How to Make a Cranky Baby Smile for Photos

Smiling baby with finger of father,close up

sot / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Just like adults, babies each have their own personalities and moods, and they may not always feel like smiling for the camera. Unlike adults, babies can't put on a fake grin just by saying "Cheese!" You'll need some of these tricks to make a baby smile for a picture.

When Do Babies Start Smiling?

Many proud parents will tell you that their newborns were smiling the day they came home from the hospital. Although they look adorable, these cute little smiles are probably just spontaneous reflexes. Babies will smile randomly, even when they are sleeping, until about one month of age. After that:

  • Between 6 and 10 weeks of age: Babies will begin to smile at environmental stimulation. 
  • By 2 or 3 months old: Babies will likely be able to look at you and smile when they're happy.
  • Between 4 and 6 months of age: Babies smile and then look away if they decide the interaction is too intense.
  • At 6 to 12 months old: Babies start to experiment with laughter and become really fun to photograph. They can smile in social situations and use more than one type of smile to communicate.

How to Make Baby Smile

The first thing to remember when taking baby photos is that you can't be shy. Babies can sense when you are uncomfortable. A forced, phony smile from you isn't going to put your child at ease.

The best photographers of children know that connecting with their subject is the key to getting a good shot. You need to get silly! So try these tricks to bring out the bright baby smile:

  • Make funny sounds
  • Pop your lips
  • Click your tongue
  • Wiggle your ears or your nose
  • Wink
  • Make a funny face
  • Give a thumbs up
  • Play peek-a-boo
  • Tickle baby with a feather
  • Bump their nose with a stuffed animal
  • Dance to some silly music
  • Put on a mini puppet show

If one of these does not work, try something else or try two at the same time. Make the noise of an airplane with your eyes wide open with surprise while bumping their nose with an animal. Seriously, get silly!

If possible, ask another family member to help you coax a smile out of your baby for a photo. Siblings or cousins are especially good choices; most children are blessed with a natural talent for making babies laugh.

Using Props for Your Photo Shoot

Props are often incorporated into baby photography sessions in order to add interest to the pictures (since baby poses are severely limited during the first year). Props can also be useful in making cranky babies smile.

Toys that are bright and colorful or feature interesting sounds will help capture your child's attention long enough to elicit a smile. Try using rattles, balls, blocks, dolls, or trucks as props in your photos.

When There Is No Smile

Keep in mind that some of the most adorable photos do not have a smile. During some sessions, you may not get a single grin out of a baby. This is reality and any baby photographer will tell you the same thing. Some days it just does not work!

Instead, look for soft eyes, inquisitive looks, and other cute things that babies do. Grab those moments too!

1 Source
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  1. CDC. Development milestones.

By Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders is a freelance writer who has published several articles on photography, creative writing, scrapbooking, and paper crafting.