"

    You can only use it once per session...

  • Aspen CO Photographer March 18, 2011 09:35 am

    When I'm shooting family portraits, I'll have all of them say "Money" or "Happy" or "Smelly", pretty much anything that ends in a Y. With Kids I have the mom or dad do peekaboo behind me. Thanks for all the great ideas. Karen

  • FotosbyAndy March 18, 2011 09:14 am

    Whenever I'm having trouble getting a model to smile, I ask them to give me their meanest look... then I ask them to say "Ho Ho Ho"... Makes them laugh everytime for several minutes! I stole this idea from another photographer I helped out a few times.. :)


  • Robert March 18, 2011 09:01 am

    When taking group photos, I generally take several/many shots prefacing at least one by saying: "I need one more to make sure that I catch someone with their eyes open."

  • Mariann Asbury March 18, 2011 08:04 am

    I just started and have dealt with one wedding shoot together with another photographer and a few preschool shoots, a newborn shoot and a couple school age shoots. Tomorrow is my first group shoot, a family of 9. What works for me so far is saying pretend like you love each other, get close enough for discomfort and for preschoolers I have a hair tie with googly eyes velcroed on to put around my lense. I tell the kids to make sure he does not run away before we are done taking pictures, cuz then he will miss out seeing the great pictures. If they look away from the camera I will ask where is Mr. Google.

    Then my plan for tomorrow is to tell them to make all kind of faces. Then to start singing ABC together and stop at G and all smile at the same time. Just singing will loosen them up. I will take the shoot from a ladder up a little higher.

  • Tim O'Brien March 18, 2011 07:32 am

    What about saying: "If you had sex last night, don'ts say anything - just smile". It's amazing the number of people who apparantely did have sex last night.

  • Tim O'Brien March 18, 2011 07:31 am

    When I say to the subject: "Lift your chin - all of them" if normally results in a look of shock, and then laughs.

  • Mike Moruzi March 18, 2011 07:30 am

    When I'm getting too many forced, awkward looking smiles, I step back and tell everyone we need to loosen up a bit. I then ask them to give me their angriest, snarliest faces and quickly snap a shot. They immediately laugh in surprise and I get beautiful natural smiles.

  • Bil Palmer March 18, 2011 07:02 am

    "Picture me naked!"

    In the 80s and 90s when I worked as a professional, I carried an old light meter that would fall apart when drpped. When I lined up my large groups I would drop the meter when I took my first shot. There would be oohs and aahs and people would smirk. I would continue as if this was a functioning device and put it back together. The second ad subsequent shot when I dropped the meter, everyone would laugh. But...
    it can only go so far.

  • matt March 18, 2011 06:36 am

    I do a few shoots here and there, but have also picture dairy cattle. So I say to the people something like
    To get the cows to smile, I have to moo. Do i have to do that here?

  • Edward Overstreet March 18, 2011 05:53 am

    When shooting a posed group, I will let them know I will count to three then shoot. If shooting, for example, in South Carolina, I might ask if there are any Clemson grads in the crowd......if so, it might be best to go on a count of two or even one if they feel math challenged. Of course the University of SC grads love it....and the Clemson folks can't help of giggle too. I let them know I am good because I am flexible, one, two or there and I can handle it.

  • Leslie March 18, 2011 05:49 am

    I worked at a school portrait photography company for a little while so getting genuine smiles out of 300-1000 kids (individually & daily) was quite the challenge, AND I had to do it with 30 seconds sometimes.

    I found several different tricks depending on age or grade

    For the babies, having toys that are noisy and full of lights, bringing the toy close to them and then away, while saying "I'm gonna get you....I'm gonna get you"
    Babies obviously won't understand instruction but this always makes babies smile.

    For the for pre-K and K, I would get a serious face and then suddenly say with playful urgency "now gimmie that smile". Maybe even stomp my feet slightly. Sounds counterintuitive but the tone I used was as if I was saying "Boo", or like I'm pretending to be grumpy. This worked for me probably 95% of the time.

    For the 1st graders and on, telling them to say unexpected things like "Holy Moli", "pepperoni", "Stinky Feet" and when I was really in a hurry, sometimes just telling them to say "Yesssssss" would do the trick.

    Tone of voice sometimes makes all the difference. Some kids don't want to be silly. Some little girls loved it when I would switch it up for them and tell them to say "princessss". Their heads tilt sideways a bit and they feel like little princesses.

