my boy….the 6 year old

So yesterday I shared that I took the boys yearly birthday pictures. My middle son was not very thrilled with taking 5 minutes out of playing in the yard to have his picture taken. I’m guessing most parents understand how difficult it is to get pictures of kids that just don’t want to be photographed. I thought I would share how my time with my son went…as an encouragement that you can sometimes still get a great shot despite an unwilling subject. Normally I would have just waited for a day he was in the mood, but time keeps slipping by and I just wanted to get it done.

So, the session began with this shot. Can’t you tell how incredibly thrilled he is about it all?

I asked, begged him just to look at me and smile. And got this.

The more I asked for cooperation, the more I got this.

Now, here is my trick – I just keep snapping. Eventually in the midst of the grumpy & goofy faces he is bound to let a smile out simply because he is actually having a little fun being a squirt about not smiling for me. So I just kept snapping…never getting upset with him, being calm about it, not making his mood worse, just waiting. And in that waiting, for one split second an adorable grin is released. Because I was still snapping and being calm about the whole process, I was ready and able to capture that very short smile.


And a nano second later, this face returned.

I changed angles a bit and told him how much I love seeing his smile – he gave me a little one on his 0wn.

Then the smile disappeared. I let him jump off the chair. Trick #2 – let little boys (and girls) jump off things. Brightens their mood instantly. But, once the jump was over…the not so happy face returned.


I asked him to stand still….he responded by moving around. Watching me try to capture him in movement made him laugh. And, I captured that smile. I could have got upset with him for moving around, and then we would have just both been grumpy. I let him play his game, it allowed him to smile and I got 2 cute natural grins.

Then we moved to location number two. He was thrilled to have more pictures taken…

“Please just a couple more with a happy face.”…and I got these:

I told him that some people believe if you make a silly face long enough, your face will freeze that way. He thought that was funny and laughed. I was ready for the laugh and caught the big smile.

He realized I caught the smile and his face quickly changed.

No problem…I got what I wanted and our very short session was over. That made his smile return.

Update: The settings for all of these photos were the same! ISO 100, 1/500, f2.8 The sky was overcast so I could just leave it all the same. If you notice the background..the closer I am to the him, the blurrier the subject. The farther I moved away from him the less blurry the things closest to him.

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  • Anna Joy - Thank YOU for these tips. My 3 year old throws HUGE fits and hides his face when I want a picture. I think your advice will help! 🙂

  • ko - Yay! Thanks for the tips! Keep calm and keep snapping. I think I’ll make a t-shirt with that on it 😉 Have a lovely day!

  • Lisa Johnson - When Emma was about 4, I took her to have her picture made at one of those cheapy photo places like MotoPhoto or something like that (this was the 90’s. I was not yet enlightened:) She was so determined to not coorporate. Every picture was a scowl……until….at some point, she felt an unintentioned smile coming on despite herself, and stubbornly poofed out her cheeks like a chipmunk to try to contain it. At that time in her life, she was blessed with an amazing pair of cheeks. Anyway, it turned out to be one of my very favorite photos of Emma despite the fact that it was a “bad” photo. And now that she’s 18, I absolutely love it! Twinkly eyes, kissy lips, and enormous poofed cheeks 🙂
    But I sure was mad at that little tiger at the time!

  • MixedMolly - That’s exactly why I take lots of pictures. It’s a pain to go through so many afterwards, but it’s worth it to get the keepers. I would love to know how you work with downloading, saving, etc. Do you keep your RAW images or do you keep Digital Negatives? Just curious. I am new to the DSLR world and have been struggling with this a bit.

  • sarah - I had a session with a 5 year old little girl just this past friday. Her mom assured me she LOVED to have her picture taken but when it came time to start the session I was getting the same reaction. I took hundreds of pictures in just a short hour so i could capture a little smile in between the scowels. Between me asking her lots of questions about school, what she likes to do, and boys (yes BOYS at 5!) and taking LOTS of pictures I was able to get some amazing shots during that session. I just stayed relaxed and easy going and just kept snapping away. It takes a little more time during the editing but it’s totally worth it to have the “it” shots!! Great advice Ashley!

