Camera shy kids
Photography Tips

Six Tips to Encourage Camera Shy Kids

This is a Guest post by Betsy Finn of Betsy’s Photography about how to encourage camera shy kids. 

If you’ve ever had to coerce your child into giving a forced smile for the camera, you are not alone. Most parents have to deal, at one point or another, with a kid who just won’t cooperate in front of the camera. When growing up, I was one such kid. I’m sure I ruined many snapshots and wasted a lot of time with my stall tactics. You know, the “I don’t want to be here” glare, pouting instead of smiling, or perhaps the all out refusal to stay in the photo with my face turned the correct direction.

Today I want to help you encourage and engage your camera shy kids. First of all, you need to consider your child’s needs. Depending on the age of your kid, there are naptimes to plan around, and the all important meal schedule.

Simply put — if your kid is tired or hungry, your photo opportunities are likely to be greatly diminished. Or even zilch. Parents, when you’re scheduling a family portrait, please… please… make sure to take these two basic needs into consideration:

  • Food
  • Sleep.

Food and sleep can really make or break a session.

A happy, well-rested child is going to be much more cooperative. Maximize your chances by planning wisely.

Now, the next thing I’m going to tell you may seem counter-intuitive, but trust me. The more you nag your child about behaving properly for the photo, the worse things are going to go.

Kids have a built in irritation detector, and they know when something rubs you the wrong way. You have to be nonchalant about getting the photo you want.

Remember the saying:

“You kill more flies with honey than with vinegar?”

Well, it can be applied to the camera shy kids too. The less you stress about getting your “perfect” picture, the more relaxed your child will be.

As you can tell – if you do keep at it – you get there in the end 😀

Tips on how to engage your child’s interest and encourage smiles!

When photographing families, I sometimes tell the parents ahead of time:

“Don’t worry about what your kids are up to. That’s my job.”

So, what tips do I have for you?

1. Interact and engage

One thing I make sure to do is connect with every child who comes in front of my camera. If it means taking a break from taking pictures in order to break that communication wall, I’m all for it. Sometimes I’m able to connect just by chatting with kids, or other times I will say silly things or act a little goofy. Getting kids to laugh really breaks the ice.

2. Allow for silliness

What do you do when your kid sits there for the camera, but makes terrible facess, or possibly even refuses to sit still? Do you scold and reprimand? If so, let me share another, more effective method. Instead of denying your child the opportunity to be goofy, you can respond positively. Admire their creativity, offer to take a couple of silly pictures… after you’ve gotten the few photographs with nice smiles. The promise of being able to goof off — and not get in trouble — is 90% effective in enticing my kid clients to calm down and engage themselves for the camera.

Allow for sillinessBit of hide and seek never did anyone any harm, right?

3. Let them help

Sometimes kids just want to do what you’re doing. Simply put, you can work wonders by inviting a child to view the picture you just took, or by offering for them to “help” you take a picture …after they give nice smiles, of course.

4. Save silly for the end

You know how I mentioned letting them be silly?  Well, if you can swing it, make sure to reserve those fun pictures for AFTER you’ve gotten the nice smiles you need.  That way, it can be a reward for good behavior, and you will have gotten the pictures you actually want.

5. Sneak a few shots

Every once in a while, I will work with a kid who just isn’t comfortable in front of the camera.  In those instances, I’ll actually be intentional about not focusing on taking pictures, but instead give my attention to the child.  When the camera is taken out of the equation, or at least minimized, it’s amazing how often camera shy kids will completely open up.  I will nonchalantly start taking pictures while talking with the child, keeping the photos (and camera) a non-central part of our interaction.

6. Delegate photo-taking to someone else

OK, so this one isn’t something I do with my clients, but as a parent, you may find it helpful so I’m including it on the list.

Sometimes kids just need a break from having their parents tell them what to do.  The history of your photo interactions can taint any attempts to do something new.  So, if all else fails, it might be worth having someone else take the pictures.  Kids who won’t smile for mum or dad may be thrilled to smile for grandma.  Any skilled portrait photographer should be able to relate to your child and help them relax in front of the camera (after all, it’s our job!).

In general, just try to relax and be flexible. The less stressed you are about photo opportunities, the less stressed your kids will be too. When everyone is relaxed, that’s when the magic can happen in front of the camera.

A perfect shot in the end – but we allowed for a bit of silliness, didn’t we?

I hope these tips have been helpful in encouraging you as you consider ways to be more effective in getting pictures of your camera shy kids. Just remember, sometimes it takes a lot of work on your part, not to mention patience, but the end results are usually worth it. In the worst case scenario, you can always make the decision to set the camera down, live in the moment, and try again with the pictures later. Sometimes a break does wonders for everyone.

Do you have any other tips that might be helpful for parents who’ve tried everything (and failed) to convince their kids to smile for the camera?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Betsy Finn is a portrait photographer who lives in Michigan with her husband, two boys, with one only just having made their first appearance in the world, and two cats (Betsy’s story). Her photographs have received international recognition.  In 2011, the Professional Photographers of America named Betsy one of the top 10 emerging photographers in the country.  Visit to Betsy’s fine art and portrait photographs, or read as she blogs about parenting, capturing memories, and finding contentment in the journey of life.   Follow Betsy on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest, and Instagram.