    "Puppies", "cookies" work too. Anything BUT cheese!

    I, myself, never really found one solid trick to get the middle school kids to smile. That depended more on figuring out their vibe and personality, so for me it was case by case. However, I had a co-worker who velcro'd foam paper eyes with flirty eyelashes to the top of her camera (actually it was a ring that held the cam) and at the bottom of the ring, was a smiling pair of smiling lips. Much to my surprise people didn't notice this ridiculous face until she told them to look at the cam. If people didn't smile she would talk about having to break out the big guns and she would switch the smiling lips with a toothy open-mouth laughter lips.
    Completely silly but it was quite effective for any age. Even serious middle school and high school boys

    For the teachers, simple stuff like "say Spring Break!" or if it was a individual portrait, "Say Money!". The latter is more effective.

    By the way, I love this article and I'm learning some good stuff from the comments! Great post!

  • Hooper March 18, 2011 05:32 am

    When kids are involved, I'll take a few shots and then yell out "Purple Pizza" and the kids just seem to think that this hilarious. I have no idea why this works, but it does. it's like when oldtime photographers used to get everyone in the shot to say "CHEESE" because it makes their mouth look like a smile, no matter how strange it also looks.

  • Iskou-Hee March 18, 2011 04:55 am

    These tips are pure joy to read. Thanks everyone.
    I ask to remember something.
    First kiss or first big success, for example, work magic, any age.

  • Patricia March 18, 2011 04:45 am

    When shooting photos of families or a large group, I ask everyone to point to a particular person. In a family, each child is selected. Lots of giggles & laughs occur, then the group is more relaxed for a family/group photo.

  • Lorne March 18, 2011 04:40 am

    One of the best line I ever used was when someone else was taking portraits of our teen-aged sons. The oldest was surly that day and refused to smile even when the photographer tried humor with him.

    I stepped up and said "I know how to make him smile ...Ah-Boo!"

    I said it to him in that silly way one would say it to a baby to make them smile, and was rewarded with a great portrait of a delightful smile on a surly teen's face. Worked like a charm. :-)

  • Carol Flisak March 18, 2011 04:34 am

    I've photographed a couple of friends weddings and 50th anniversaries. When going around getting images of everyone, I sometimes encounter people who are shy or hesitant to have their picture taken. By saying "If you give me one good picture, I'll leave you alone the rest of the evening" I've gotten some really nice shots. And digital helps if they want to see the picture.

  • Charles Rankin March 18, 2011 04:20 am

    I can't say my quote ( this is a family site).

    Most Marines who went thougth Parris Island in 1960 heard this come and a smile came on our face.

  • Bob March 18, 2011 04:15 am

    With the younger kids, 8 and younger typically, they don't usually get excited to go somewhere and have their picture taken and getting coached by Mom all the way to the location. So if I see some reluctant smiles I tell them that if they can take X amount of nice pictures, then you want lots of silly faces after, you can usually get them to cooperate. But take the silly pictures, you might get some get shots full of happy and personality.


  • Jeff Craft March 18, 2011 04:10 am

    I know we have all done this. Either leaving the lens cap or or the camera was off when you are about to take a picture. I normally make a joke along the lines of "I guess it works better if I take the lens cap off first!".

  • Cora Judd March 18, 2011 03:38 am

    The best laughing photo I have is when someone, standing behind the photographer, held up a stuffed duck and pointed a finger-gun at its head and deadpanned "Nobody smile or the ducks gets it."

  • J Neil Hammitt March 18, 2011 03:02 am

    My best laugh comment is "act like you like each other, even if you don't"

  • Cami March 18, 2011 02:53 am

    As a subject, one I've never forgotten was "Say fuzzy pickles!"

  • Petri March 18, 2011 02:51 am

    No matter what situation, who the people in the photo are or where they are, this has still worked EVERY time:

    "Now, picture me naked"

    It actually brings a variety of expressions, which vary from surprised to disgusted but putting myself on the line really loosens up the situation.

    Last time I had a tough audience but saying "Stop smiling now, I'll use photoshop replace everyone's heads with something that looks happy" worked quite nicely too.

