Pro Photographer Ginger Sumerlin’s Tips for Getting Kids to Smile for the Camera

Pro photographer Ginger Sumerlin is no stranger to making kids laugh. In addition to having three boys of her own, she also enjoys taking incredible family photos for her clients. When it comes to kids, she knows how to make them grin for the camera and today she’s sharing her tips to help you capture adorable smiles from the youngsters in your life.


Today, I explained why squirrels fall out of trees, taught a shy little boy the joy of beggar’s lice, and crawled through the weeds to photograph a bear all in my back yard to forever capture some beautiful moments for the mom of these five– and seven–year–old children. And no one was really harmed by a bear…


Samuel and Hadi arrived this afternoon for their mini session, and as soon I greeted them in the driveway, they backed away. Eeek! Having seen me only here and there when their mom and I attend functions together, they seemed scared to death of this photoshoot.
They didn’t care about the coordinated clothing mom had chosen for them this week. Hadi could care less about her curls falling, and Sam didn’t notice when his hair parted funny. Mom was sweating. Maybe it was nerves, the rush of getting kiddos dressed and unstained to my place, or maybe it was the 76-degree weather bipolar Tennessee gifted us in November!


I generally tell my clients that I don’t count to three and then snap. So, when my camera is up at my face, assume I am photographing. With adults, I will explain a bit of my posing thoughts and talk about the optimum lighting, and perfect their hair strands. But I never do this with kids. They don’t care about how I do what I do. They just want to be done smiling. And they want to play.


Sam and Hadi


Today I went beyond the usual “let’s put some acorns in Samuel’s pocket” to keep his hands still for a few normal shots or having Hadi hold on to her dress and show me her bows to achieve a sweet grin or two. They didn’t want to sit next to each other like best buds with perfect faces.


Those things usually work well enough, but mostly develop forced, awkward smiles. They wanted to talk about boogers and poop and pee, and so we did. They didn’t want to throw leaves up in the air–they wanted to throw them at me, and I joyfully allowed it and photographed it (carefully making sure there were no rocks involved as to damage my baby, my 85mm 1.2L lens).


I usually will tell the mom to bring accessories, and I mean scarves, hats, necklaces, or maybe a toy for a younger child. Today’s mom brought a teddy bear hat and gloves for Sam and kitten ears and bell for Hadi. A first–but a good first.


As soon as little Samuel donned his bear hat, he transformed into a fierce animal with a soft, low growl, and an adorable chuckle. He briefly chased me through the weeds, plenty of play to capture what I wanted, and to keep him interested in the photoshoot. Hadi purred for her moments in front of the camera because I allowed her to be something she loved.


While walking through the woods behind my house, I realized Sam had accidentally gathered a cluster of “beggar’s lice.” Those weird little triangular looking, Velcro-ish weed pods which are so annoying to collect on your clothing. I sensed mom was still slightly nervous about her pictures with the kids, as Samuel had not enjoyed the normal tricks of the trade to produce a smile. But then beggar’s lice happened. Yep, fascinating.

He had no clue, nor did I before I tried it, that they will also stick to skin. So on his nose one went, and on it stayed. One little triangle on his nose. But he smiled a glorious smile and hugged mom’s leg because he was happy we had allowed it to remain there.


Hadi glanced across at him, holding on to mom’s other leg and giggled pleasantly. It took me all of about six seconds to photoshop that invaluable beggar’s lice from Samuel’s nose. (And I left it on there in at least one edited image, just for fun!) Worth every bit to capture that moment–those genuine young faces.


Sam and Hadi


So, if I’m really being honest, I DO love that sibling hand-holding shot. But I also recognize that there comes a time that little ones age out of this. Though they are close in age, Hadi and Sam did NOT want to hold hands and walk through the gorgeous Tennessee fall foliage today…until I asked them to, for just a short stroll, hold hands and walk away from me, then turn and answer a simple riddle.


The only riddle I know really:“Why did the squirrel fall out of the tree?” (For anyone wondering, the actual answer is “because he was dead.”) Every time I counted to three, I encouraged them to guess the answer. Boy, we got some doozies, and you guessed it, some hilarious smiles!


Today’s shoot was exceptionally fun. Fun for me, mom, and both Samuel and Hadi. I just now finished the slight bit of post production on the images and I’m happy with them. Not because of the images we created, but because of the moments we captured.


Sam and Hadi


5 Tips to Help Make Children Grin For a Picture

1. Find out about who they are and talk with them about what they love, even if it’s boogers!
2. Tell them jokes–no matter how cheesy–and encourage them to laugh and talk through the session. Most of the time, you can capture wonderful expressions through their talking.


3. Depending on ages, FORGET about poses. Allow them to crawl around on the ground (unless they are wearing white…then don’t do that).

4. Remember their attention span is more equivalent to their age (years to minutes) than the two or four hour session mom has hired you for.

5. Make friends with the children so they remember you and the fun they had. Make your mark with captivating personality AND images, to create lifelong clients.


Ginger Sumerlin is the owner and operator of Sumerlin Photography in beautiful, albeit bipolar, east Tennessee. She is married to David, her husband of 18 years, and is a homeschooling mom to three little boogery boys. Be sure to check out more of Ginger’s photography here.