Lori Pickens


Welcome to Photo Goals with Lori Pickens, where we uncover the secrets to capturing unforgettable moments behind the lens. In today’s featured episode, “5 Tips for Quick and Easy Engagement from Kids,” we dive into the art of eliciting genuine smiles and cooperation from our youngest subjects.

Whether you’re shooting quick mini sessions back to back or, like me, specialize in school photography, you know the importance of capturing authentic moments efficiently. Join me as I share some of my favorite tricks and techniques for engaging with children and achieving stunning results in a short time frame.

From playful prompts to interactive games, these tips are sure to inspire creativity and bring out the best in your young models. So grab your camera and let’s explore the magic of capturing genuine smiles and cooperation from kids in record time.

Match the Energy You Want Them to Have

Photographers aiming to capture authentic moments with children must align their energy with the desired atmosphere. Whether it’s a playful session or a more subdued setting, matching the energy you want to capture is key. From school environments to family shoots, projecting the right vibe can elicit genuine smiles and cooperation from young subjects.

If you want them to be silly and happy, YOU need to be super giggly and energetic.  At a school, they may be used to having to be quiet in certain settings.  Or at a family mini session, maybe mom warned them in the car to “be on their best behavior”.  Some times you have to let them see that you are there to have fun and playful. In the same way, if they are wild and all over the place, you may need to calm your own energy down.  Speak in a more slow, quiet tone.  

Little girl smiling with her hands on her knees.

Engage Their Hands

Kids can often feel unsure about what to do with their hands during photo sessions, leading to awkward poses. Providing them with simple, engaging tasks can help alleviate this discomfort. Direct them to hold onto props, play with toys, or interact with their surroundings to create dynamic and natural-looking shots. Wiggly kiddos can get awkward or have their arms all over the place.  Giving them very specific instructions can help make them feel like they know what to do.  (Adults love this too ;))  Here are a couple prompts that I commonly use:

  • Can you put both hands on your lap, like a princess? 
  • Can you put JUST YOUR THUMBS in your pockets?  
  • Can you hold the middle of your skirt softly? 

Simplify Your Words 

When working with children, clear and concise instructions are essential for effective communication. Depending on the age of the kids, you might also need to reword the way that you give instructions.  Some times I will ask the kids to cross their ankles – especially if they are sitting with their legs spread wide or if they have awkwardly crossed their legs up a the knee.  

I can almost immediately tell if they are hesitating or not sure, they might not remember what “ankles” are or how to cross them at least.  So I’ll say, “Can you put one shoe across the other one like this?” And show them what I want them to do.  I also find being very descriptive helps them; instead of “Can you sit up straight?”, I like to use:  “Can you stretch your belly up tall?”


Redirect Helpful Distractions  

During shoots, it’s common for distractions to arise, whether from parents, other adults, or the environment. To maintain focus and productivity, photographers should proactively manage these distractions. Politely redirect attention when necessary and create a conducive environment that encourages engagement and collaboration.

A common situation for this would be having mom or another adult 10 ft on either side of you “helping” to make the child cheer up, feel free to give them instructions too.  If by chance they do get him/her to smile, there is a good chance the child will be looking off in the complete wrong direction for what you are trying to accomplish.  I won’t hesitate to give them a quick, “hey that’s great, do you think you could come over and do that RIGHT on top of my head?”  I will often even lean down a little bit, so they realize I literally mean, on  top of my head or not at all. 


Avoid Clenched Poses and Smiles

To capture genuine emotions and expressions, photographers should foster a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. Encourage children to be themselves, allowing for spontaneous moments and authentic interactions. Avoid overly posed shots and instead focus on capturing the unique personalities and connections of your subjects.

If they get too stiff or awkward I will ask them to shake their shoulders and get loosy-goosy for me.  If they are stuck in a hard “cheese” smile, I will have them do a sad face to completely reset, and then ask them to do a “sweet smile” and then usually a big, happy smile.  Keeping them moving through instructions will prevent them from getting stuck in any of them mechanical poses that you are trying to avoid. 

Make a Genuine Connection 

Building rapport with children is essential for creating memorable and impactful photographs. Take the time to connect with your young subjects on a personal level, engaging them in conversation and showing genuine interest in their lives. By establishing trust and rapport, photographers can capture more meaningful and authentic moments.

For me, I’ll move the camera away from yourself and ask them about their favorite shows or if they have pets/siblings at home.  I show them that I am interested in what they are telling me.  Even when things get stressful or I am behind the schedule I had hoped to follow, I remember they are just kids and kindness goes a long way.  


Photo Goals with Lori Pickens

Thank you for tuning in to Photo Goals with Lori Pickens. If you enjoyed this episode, I’d be thrilled if you could take a moment to leave a review on the podcast. Your feedback helps me continue to deliver content that you love and helps others discover the podcast too. For more behind-the-scenes and daily inspiration, don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Pinterest. But that’s not all – if you want to be the first to get updates on upcoming podcasts, tutorials, and all things photography, make sure to join our mailing list. It’s the best way to stay connected and catch all the latest from Photo Goals. I’m excited to have you as part of our community and can’t wait to bring you more engaging and educational content. Thanks again for listening and supporting Photo Goals with Lori Pickens.

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Lori Pickens is a Mother, Wife, Tech Geek from Parkersburg, WV, and the podcast host of Photo Goals. She is a true lifelong local and has been photographing in the area for over a decade. She serves families from Parkersburg, WV to Marietta, OH. Lori is also a Click Pro Elite and Click Community Mentor. When she’s not capturing pictures or spending time with her kids, she enjoys organizing her lists and spending time on her family farm.

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