  • Amitav Roy March 18, 2011 02:47 am

    hey interesting tips... let me try it out on my cousin. he is one of a kind, very moody and want to do exactly the opposite of what he is told to do ;)

  • Sharon Aitchison March 18, 2011 02:45 am

    With kids, one of my favorites is ... ask them to lick their lips and say WATERMELON WATERMELON. It's about a 99.9% hit every time! They cannot help but smile.

  • Mindy March 18, 2011 02:33 am

    I think you have to be very careful with "funny" lines that are rude or suggestive. Here in Canada, some of the lines mentioned above would offend clients and guarantee that you'd never be hired again.

  • Scott March 18, 2011 02:32 am

    Depending on the age of the kids, I often use reverse psychology. This seems to work especially well if you have one that is determined to look serious or mad . . . simply tell him or her that for this shot, no matter how bad they want to they must NOT smile. But you better be ready to snap when you say that. If they're in a group I might say " for this one I want everybody to smile except Johnny."

  • Lenard J. C. Lim March 18, 2011 02:28 am

    This is really a good article. Thanks for tips for shooting kids really useful indeed. For myself, I try to make myself more cheerful first and smile and laugh more. I find it very useful specially in beginning of the shoot as the couple/clients also a bit nervous about photo shoot specially pre wedding shoot.

    I normally ask them questions like "How did you know each other?" and I praise them more like "You both are such a lovely couple" 9 out of 10 after that they sure give a sweet gentle smile and that is the best moment to capture the shots!

  • Paul March 18, 2011 02:18 am

    How about: "For those who don't smile..., I can airbrush one in later!"

  • Carol March 18, 2011 02:15 am

    I have found that when shooting children (usually 4 y.o. or up) that asking them to say "fuzzy pickles" real fast 3 times will have them giggling. For the real little ones I just ask them what sound a pig makes. If they say oink, I say no ... they go *and then I snort real loud* Has never failed me.

    For adults - it depends on the level of comfort between them and me - but it's things like "make believe you're grabbing something fun" or for the ladies ... "just think about the best sex you've ever had." For guys - it's more of a "if you had a choice between a night with a Playboy model or dinner with Aunt Bessie ..." And there is usually a huge grin before I get finished. For couples its usually "have you ever made love in a glass elevator?" They tend to get a transient shocked look and then they laugh/giggle. One couple even said, "No, not yet. But now you've inspired us!"

  • Sandy March 18, 2011 02:01 am

    Fuzzy pickles!

  • Troy Branch March 18, 2011 01:59 am

    After having photographed thousands of kids here are some of my choice methods for getting the money shot.
    Say "Pizza"-- Almost always gets a smile. Who doesn't love pizza?
    Ask them to say "Fuzzy Pickles" Almost always gets a giggle.
    Speaking of giggle. "Giggle farts" is a great one as well.
    For those chronic blinkers and squint eyed problems. Ask them to close their eyes like they are asleep. Then have the "wake up and smile"
    "Show me your teeth" sometimes works.
    When working with big groups of kids I used a military issued brass whistle. Very effective in getting attention.

  • Frank Justo March 18, 2011 01:58 am

    I have two lines that seem to work with adults.

    1) America's Most Wanted just called and they want a picture of you.

    2) I am from the IRS and I am here to help you, but first I need your picture.

  • Paula March 17, 2011 08:39 am

    With kids, they usually don't want to pose all sweet for you, so I kinda trick them. I start with asking for other faces....silly, scary, surprised....and then I throw sweet in there...and they do it. :D

  • Alexis March 17, 2011 06:03 am

    Some of these ideas are awsome, I can't wait to use them!

  • nikisnaps March 16, 2011 02:16 pm

    I just recently got my first dslr and adjusting to removing the lens cap has been interesting. However... it has turned out to be a great thing to get a smile! Recently at a friend's for her son's birthday party, I was taking pics of the mother with her friends. I couldn't get a good smile from the one friend until... bah bah bah!!! I forgot to remove my lens cap!!!! I said.. "Huh... might help if I take the cap off!" Stating this obvious but dummy moment brought a huge beautiful smile... and laugh.. from the friend! It was a great photo!

    Being a little "less than perfect" is actually a great smile-getter! It relaxes the person, too!

    I loved everyone's tips and will definitely implement them in the future! THANKS

  • Major Bokeh March 16, 2011 09:22 am

    Take one shot then look at the LCD. Pause and frown then say, "Oh no! it looks just like you!"