  • Amy - I applaud your patience! Great shots 🙂

  • Sarah - LOVE THIS!!

  • lesley - I have to admit, I’m kind of bummed he’s not in his black UA shirt with it tucked in. Now that would be a true picture of him right now! Ha. Love his goofy ways.

  • ranee - love this! and you’re right, he is crazy photogenic…even in the silly face photos. 🙂

  • Asha - I love the walk through of your photo shoot! My son (almost 8) is the same way. He hates having the camera on him and does the exact same thing. Only worse, he’s a squinter. He’ll be playing in the yard, all fine and as soon as I start taking pictures, he starts squinting and rubbing his eyes. I’m always able to get a few good pictures out of him here and there and it’s worth all the effort or “stalking” as I call it. You got some amazing shots!

  • amy jupin - okie grown. love that.

  • Amanda - I love that, even though all you wanted was a nice smile, these photos capture the goofy, silly, 6 year old I’m sure he must really be right now! And capturing that is just as important as capturing that fantastic little smile

  • Midwest Magnolia - Melissa Lewis - Thank you for thinking to share all of your outtakes with us!
    Oh my word, your snapshots class totally changed my world. I take pictures all the time and am capturing some really special moments that matter to our family. The effects of your snapshop class will ripple into our forever! Now with all of your blog tips, I can use all of your secret tricks too:)
    And, I can’t help but mention how adorable your boy(s) are. In addition to their cuteness, they are styled to perfection:)

  • Lacey - Gosh, he is adorable! Thank you for these tips!

  • barbara Janaina - This look so much like MY own 5 years old!! even the faces are the same !!! 🙂

  • Alicia - Love the t-shirt! Being from OK too, I would love to know where it’s from…

  • Alice H - My 11 year son is this thrilled when I take his pictures! He is a handsome young man. But I can tell he is ornery!! LOL!

  • kristing - wish i would’ve seen this yesterday! 🙂 we had our pictures taken last night and my 3 year was not cooperating, and my own behavior quickly went down hill. i should have had more fun with it and been less of a “crazy mom”. oh well! i’ve learned my lesson and even if we have a redo session i will definitely be displaying some of our “not perfect” photos so i remember what not to do – and that our life is never “perfect”. thanks for the positive tips!

  • Tiffany - LOVE his shirt! We have the black onesie that my MIL picked up in a little shop in downtown Tulsa (we live in Stillwater). I have it tucked away in a box now that he’s too big 🙁

  • Becky M - Now if only you had some advice for uncooperative husbands. My husband hates pictures (or rather forced smiles) so much that I was only able to salvage a couple pictures from our wedding day. The photographer took about 3 or 4 pictures per shot to make sure to get one good one, and my husband decided he was only going to smile for the 1st one (the rest were unnecessary to him). Now we’re living with a family picture with my father-in-law’s eyes closed!

  • tiah - For every ten pictures I get one good one of my 6 year old. Even as a baby ir was like that. So glad we gave digital cameras now. I hate to think of how much film we would go through.

  • Paula S. - Gosh he is ADORABLE!!! Thanks for the reminder to stay calm with the end goal in mind. This post also makes me want to try out the 85mm 1.8. 🙂

  • Danielle - Made me smile. I talk and talk and talk to my boys until I think they are so tired of me they have to smile 🙂

  • Jessi - These shots are adorable!! Thanks so much for sharing them and the information behind your 6-year-old. It’s very helpful to hear how you dealt with a “difficult” model– though you made it not difficult! 😀

  • Amy at Fig Milkshakes - Great advice! I don’t so much have grumpy or unwilling subjects as much as just distracted. My girls are 5 years apart in age, too – so I’m certain taking as much pictures as you do, you know what I mean when I say that.

