Tony Lipari made a quick check of the backdrop and camera, rubbed his hands together and asked: "Who's our first contestant this morning?"
Lawrence residents Patti and Tom Winn, along with their 3-year-old son, Austin, approached the counter.
It was 10 a.m. Saturday at the portrait studio at Kmart, 3106 Iowa, and already a line of about 20 people had formed to sign up for portrait sessions or watch the photographers work.
From Nov. 1 through Dec. 29, the portrait studio at Kmart does about three times the business it does during the rest of the year, said Greg Johnson, another photographer at the Kmart store.
Johnson said portraits of children comprise about 80 percent of the studio's yearly business. The rest are family and couple portraits.
For the Winns, it was all three.
Mrs. Winn brushed her son's hair one more time and gave the white shirt under his sweater a swift tuck into his pants before he went in front of the camera.
Austin had a solo portrait taken first, before Mr. and Mrs. Winn joined him.
MRS. WINN had coerce Austin to get him to sit by himself.
"Hurry. Do you want candy when we get back?" she said.
Austin sat perfectly still on the steel table.
Now for the tough part. The smile.
Lipari squeezed a plastic baseball and fitted it on the crown of his head.
"Look what's on my head. It's a hat," he said.
A faint smile appears on Austin's face. The lights flash, and the picture is taken.
Lipari is a regional studio photographer for Portrait Corporation of America, which Kmart commissions to work out of its stores.
But Lipari said his photography job often includes entertaining children to make them relax and smile, he said.
JOHNSON said he really enjoys photographing children, even the ones who may not smile on command.
"Those are the ones who are fun because they're a challenge," Johnson said.
Lipari arranged the Winn family for a group portrait, with dad sitting tall in the back with mom and Austin sitting in front of him.
Again Mrs. Winn asked Austin to smile.
"Austin, you need to smile a little bit," she said.
"I can't smile," he said.
Another area photographer said that when children are uncomfortable during a portrait session, playing peek-a-boo or jumping up and down relaxes them.
"Sometimes we have to act like idiots ourselves behind the camera just to make kids laugh," Carreno said.
AT THE Lawrence Riverfront Plaza, Sixth and New Hampshire, photographers don't shoulder all the responsibility of entertaining their subjects. The plaza has commissioned Lawrence One Hour Photo and Portrait Studio, 2340 S. Iowa, to take portraits of children sitting with Santa Claus this year.
Margaret Carreno, a manager the studio, said it's fun to watch the children react to Santa, because they're either thrilled to see him or are so frightened they hide behind a parent.
"It's not that they don't like him, it's just that he's so big and red," Carreno said.
Mrs. Winn said a portrait session is something new and often frightening for a child. She said when she sat her son down in front of the camera, he thought he was going to see a doctor. He was scared.
"He asked me if it was going to hurt," she said.
For 4-month-old Cody, the son of Alan and Kathy Carlson, Eudora, modeling was a fairly painless process.
THE PHOTOGRAPHER posed Cody in about four different positions. The infant smiled during the session and was out of the studio in about 10 minutes.
Johnson said shoots have lasted as long as two hours.
The Carlsons said that that the pictures of their son would be gifts to Cody's grandparents.
"It's an everlasting gift, something you can look back on," Mr. Carlson said.