  • Killian March 16, 2011 12:46 am

    OK, this one is NOT politically correct, so if you read on and get offended, it isn't my fault!

    I was recently shooting men's high school soccer teams, and of course, they all looked sullen and pissed about having to be there. I wore jeans and a slightly lower cut sweater and told them to "Just focus on the sweater puppies." The guys cracked up and I got great smiles out of nearly all of them!

  • John Woods March 15, 2011 04:07 am

    Here's a technique I believe I read about somewhere on this website. It can only be used in ceratin situations and only once.

    I use this if I am at an event doing some PJ stuff, usually when you grab a couple for a quick shot. If they will not smile, stay behind your camera with eye up to the finder long enough to create some suspense. Then slowly peek over your camera as if you are spying someone over a fence. Make sure you do not move you camera so that you can get the shot while doing this. I promise you, it has never failed me. The subjects always crack the biggest smile as they try to figure out what the hell you are doing.

  • Mike March 15, 2011 12:20 am

    Great stuff! Those of you who have someone like a parent off to your side to sing, make faces, etc... Has anyone tried setting up a hidden camera in the background with a remote to catch those potentially funny shots as they try making the kid look, laugh or smile?

  • dee_gee March 14, 2011 10:47 am

    I love these suggestions! I haven't really taken much in the way of portraits but at work we often have to take photos of staff for their intranet profiles. As they tend to look serious and nervous in front of a camera I usually find the line "You are allowed to smile y'know!" usually makes them relax and smile more naturally.

  • Rob King March 14, 2011 09:20 am

    When shooting families particularly children , I like using the line "ok pretend that you like each other." and " I know that (he or she) bites so we will be as fast as we can so you can escape."

  • James Brandon March 14, 2011 03:02 am

    Very cool everyone. Loving the responses here and learning a few things that I'll have to try! Keep 'em coming!

  • Mattias March 13, 2011 11:58 pm

    - Lets give me a smile!
    *Model tries to smile naturally*
    - That looks so fake!
    *Model starts laughing*

    Always works :)

  • Sarah Davis March 13, 2011 01:57 pm

    Loved this, thanks! And I really like the laughing contest idea, I'm going to have to try that out. I like to bribe older toddlers with lollipops sometimes.
    Me, I use the peek-a-boo thing too especially if the whole family is in the picture. Sometimes it's hard to get those really little ones' attention - I usually bring a rattle to shake just in case. For individuals I love having a parent standing right to the side behind me so that they're smiles are more "in love". :) I once had a Mom try so hard to get her daughter to smile she was performing Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" right behind me. She kept saying, "please don't turn around" *L*
    I also like having the parent stand behind me and then "letting" the child run to them. They're usually laughing at their parent's laughing face, just can't help themselves.
    For preschool children on up, I normally don't try to tell them how I want them to sit. I just do it myself and then say, "Do you think you can do that", etc. Or if I've been taking pictures of the baby sibling then it's "Ok, now I've got something that only big kids can do".
    I also have them do a silly face, mad face, sad face, etc. and then usually I can get one quick serious one before saying, "Ok, now and don't smile whatever you do". Or if it's my son it's "Don't show me that toothless smile, don't do it!" :)
    I talk about Dora & Spongebob or have the boys show me Spiderman poses, etc. Tell the girly girls that my daughter has Hotwheels in her purse so they can laugh about that. Tell the boys about the big toad I saw and maybe if they're keep their eyes out they'll get to see him.
    If it's a young child who's friendly/flirty then I'm usually telling them I'm going to get them or tickle them, depending. Little boys love to be chased. Or the threat of one. :)
    Can't wait to get the followup emails for more good ideas!

  • Pete Bresser March 13, 2011 08:37 am

    I find you have to judge the mood of the couple/kids/family. For example a lively 'mature' couple were fun, but a little tense when they wanted photographs. So when I asked them to embrace I told the guy to put his hands on her waist. Then, as they were just into position, I said,'if you can find it!' They laughed so much (and so did I) that I couldn't take the shot for a couple of minutes. Now, taking the pi$$ out of your clients is not recommended, but in this instance it worked a treat.

    A trick I have when shooting groups of kids lying on the floor and looking up at the camera, where I usually have to stand on the chair, is to tell them they have to catch me if I fall. I then fake a wobble. :o)

  • Jim Stearns March 13, 2011 07:43 am

    Kids.... I will ask, "Where is Mommy and/or Daddy....?"

