Baby smiles are addictive, and one of the reasons is that they’re utterly pure. There’s no artifice in a baby’s expression, no filters between their brains and their little mobile faces. Getting a good baby portrait is a matter of timing: get the baby roughly in position, get them looking the right way, make them smile, push the button. It isn’t entirely easy to get those things to sync up, but it’s no harder than, say, pinball.
Older children, who have grown out of the animal stage of human development and developed true consciousness… they’re harder. “Take a picture of me with my eyes crossed!” “Ok, I’ll be Freddy — take one now!” (From Five Nights At Freddy’s, a video game, if you’re blessed with ignorance.) “Now I’m going to die… Ugh!” “Ok, this is my biggest smile!”
It does no good to explain the ideal of a natural smile; at least at seven and five, they don’t understand what that means. It does no good to harass them about it; the smiles only become more uncertain and more false. In short, the process is just like with a baby, except with their freaking intellect in the way, which means there are at least twelve additional stars to line up before everything works out.
All of which is to say that my original idea, of scheduling a reminder to take pictures like this every year… well, I’m wavering a bit on that. We’ll see.