1. Have a parent stand right beside you
This is my trump card and number one trick. Babies are social creatures, and so my very best piece of advice is to have a parent or someone the baby knows well stand right behind or beside the camera, calling their name and just being silly with them in general. Babies are much more likely to smile for a familiar face than for a strange clicking camera!
2. Don't use toys
If you're photographing an older baby or a toddler, toys are a huge hit. But, in my experience, if it's a baby under the age of one, the subject will just get distracted by the toy, and instead of smiling, they'll want to examine it, reach for it, and drool all over it. The exception: I once had great luck hiding behind a teddy bear and playing peek-a-boo with the baby I was shooting.
3. Be patient
All babies have off days. On some days, for whatever reason, they are more tired and fussy and don't want to smile for anyone, much less the camera! I know some photography studios that will book a two-hour block for a half-hour shoot, so you have some flexibility if your baby needs one more feeding in order to be happy. At-home photo shoots are much more flexible, so if your baby is not feeling it, just try again the next day!
4. Prime the conditions
Babies aren't old enough to understand that if they smile for ten minutes, THEN you'll feed them. I like to take pictures when babies are happiest - usually the mornings, after a big meal and a nap. The picture above was taken right when my baby woke up and before I fed her, because I know she has a five-minute window where she's just so happy to be alive before she remembers that she's hungry :) Find what works for your baby and prime the conditions!
5. Use their natural habitat
This cute girl that I photographed below had just learned a new skill that she thought was amazing - clapping! So we all clapped as we took the pictures. If your baby loves to be in their bed, take pictures in their bed! If they are happiest when doing tummy time, take pictures of them doing tummy time! If they love to be outside, take pictures of them sitting in the grass! That way, you get pictures of them smiling, and also you get to preserve the memory of your baby doing what they love.
6. If you're shooting from your cell phone, take off the case
You don't always have to use a fancy camera to get a really good shot! I've captured some amazing moments with my iPhone. My one tip: take off the case first! I used to have a really bright phone case, and whenever I held it up to take a picture, my baby would stop smiling and stare at the bright red stripes. But when I slipped the cover off, she wasn't as distracted by my plain white phone.
7. There's no such thing as too many pictures
Unless you're shooting film, the sky is really the limit when it comes to taking pictures! Don't stop just because you got a fairly good picture of your baby half-smiling that's mostly in focus. The more pictures you take, the better chance that you'll capture a great one! I almost gave up before I took the picture below. I had spent five minutes crawling in the grass after this child, and captured a few little half smiles, but I'm glad I stuck with it for one more minute, because it allowed me to get this shot.
So there you have it! The little things that work for me to help get babies to smile for the camera. I love capturing moments where my baby is not smiling - the way she sucks on her wrist, how much she drools, how wide her eyes get when she hears a loud sound - but it sure is nice to capture those heart-melting gummy smiles too.
What else would you add?
Leave a comment or tweet me @BrookeEmeryBlog and I'll be sure to add it to this list!