  • Jim Stearns March 13, 2011 07:41 am

    For mature couples I use:
    "Now you did after your first "Climax". 99.9% of the time it will break them both up. To get the most effects out this have your camera up and focus....thinks will happen fast.... :)

  • Damien R March 13, 2011 07:39 am

    For kids, tell them to make the goofiest poses they can. (E.g., crossed eyes, tongue out, face contorted). After a few seconds of the silliness (which can be caught on camera), their laughter turns into natural smiles. And they are generally more relaxed.

  • D'Ann March 13, 2011 03:14 am

    One of my favorites to use, regardless or age or how many people you are shooting is:

    "it's ok to smile!" that normally gets them to smile

    For engagement photos, I say stuff like "pretend you like each other" (works well with family photos too)

    As for young children, I play peekaboo behind the camera or have their mom play peekaboo behind me so they are looking at the camera in expectation and bright wide eyes of delight.

  • Tom Read March 12, 2011 03:01 pm

    I do mostly weddings with engagement shoots beforehand. Here are a few that work.

    It's OK to kiss, (s)he won't bite will (s)he? (Be prepared for some wicked grins.)

    OK! Hold that kiss, hold it, hold it, another 15 minutes will be about right!

    OK, want to do that again?

  • Sarah Kuhner March 12, 2011 02:49 pm

    My favorite thing to do when photographing kids is to have them try to see if they can see when the camera winked. If they look carefully they will see the parts inside the camera move and it looks like a wink. I get some great smiles and look of pride when they see the wink. I did this with my adult cousins and got some of the best images.

    I try to keep every photo shoot laid back and fun. I sometimes use fun books to look at or lolly pops if the child is very shy or grumpy.[eimg link='' title='IMG_5439' url=''][eimg link='' title='IMG_5438' url=''][eimg link='' title='IMG_5437' url='']

  • Yeelen March 12, 2011 10:55 am

    Anyone have some good lines to say to a single person when you're doing a shoot (mostly girls)? I've read some good ones here though, nice article!

  • Lexi March 12, 2011 10:40 am

    I recently did a photo shoot with a womens sports team who wanted to sell somewhat racy calendars as a fundraiser. While doing the shoot we were in a smallish room, and after a few hours it was an oven, I was sweating like a cow. When the girls got set up for a big group photo, I could see a few of them were feeling pretty tense (most likely because of the nudity!). That's when I said "you know... I was feeling pretty safe behind this camera... But then I realized that I'm sweating my ass of and you're all staring at me". They all thought it was pretty funny and relaxed instantly! The realization that they werent the only ones under scrutiny made everyone feel a lot better.

  • Miguel March 12, 2011 10:07 am

    For a cute model:

    "Ok, you can look beautiful now"

    "Can you do a somersault?"

  • Tim March 12, 2011 09:10 am

    I'm not a pro, but I did a photo shoot at a senior center last fall. I got the seniors to relax by asking about their children and grandchildren. That worked well for most of them. I did have a few awkward moments though if the senior didn't have any children.

  • Frank March 12, 2011 08:39 am

    My Grandfather used to always tell us to say, "Sheep Shit." To this day I can almost always get people to laugh, except my late mother-in-law who would say, "that's gross."

  • Chris March 12, 2011 08:17 am

    When working with teens, I "give permission" for them to act out their modeling dreams during our session and encourage them to give me the look they want in the end product.

  • Carolyn March 12, 2011 07:57 am

    GREAT STUFF!! I'm venturing into photographing people. I have wondered so many times what I need to do to get people comfortable. Thanks!

  • Kiran March 12, 2011 05:54 am

    I like encouraging by saying "You look beautiful!" or "Smiling won't cost $$$".. Anything to make the mood a little lively!

  • Alex March 12, 2011 04:18 am

    I like a quote from wedding photographer Jasmine Star. She'll say something to the bride and groom after the wedding's over like "Grab and kiss him like you just found out his momma doesn't approve of you."

  • Ana March 12, 2011 03:53 am

    I usually find that if I want them to laugh, they do it if I do it.
    So I laugh, out of the blue, and they laugh with me.

  • Michael March 12, 2011 03:40 am

    Great article, I hope there's lots of comments!