    Have you seen this? I’m certain a pro like yourself doesn’t need a thing like this, but I came across it a while back and thought it was a unique idea.

  • Claudia - Beautiful pictures as always. Loved your advise! I have three girls that have their moods too. Sometimes its good and sometimes grumpy mood gets passed to the others. 🙂

  • Julie B - I like to say random things that make my kids laugh like “booger” or “fart.” It usually does the trick. Oh to be young and think those things are funny!

  • carolina - I really enjoy this post.

  • Suzanne - That is just the encouragement I needed to hear! I am the try-to-hard mom that turns into the grumpy mom. Thank you for sharing your sweet little family with us!

  • Sayonada Thomas - Love these tips. My new favorite trick for my almost-4-year-old is to have him ask me for a piece of candy. He always smiles when he asks me for things… works every time!

  • Kenna - This post made me smile! My 5 year old boy is, to quote him at age 3, “not a fan of pictures”! I often get the silly faces when I take his picture. And sometimes I lose my patience. So this post is a nice reminder to embrace the crazy silly faces and hope for a genuine smile in the process. H is super handsome by the way!

  • nancy - AshleyAnn-
    Would you share your f-stop for these, especially that ones that you pulled back on? Pretty please? I can’t seem to get the right aperture for the distance shots, and as usual these are so so so yummy! Not to mention an amazingly delicious 6-year-old!
    nancy-of the crazy 9

  • Hili - Thanks for sharing the reality of what it’s like to get great shots of your boys . My son is 20 months old ,he already says ‘mom is shooting’ (in Hebrew cause were from israel), and I can’t get him to look straight at the camera . I find that he is not very interested in having eye contact with the camera , only when I move my own face from behind the camera he will look at me . I’m curious whether you sometimes have that issue with your children ?

  • giozi - Ha ha ha but he looks cute even he doesn’t smile. The other ones are gorgeous. He is so handsome.
    For me is each day more difficult with my daughter 🙂

  • amber - Hilarious. And so helpful. My oldest will be five next week, & still loves to be the center of attention. Her little brother…not so much. And now there’s another brother to one day have to consider;). Thankfully he could care less about that camera in his face as long as his milk comes when he wants it. haha Thanks!

  • jenny - ha! this post made me laugh-so true! I run into the same challenges with my kiddos. I have also found that simply watching them with my camera is the best way to photograph children. You get their real smiles and expressions that way. And some of those “not smiling” faces are still faces that I want to capture and remember too.

  • able mabel - Great advice. I’ll have to remember to try it.

  • ajira - For me, there’s another reason I keep shooting- I like the other faces my kiddo makes too. Honestly, it’s a little bit like I just want to capture every aspect of him and I think it’ll be hilarious for us to look back on all the many expressions he could make in the space of 2 seconds! They’re such magical creatures that everything they do is worth a capture. Your son’s funny faces touched me just as much as his smiles did. And his authentic smiles are way more engaging than a ‘cheese’ smile would be, I’d venture! Thanks for sharing this experience!

  • Beth - Gracious day there are NO words for the natural beauty you capture. None. 🙂

  • Noel - Thanks for sharing this. I get mad very often when my son is naughty and ended up both of us are grumpy. I need to stay calm.

  • Kimberlee Jost - Ella is really into making faces in EVERY picture I take right now and I think I have captured it adequately. I’m hoping that some day I will remember it fondly. Not there yet.

  • Elizabeth - thanks for the encouragement to just keep snapping! my boys are SO hard to photograph…argh! your boys are so handsome!

  • Carmen - Gosh, you sure do take amazing photos! Thanks for sharing these. I just wish you could come and visit me in Australia so you could take some photos of my family! I love reading your blog and all about your ‘normal’ family. You are an inspiration to me and I always find your blog very encouraging. Thanks!!!