A good friend and one-time client who just returned from vacation with her husband and two children asked me the other day how she could get her very reluctant son to smile for the camera. Like most kids in his age bracket (7–11ish), he finds picture-taking to be an annoyance, and either clams up or pastes on a cheesy faux-smile which is the photographic kiss of death. I run into this all the time; well-meaning parents coach their kids to “smile or else” before a shoot — the kids, terrified of the potential loss of ice cream or a trip to the Lego store will face the camera with teeth showing, but the smiles never quite achieve ignition, because they aren’t real. Too many families on vacation feel like they have to stand in front of some landmark, find a stranger willing to take their photo, and then do the dreaded “grip and grin” just so they can have evidence that they were there, and they had fun, dammit!
(thanks to Awkward Family Photos for this image of a happy, footless family)
My quick and easy advice is to lower your expectations. Kids don’t like to do anything you tell them to, so why not let them think that smiling is their idea? Rather than lining everyone up and making a production out of it, try having your camera ready during some low-key moments, and then just see what happens. Let them goof around, let them explore — you’ll find that their natural smiles come out when they’re not feeling like they’re under pressure to perform. Wouldn’t this be a great vacation photo?
Even just goofing around at home can produce some pretty cool stuff. Don’t distract them with the camera, engage them!
And if you do get them to pose for you, make sure they’re having fun!
ETA: If you find that none of this advice is working, you could always consider hiring a professional photographer to take along on vacation with you. I’m pretty sure I’m available, especially if you’re going somewhere warm…