How To Become An Amazing Photographer in One Easy Step

The number one question I am asked about my work as a photographer is, “How do you get your kids to always smile and look so cute in every picture?”

(In case you were wondering, the number one question I am asked in general is “Why, Mommy?” I get that one at least two hundred times a day, no exaggeration.)

The usual range of answers to the first question concerning my kiddos includes everything from bribes, fun dress ups, turning photo shoots into a game, and so on. All true stuff. But you aren’t reading this to hear that, because- let’s face it- we ALL know how to bribe our kids. It’s practically animal instinct.

So if you belonged to the KGB and you really wanted to know how I make these pictures work, you would befriend me. Then you would come over one day, hand me a box of chocolate or a bottle of wine, and get me talking about the process. We’d look at this innocuous-looking picture:

WWII poster themed child photo shoot

“Cute picture,” you would say. “Have another chocolate?”

(I need to get something off my chest. It’s kind of the elephant in the room right now. If you were RUSSIAN spy, you would probably want to offer me vodka, but if you were a Russian SPY, you would know I wouldn’t drink it. So we’re sticking with chocolate.).

“Do all your pictures look like this?” You would continue.

“Oh no! I have photographed lots different cosplay themes! Wanna see my photo album?” I would offer.

“You already showed it to me twice,” you would say, just barely politely. “What I am asking is whether your kids always smile like this. It looks so SIMPLE.”

“Oh, THAT,” I would say, staring sadly at a now empty box. “Nope. They don’t.”

Now somewhat sheepishly, I would finally admit, “I just delete all the thousands of pictures that aren’t perfect. I’ve been doing it for years. In fact, I wish I were a better photographer on my own merit instead of being THAT person who takes two hundred pictures at every photo session and then keeps the only twenty that are perfect.”

The next day you would hightail it back to the Kremlin with all my secrets (and the files you had downloaded from my computer when I went into the other room to put all the Tupperware back in the cabinet before my one-year-old could get to the Pyrex at the back). Putin– who is a huge fan, and had been thinking of hiring me to be on hand when he rescues baby tigers, discovers previously-extinct species, dives for dead sea scrolls, and wrestles bears shirtless– would be stunned when he decoded the file and found the following:

Finding Storybookland
If this picture came with audio, it would go something like this: “Hey buddy, will you smile?”
Parapet Photography
“Remember how much you wanted to play soldier?”
Finding Storybookland
“Isn’t this fun? You’re so cute and awesome. Wanna… smile?” “No! I just want a drink.”
Finding Storybookland
“Okay! I took the picture of you drinking! Now will you hold the mug and smile? HEY!!! Would you like some blueberries after this shot?”
Finding Sotrybookland
“No blueberries? Okay. Hey, I just remembered! Would you like a gluten-free cookie?”
Finding Storybookland
“What WOULD you like? Ice cream?”
Finding Storybookland
“Aha! Ice cream! Awesome! It’s all yours after a good shot. Now can you give me a normal smile?”
Finding Storybookland
“So close! So close! Ice cream is coming your way, buddy!” At this point, he cracked up at his own silliness, and we got the picture you saw in the actual poster.

Putin is disappointed, but he has learned an important lesson: kids are kids. The only little ones who always do what you want them to are the mannequins at JC Penney, but can you imagine having them as a family?

Back to Earth. The NUMBER ONE way to increase the quality of your photography portfolio, the perceived cuteness of your kids/clients, and–by virtue– your own “talent” is to DELETE pictures. Period. Anyone out there with a point-and-shoot can get a lucky shot. And EVERYONE gets some lousy shots. One key difference between professionals and amateurs is that professionals know how to cull properly and keep only top notch portraits. Having good equipment is amazing, but if you want to be regarded as really gifted, keep nothing but the very, very best.

(Before carrying on, I want to make one thing clear: I AM talking about improving your portfolio and choosing “quality” when you inundate Pinterest or your Facebook friends’ news feed with your talent. I’m not talking about censoring or airbrushing your LIFE. I still take and keep very candid/goofy/REAL pictures of my kids, and they go in the family photo album amid lots of laughs and stories. I also keep a FEW alternate facial expressions or cute moments for clients, because out-takes are REAL. Please note that there is a difference.)

Some tips:

1). You can ease in. Begin by taking MORE pictures. It helps you to detach yourself emotionally when you have to delete that one otherwise perfect picture that was not in focus.

2). Allow yourself to keep fewer than ten percent of the shots you take for starters

3). Think of it this way: You know that passive-aggressive comment your friend made about her husband on Facebook? SHE genuinely thought it was cute. No one else did. Same with many of the photographers featured on If we’re honest, we all think a little better of our work than it really is, so it’s smart to show less and keep the quality really high.

4). If you find yourself thinking the following thoughts with highlighted key words, you’re in the danger zone:

-“Other than being slightly out-of-focus, this picture is PERFECT!”  –  Delete it.

-“Her smile is UNIQUE in each of these ten (otherwise identical) pictures. I’ll keep all of them.”  –  You are allowed to keep two, max.

-“This shows a different… PERSPECTIVE.”  –  You should probably choose which ONE you prefer.

-“This is the only photo like this! I really wanted this shot to work.”  –  A shame. Next time, refocus and reshoot and you might be a little luckier!

When I did the WWII poster series, I REALLY wanted to replicate this shot with my children. Here are the best of the shots I got. I think you’ll see why they didn’t make the cut.

Holy height difference, Batman!
Yeah! We’re going to get a group shot! Hm. Crazy height difference!
 Let's try this sitting down. Hat throw! Nice touch!
The hat throw!
When he takes off his socks, it means he is finished taking pictures.
When he takes off his socks, it means he is finished taking pictures.

Sometimes exact imitation is not the highest form of flattery. Disregarding the photoshop effects, which of these images makes you feel happy and which makes you laugh in pity and maybe a little horror? Keep in mind that the inspiration was this poster.


That’s all. Carry on! Happy purging!

2 thoughts on “How To Become An Amazing Photographer in One Easy Step

  • Hannah, thank you for posting this! I am forever saying exactly those phrases and NEVER deleting the offending photos. The bad photos crowd out the good photos, and I end up discouraged every time I look through my albums. That said, it would be so much fun to see a book of some of those photos of uncooperative kids! Just to remember exactly how much hard work it takes. 🙂

    • Truth, Elizabeth! The only reason I can make fun of those comments is that I used to say each and every one… And then be offended when Zach commented about the sub-par nature of the ones I kept. 🙂

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