We absolutely love it when newborn babies smile – well, who doesn’t?! Over the many years that I have been photographing newborn babies, I have learned a few tricks to get them to smile during their photo shoot. Since we photograph babies at our Mar Vista studio between the age of five and ten days from birth, their smiles are still just a reflex and there are ways to trigger it.

“Your baby’s reflex smile will disappear by time she’s 2 months old, and her first real one will make an appearance somewhere between one and a half to 3 months (or 6 and 12 weeks) of life. You can tell the difference between a reflex and real smile by the timing and duration. Generally, reflex smiles tend to be shorter and occur randomly, when the baby is sleeping or tired. Real smiles, on the other hand, occur in response to something, like seeing her mama’s face or hearing a sibling’s high-pitched voice, and they are consistent, Dr. Gettleman explains. When it’s the real deal, you will see the emotion expressed in your baby’s eyes” quoted from Parents.com

When it comes to the trigger smile, there are some babies who smile often and easily and then there are those who just flat out can’t be bothered by giving us a little smile. However, here’s how I do it: first of all, the baby needs to be comfy on a soft fabric tucked inside a basket or snuggled up on one of our bean bags. We have spot heaters hanging from our ceilings that roll on tracks so that our babies are toasty warm wherever they are in the studio. The heaters blow air, as opposed to radiating it, and so both the soft blowing sound and feel of the hot air generally sooth the baby to a deep sleep state where they are prone to a reflex smile. I have found that babies rarely smile after being asleep for a long time, we get those smiles as the baby is falling asleep and reaching that deeper sleep state. Therefore, we generally get smiles at the beginning of a photo session, right after a mommy feeding break in the middle of the shoot, or at the end when the little baby’s sleep has been disrupted (by moving him around to different sets) several times throughout the course of the session.

If you know what to look for, you can see a smile about to happen a few minutes in advance. Babies start to breath really deeply and their eyes and mouths start to twitch. Reflex smiles often come in a series of small ones, followed by a side crooked smile and then those oh-so-coveted big giant open mouth smiles. Babies will also often frown first and then smile right after. I can not tell you how many times my lens holding arm and trigger finger have been posed and waiting for minutes at a time for a little smile…. it can sometimes take a while from when you see those deep breathing signs!

In addition to warmth and comfort I have two other tricks up my sleeve. When I see a baby breathing deeply but get no smiles, I will sometimes turn our heater off for a minute and then 9 times out of 10, as soon as that warm air starts blowing, the babies are so overjoyed that they smile for us. If none of these tricks work, then my last resort is talking to the baby in a sweet, high pitch voice. Babies love to hear your voice in a loving and soothing way, and sometimes that will send them over the edge into their deep sleep state. The environment and stress level of everyone in the room is also a key factor in soothing a baby to sleep. I have often had an over-anxious parent in the room plus a restless baby – and the moment the parent leaves the room and it’s just me and my team’s soothing energy – the baby falls straight to sleep. Babies pick up on our energy, even when we don’t know we are projecting it!

One of the things I have found that does not work is touching the baby’s cheek or forehead to get them to smile. Moms tell me that this works on their little ones all the time, but for some reason it never has for me. It might have something to do with babies being held and swaddled when mom does it, not quite sure. I find that if you touch the baby’s face when they are on one of our photo sets it will generally disrupt their deep sleep state and they will stir or start rooting towards that finger that just brushed across their cheek.

The baby in this photo shoot was a natural smiler. We didn’t need to pull out any tricks to get him to smile, he just loved being all cozied up on our soft furs and blankets, the warm environment and showing off for his proud new parents 🙂

Take a look at more of our newborn baby photos here: The Pod Photography Newborn Gallery

We are a newborn baby portrait studio located three miles from Mar Vista, CA 90066. Give us a call at 310-391-4500 today!