I Don’t Make them Say Cheese

I don’t do a lot of shooting for other families, but when I do, I am always sure to have a short chat with the parents. It goes something like this:

“Don’t get upset with the kids. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t bribe them. Don’t make them say cheese. Just give me time and space and we’ll get some great photos of who they really are.”

I’ve never really understood why parents have this idea that telling our kids to say cheese will genuinely make them happy and therefore smile for pictures. It rarely works.

Instead, I tell the parents to just let the kids be. I tell them to let me direct them gently and carefully. And when I say direct, I use the term very loosely.

You see, one of the amazing things about kids is their sheer inhibition. Kids aren’t worried about impressing others, conforming to expectation, or acting appropriately. They feel total freedom to be themselves.

And I love that.

When I take pictures of my own kids, I don’t make them say cheese. I rarely do more than to say something like, “Can you move a bit so you aren’t covering up so and so.” I might ask them take their hands away from their face or to stand still, but mostly, I just let them be themselves. And when I do, I get to take photos of who they really are.

I don’t care about perfect photos.

I want to capture the essence of who my kids are. I love their individual personalities and the ways they exhibit who their true selves. And I know that when I am older and look back on these photos, I will be so glad that I captured who my kids really were. I don’t want them to say cheese. I want them to be real.

And when I look back at our visit to Mt. Rushmore, I will love that I see my sweet three-year-old in all her three-year-old glory. She’s funny, spirited, and oh-so-cute. And I didn’t ask her to say cheese even once.