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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Capturing Kids' Smiles in Portraits | Maris Ehlers Photography

What is it about smiles?  It's a simple thing, really - a pair of lips stretched out around teeth of any shape and size and two sparkly eyes can have the power to not only transform a person's image when they do smile, but can also magically connect with a person seeing it. 

I love all kinds of smiles, I really do.  I should, because I photograph a lot of them!  If I'm completely honest though, my favorite smiles are those of children who either have gaps in their smiles from lost teeth and those that are making their way in, or faces of kids that haven't quite "grown into" their new big-kid teeth.  

Some parents hesitate to have their children's portraits taken when they are in any of these stages, but I wholeheartedly encourage it.  Losing those baby teeth is a rite of passage of sorts.  No longer can a child be called "little" when they have "big" teeth.  From the time a front tooth is lost until the new one magically appears is a time to stop and acknowledge the transition that a child is going through, the bridge they are crossing where they begin to leave the innocence of a young child behind and suddenly are all about Radio Disney, cool clothes, no kisses at school please, and a little sassy attitude now and then.   They suddenly lisp because their tongue slips into that space where a tooth should be, and their gapped tooth smiles remind us so much of what they looked like as babies with teeth poking out all over. The best part for me though, is that they haven't yet gained something that most older kids do, and that is self awareness, or in this case the need to be self-conscious.  

Some of the most delicious smiles I've ever photographed are these larger than life, exuberant sparkly smiles with teeth too big for a little mouth, with holes where teeth should be, or teeth half grown in one space and fully grown or non-existent in others.  They grin at the camera like that smile is the most beautiful thing in the world, and of course, it is.  

Our son lost his first top front tooth yesterday, and I was soooo excited for him!  Excited because it's a milestone, excited because I knew I'd have yet another excuse to slip into his room in the middle of the night, gently stroke his hair and soft little boy cheek (while stuffing a fiver under his pillow, btw).  Excited because as he's watched his friends lose theirs, he's been wondering and wondering when he'd have his turn.  It made me sad though, too.  Probably more sad than I have been in a while when I think about my kids growing up.  He's in second grade now, and as most parents will attest to, when your kids are in elementary school, their world expands rapidly around them, and not always in a good way.  Having a child with a mouth full of baby teeth still says to a parent - I am little, I am small.  Big teeth tell us that they are changing, learning, growing, and separating from us a little bit each day.  Sob!  

Below are a couple of pictures of my niece, who is currently "growing into" her adult teeth.   

I love this smile - so full of life, of energy, and no self-consciousness whatsoever.  Just giddy delight with the joy of being a kid.  

Oh, if only all children could experience such a life. 

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