    Kids love proving you wrong. I have a rubber duck nose that I put on and say 'what's a duck say? I forget, does he say oink oink? The kids always say 'Noooo!' with a big smile. I keep trying with 'moo' 'meow' and 'woof'. Only problem is the 5% that look at you crazy and say 'quack quack....duh' :)

    Reverse psychology works sometimes too. 'Whatever you do...don't smile'

    I also ask them to say ''

  • Amber March 12, 2011 03:36 am

    I havent done any portrait stuff yet,... although I have a lot of ideas for it. One thing that might work,... depending on the group that your with of course. When you need them to get close, or just want to get a laugh,... Say. " Ok, thats great, hold it. Now nobody fart." Guys and kids especially will get a smirk or giggle out if it.

  • Heidi March 12, 2011 03:13 am

    "Underpants" worked a charm with a group of six year old boys at a school shoot last week!

  • cpando March 12, 2011 03:05 am

    Don't look back at the carea!

  • Ron S March 12, 2011 03:04 am

    This was great - I'll use some of these

  • David Patton March 12, 2011 02:47 am

    When working with kids, I will have a 'laughing contest'...I will say that I wonder who has the biggest and best laugh, I let out a big loud laugh then the kids go, as they finish laughing they nearly always burst into giggles and I get a great natural photo. Great article.

  • April March 12, 2011 01:09 am

    Making them say "boogers" ALWAYS works, regardless of age.

  • Melissa Clark March 12, 2011 01:09 am

    I do tons of children shoots! While it is very hard to work with the many personality of children I cannot help but love the challenge! I always make a game out of it. They seem to enjoy it this way!!! Lots of laughter, lots of jokes, and lots of pretend moments! Bringing things such as a thing of bubbles or having the shoot (if outdoors) in a kid friendly, fun place makes it fun and adventures for them. Even though I may book an hour session I am not strict to stick to exactly an hour. If I go 10 mins over, so be it. I take lots of breaks and let the kids play, and me too! You gain the kids trust and they will participate! If it is a family shoot, get the family group shot out of the way first!!! Then, work on the parents if they want photos alone. Then the kids can be refocused at this point.
    One thing I always do at every shoot- have my clients meet me 15 min prior to shoot. We talk a few minutes. I have them sign papers. At this point I can see how they are naturally. I talk while I am doing the shoot too and make them interact with me as well by asking questions. This keeps everyone relaxed and not tense like some tend to do when they are taking photos.
    Just some things I do. Good article! I loved it!!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Cherish Bickel March 12, 2011 01:00 am

    When I am shooting a couple and wanting a genuine caring look, I will ask about when they first met, first date, and when they knew they would be together forever. Sometimes I will tell the man to whisper sweet nothings into the womans ear while I go "over there for a minute" I find this works great if the man is tense and not smiling.Usually he will start telling her jokes and emit a laugh from one or both.
    [eimg link='' title='Harris0009 - Copy' url='']
    In a large family I asked the littlest girl to "drag" the rest of the family to the next location, which loosened everyone up and got a few great shots in the process.
    [eimg link='' title='Harris0030' url='']

  • Krister March 12, 2011 12:58 am

    Not too original, but whenever someone looks too serious I say the following:
    "Don't worry about smiling, I'll fix that in photoshop later on"
    This usually brings out a smile though! ;)

  • Valerie Jardin March 12, 2011 12:38 am

    Great tips here James! When photographing children it is also a good idea to have a prize bag. Bribery may work in some situations. I found some mini plastic cameras at a party store a few years back and half way through the shoot, when I thought the kids had enough I would say something like:"Okay we're almost done, it's almost time to pick a prize!" The children would perk up immediately for some great candid shots and once they had the mini cameras, I would get more great shots of them pretending to be the photographer.

  • Rebekah March 12, 2011 12:38 am

    I picked up these tips from someone in a Flickr pool.

    1) On a family shoot, I will often say, "Uh, oh, X has a booger in his nose." That usually makes everyone laugh and look at the person.

    2) After a more formal pose, I will say, "Ok, that's great. Now, pretend like you love each other."

    3) With little kids, I will have them look for their favorite character in the camera. That gets them focused on looking straight at the lens and I usually get a nice close up of their eyes/faces.

    4) If there are older kids involved (especially teen boys), I'll say, "Ok, look at the person you like least." It's funny, but usually Dad and Son look at each other and when they realize, I get a little smirk.