Stop telling Children to Smile

    Children at wedding looking at the wedding cake

    I love it when I see children at weddings playing in a corner or hiding under a chair playing with their cousins. They are smiling, relaxed and most importantly they barely even seem to care I’m taking their picture. Once the light is dialed in and I have a frame I really like I’m just waiting for action. Waiting for them to do something super cute or funny. I’ll tell you that 9 times out of 10 just when things are getting good their parent or some well meaning adult will interfere. Walk up the child, poke them, grab their arm and tell them “Smile! Look at the camera!”.

    Stop telling children at weddings to smile for the camera

    Now not only is the kid not playing, and naturally smiling, the adult is in my shot. Literally their legs are in my frame! If I wanted legs in my frame and the child to smile and look at my camera I would be asking them to do that, but I’m not, I’m just trying to get a nice candid photograph of a child playing. The child then of course stops whatever cute thing they were doing. They look up at the adult and then will either protest and refuse to smile or turn to me and gives me a forced uncomfortable smile that I will reluctantly take a photo of.

    Children at weddings lack camera awarnness and thats a good thing.

    Sadly this scenario will be repeated over and over again on wedding day. I feel bad for the kids because they are basically harassed every time I go to take a photo of them. This interferes with my ability to get a nice natural photograph. It also conditions the child to believe that having their photo taken is something they need to perform for. Unlike adults children don’t think they have a bad side. They aren’t concerned about their weight or wether or not they have makeup on or not. They are content to play and let you take their picture. As a photographer with a more photojournalistic approach to weddings I can tell you that photographing a subject who lacks camera awareness is one of the most joyful things.

    Weddings aren’t always the most fun for kids.

    Flower girl sitting on a bench watching an ipad at wedding with a bridesmaid in the background.

    For the most part weddings aren’t particularly child friendly events. Children at weddings have to sit for long periods of time in uncomfortable clothes, be quiet, and listen to grown ups talking while they drink, and keep telling you that you can’t have cookies. On top of that there are lots of strangers that some how seem to know you, and want kiss you. Most weddings are seriously lacking when it comes to toys and friendly spaces for kids to run and play in. All of this can make for a stressful and tiring situation for a child.

    Mother feeding her baby during a wedding ceremony in Rincon, Puerto Rico.

    If you have a child at a wedding and they aren’t crying you are truly winning at life and deserve a gold star. That being said children are some of the most important people at weddings. They are the guests that people are most excited to see. Weddings are a wonderful opportunity for them to meet family and friends they may never have met before.

    It’s tricky because I know parents and family members are well meaning. They want photographs of their children to look nice and they want to teach their children to smile for pictures. Believe me when I tell you that there is a time and a place for this. It is during the formal portraits or when you have asked me to make a portrait of your child. Unfortunately, by the time it is time for these photographs to be taken the kid is so burned out from being told what to do for the camera that they will often want to run and hide.

    Children at a wedding reception playing with a toy guitar.

    Tips for helping your photographer:

    These are some tips to help your photographer get great photographs of children at your wedding:

    1. Don’t interfere with a photographer taking candid photographs of a child. This includes walking up to them or talking to them. Keep a watchful eye and let the scene play out. Chances are the photographer is getting great photographs, thats why they are choosing to photograph that particular scene. 

    2. If you see another adult interfering with a candid moment go up to them and let them know that the photographer is going for a more candid look and that they are getting in the way. Most people don’t realize what they are doing until someone points it out. The photographer will love you for it and you will have taught the other adult that this isn’t a situation the child needs to perform for and they won’t keep doing it.

    3. Bring toys, snacks and when possible let your children play freely! Having kid friendly activities at the ready for your children at weddings will increase their enjoyment of wedding day. It will also give them something to do while adults are enjoying cocktail hour. I’ve even been to weddings where the couple arranges for a there to be a kids art table with coloring books and crayons. Bring some extras so your child will have some to share if there are other kids at the wedding.

    4. When its time for family portraits try and be as relaxed as possible bringing your child over. Since children have shorter attention spans I typically try to position them last. They are usually going right in the front or being held so it doesn’t matter where they are standing or if they are even near the group until everyone else is arranged. In the shot list given to the photographer its a good idea to indicate which photographs have children in them so we can get those done first.

    5. If you want to help a photographer to get a children at weddings to look and smile during the family portraits. Holding up a toy or making silly faces helps, but please do so behind the photographer. Not so close that you are crowding them but close enough so that when the child looks over they are looking towards the camera and not off to the side. If you are off to the side making noises chances are you will distract other family members in the photo from looking at the camera as well.

    6. Remember that this is a special occasion for everyone and have some fun! Dancing with kids on the dance floor and checking out the cake can be a great way to bond with little wedding guests.

    Kids playing with balloons
    Black and white photograph of flower girl twirling
    Ring bearer and flower girl sitting on the grandmothers lap during a wedding reception
    Flower girl at a wedding playing with a mirror.
    Grumpy young boy sitting on his mothers lap
    Wedding photograph of a flower girl wearing a floral robe touching a wedding dress hanging in a window.
    Wedding photograph of a child looking around the corner.
    Beautiful window light putting on wedding suit
    Baby holding his hand out towards the camera.
    Emotional ceremony during same sex wedding
    Groom and his son hugging on wedding day.
    Children at weddings looking cute in a pink tie and white shirt in front of a line of groomsmen.
    Low angle photograph of a father holding his baby in the air.

    Check out some of our other wedding photography on our wedding galleries page.

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    April 21, 2019