We’ve been talking this past week about not asking your kids to smile and say cheese, and instead capturing natural emotions and interactions as they are engrossed in the things that they love.

We’ve looked at capturing the full range of emotions, not just the happy ones, as a means of validation as well as a much more rewarding approach to photographing your kids.  

If you’ve been following along with these tips, you already know by now how much confidence and joy you can experience daily when you broaden your concept of the moments that are photo worthy.

However, I know that you still want photos of your child smiling and looking at the camera - I do too!

The good news is that there’s a better way than asking your child to smile, which after all is prioritizing how it looks over how it feels, and it is far more satisfying.

Photosanity Challenge Day Six - Wait for natural eye contact and smiles

Wait for natural eye contact and smiles

Natural eye contact and smiles - the best!

Natural eye contact and smiles - the best!

One thing I’ve noticed as a mom is that every so often, my kids will look at me, and sometimes they will even smile of their own accord! In fact, there is a rhythm to it, and if I am ready and prepared for that moment, I can capture it as a more true and authentic moment, one that feels much better than if I had asked them to smile.

When we photograph our kids, we are not just photographing them — we too are present in the photo from behind the camera. Your photos of your kids looking at the camera are photos of them looking at you — and that is something no professional photographer can capture for you.

When you wait for natural eye contact and smiles, you  are capturing a special moment between you and your child that you will treasure for years to come.

You are capturing true connection rather than a manufactured moment, and you are letting your kids know that you accept them however it is that they show up, allowing them to interact with you in their own natural way, on their terms.

The deadpan baby stare is also the best.

The deadpan baby stare is also the best.

And honestly, they don’t even need to be smiling. Some of my most treasured moments captured are of natural eye contact and no smile. It’s not like I like I love my child less when they are not smiling, nor do I ever want them to feel that way.

Photographing my kids as they are honors who they are, and who I am. 

Don’t get me wrong, this is not always easy, and I do not always succeed. Sometimes we just need our kids to do what we tell them to do. I have moments with my kids that I’m not proud of, probably multiple times a day. 

But surrendering whenever we can to whatever the moment brings and celebrating it can be strangely empowering. In letting go of control, in letting go of how it looks, we are trusting ourselves and our kids.

We can see and feel the beauty that is there. We can love more freely and express love more freely. We can focus on the interactions we feel proud of. 

When we focus on how it feels, not how it looks, we can find confidence and joy daily from photographing our kids.

5/14/17 update: This challenge is no longer available but check out our new challenge: 7 days to finding joy through photographing your kids.

Featured participant photos

"Tried black and white for the first time. After a long day of swim meet, finally getting ready for bed. She might be tired but she still has lovely smile." - Rowena Adrienne

Hi Rowena,

Day six photo by challenge participant Rowena Adrienne

Day six photo by challenge participant Rowena Adrienne

This photo is just gorgeous - the eye contact and smile look very natural and also speaks to her relationship with you, given that you’re the one she is looking at (this is where the photos we take of our kids have a special meaning no other photographer can capture!) The slightly sepia toned conversion looks great too, and the light is very soft and even on her face.

My one suggestion would be to crop in slightly so there is less cushion on the right of the photo and even more focus on her face.

Also, I wanted to mention your number one frustration from your survey - not having enough time. I know it can be hard to feel like you have enough time to photograph your daughter, but my goal is to show you not only how it doesn’t have to take a lot of time and can be integrated into your daily life, but also show you the joy and satisfaction that can come from capturing the moment so that you will naturally prioritize photographing your kids as something that is well worth finding the time to do. I hope this week has shown you a little bit of that.

Rowena's response:

Thank you for your positive feedback and I try the suggestions you gave me. I agree with you, not having time is not an excuse. I have to make my daughter as priority as time flies so fast, and I don't want to miss all those great opportunities for capturing all the lovely moments with her. Again thank you Alethea. I enjoyed the 7 day challenge and looking forward to doing it again soon.

"This gal turned 9 today. So, this was her bear claw pancake breakfast. I love her smile and joyfulness. I did use the burst as I wanted to take pictures spontaniously. She was so bright and cheery this am. I did B & W because there were too many colors in the background for me." - Rachael Webster

Day six photo by challenge participant Rachael Webster

Day six photo by challenge participant Rachael Webster

Hi Rachael,

I know that at the start, your biggest frustration was that all your photos are staged. It looks like you were able to capture many natural moments during the challenge and here the eye contact and smile looks very natural.

From all your photos this week, it does look like your daughters are used to smiling for the camera, even if you don’t ask them to, as you have their eye contact in quite a few of the photos.

I find some kids see me with a camera and flash me a very natural smile, which still makes for a great photo. (My kids on the other hand are not trained to smile for the camera so when asked to they put on these very fake grimaces!)

But as you stop asking them to smile, they’ll get more used to not posing and you’ll be able to get more and more natural moments.

One thing to note, at the ages your daughters are (11 and 9 I believe), a total “fly on the wall” approach may not work, especially as they are so used to you asking them to smile.

Instead, interact with them naturally as though your camera weren’t there - you can make your camera “invisible” without being invisible yourself. The more present you are, the more natural they will be around the camera.

Anyway, onto the photo at hand, I love it! This is a beautiful capture with great light, and I agree, I prefer the B&W version, it really makes the photo shine. 

And although we don’t get into editing until the 30 day challenge, I’m glad you posted the original so we can see what a difference editing can make!

Also, another minor comment, but I feel the crop is a little close to her head. I don’t necessarily mind “head chopping” but as you only sliced such a tiny part of her head, it looks a little too tight. I can see that it’s because you were going for a square - I would keep the original crop ratio too. See my version of your photo for another way of editing this lovely moment.

The original unedited version of Rachael's photo

My suggested edit of her image

Rachael's response:

Alethea, thank you so much for the feedback. I have loved this challenge week. I have learned quite a bit about my photography skills and how to improve them.

I like how you edited the image without "head cropping". I definitely have a tendency to head crop, and I am not sure why.

I do feel as though my youngest is always smiling. She rarely has a frown on her face. So photographing her is rather easy now that she is older. My oldest is a whole other story with her "tweenatood". :)

Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this experience!