Magic Get-Your-Kids-to-Smile Camera

As a parent of two young children, I can’t believe how hard it is to get them to stay still for a decent photo, let alone look at the camera and smile. And have their eyes open. And not pick their noses. Getting both kids to cooperate sounds like a fairy tale. (Trust me, I’m kind of a fairy tale expert.)

My go-to tactic is to set my feet, aim, cross my fingers, and keep hitting the shutter button. Like, a lot. Surely one of these will turn out alright, right?

This is how the camera roll on my phone has filled up with thousands of shots of the kids with varying degrees motion blur. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s becoming a problem.

When I’m feeling particularly desperate for a good shot and/or have enough energy, my killer strategy looks like this:

  1. Launch the camera app
  2. Start shooting and keep shooting
  3. Make some new, weird noise to get the kids’ attention
  4. Combine that with a funny face
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until I capture a good photo or someone nearby calls the cops
  6. Profit:

This is why studio photographers keep stuffed animals and noisemakers on hand—this shit works. It’s just not very convenient if you don’t have the benefit of a fast-action lens, a tripod, umbrella flash thingies, and extra adults around to take turns as GBC (Goofball Behind Camera).

Wait. It’s 2015, and that camera I’m using—it’s a smartphone. There’s more technology in there than on the Apollo guidance system. What if the phone could help out somehow?

The Project

Build a smartphone camera app that doesn’t just take pictures (although that needs to work), it has a few tricks up its sleeve to help capture good photos of my kids. Your app should play some funny sounds to grab their attention, maybe even blink the flash, all the while capturing images with rapid-fire speed. Basically, it would automate my crude algorithm:

Thread.start( hit_shutter_as_fast_as_possible );

do {
} while ( smiling_photos < 1 && !the_cops_are_here() );


It would be fun if you let parents record their own sounds, or maybe even connect to a public registry where users can vote up the most smile-inducing tones. The goofier the better, from my experience, but variety and novelty are just as important if you really want a five-star smile.

Bonus Points

Technology available today even makes it possible for your app to determine, in realtime, when my kids have their eyes open and are smiling at the camera. In theory, you could capture a buffer of images in-memory and only save the ones that look like they might have smiles. Automatically keeping only the “good” ones would save me literally gigabytes of photo storage space, and free me from having to sort through all those shots later.

Or you could only start capturing images when the stars align for that fleeting moment when two children both make eye contact. We’ll worry about fingers up noses in post-processing.