authentic smiles - family photo
Justin Hackworth Photography

Draw out kids’ authentic smiles! Here’s advice from an expert for perfecting family photos

In our family photos, we always want to see those authentic smiles.

A truly good photo captures the essence of its subjects, one frame at a time. It’s about the warmth, the candid laughter, and the heartfelt embrace.

Photographer Justin Hackworth has mastered this art, believing that the key to such photos is capturing authentic joy and connection.


Setting Realistic Expectations

Contrary to what many may believe, Justin suggested lowering expectations when it comes to photo sessions, especially with children. Letting the kids lead results in a more pleasant experience and photos that tell a truer story of the family’s life.

“If you start with this idea that the kids are in charge, they’re gonna run the show. You’ll put up some guardrails, but they’re going to do what they want and you’ll just follow them around and respond to them,” Justin said.

The Process of Photography

Not every photo will be perfect, and that’s okay. Justin emphasized that good pictures come from bad ones—it’s all part of the process.

“I’ve taken so many bad pictures, but you only show the good ones! If you’re photographing your family, you only need a handful of home runs,” Justin emphasized.

The goal is to capture authentic smiles and expressions, which are far stronger than forced grins.

Prompts for Authentic Smiles

Instead of asking kids to smile, Justin uses prompts that lead to natural expressions. Her are a few ways to elicit genuine smiles and capture the expressions that parents know and love:

  1. Ask for funny faces
  2. Use reverse psychology
  3. Have them do something they like

Composition and Focus

Keeping little ones focused during a shoot can be challenging. Justin suggests using tall stools or boxes to keep them in place without restricting their personality. It’s also important not to push them past their limit; knowing when to end the session ensures a pleasant experience for everyone.

See more of Justin’s work on Instagram, @justinhackworth or through his website,

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