I work a few days a week as a dental hygienist and often parents (moms especially) will whip out their phones to photograph their cute child in the dental chair. That happened last week and I was stuck by the fact that, even in the dental office, the mom said "say cheese" and the 3 year old immediately donned the big, fake, cheesy smile! As a photographer I couldn't help but think that another child's smile had been ruined by a well-intentioned parent with a camera. And of course the mom doesn't like the fake cheesy grin either and doesn't realize she is contributing to it.
If only - From the first day we start photographing our newborn angel we would never say "smile!, say cheese, that's your fake smile, smile or you're in big trouble", or any combination thereof. The fake thing seems to be a big problem with children from approximately age 2 to age 10. When families come for a photo session we instruct the parents NOT to instruct the kids! The best way to capture a genuinely happy face is to simply engage a person in conversation. Many words we form bring our mouths into a smile shape and we generally will look pleasant when we're talking with someone. For children, it's important to just let them be themselves or ask them to tell you about their favorite thing to eat or their favorite animal. Yes, sometimes we do have to revert to me standing on my head or tickling Tom, but 9 times out of 10 we are able to find that beautiful, REAL smile!