Seven Simple Tips for a More Natural Smile

A smile can make or break your portrait. While shooting the person who is forcing a fake smile, it can be obvious in a lot of people who aren't used to "smiling for the camera" and ruin the shot, while a genuine natural smile can make your photo that much better. So how do you get your subject to give you a better, more natural smile?

To get a great smile from your subject, a great connection with the subject helps a lot. In some cases, you are not able to build a connection before the shoot. Not all of us are great at getting our subjects to smile naturally in front of the camera, so Mathieu Stern is sharing seven simple tips to get your subject to smile more naturally for a much better photo rather than having a fake, cheesy smile.

Speaking of cheesy, one of the tips is to not use the word cheese to smile. This is a bad habit for some of us, growing us I have always heard “say cheese” before taking a photo so it’s engraved in my mind as a way to get others which doesn’t work very well. Instead, have them say “money” instead. Sometimes during the shoot, your subjects could get nervous if they aren’t used to being in front of a camera, having them try different methods to relax is a great way to have a more natural smile. Check out the video for the complete list of tips.

What are some tips you use to get a more natural smile from your subject?

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Ask the photographer to tell a joke??? If I could tell jokes and that would be guaranteed to make people laugh, then I wouldn't be a photographer! I would be on stage making a fortune. That one is silly. Also, the best expressions are as the smile is leaving the face (generally) not the big laugh.


Anonymous's picture

I didn't read the article but...not a formal joke. Just joke around. Peter Hurley has some good ideas around that and, yeah, you're right. get the expression after the big laugh. Sometimes, and this depends on the subject, I'll look at the LCD and say, "Damn, I'm good!" Something like that.

If the client asks for a joke, you tell it.... and...silence with crickets in the better have some backup plans. One joke is funny to one group and has no effect to someone else.

A man walks into a bar. 'Ouch' It was an iron bar... You really want me to tell jokes?

For some jokes work, but yes Peter Hurley is a great reference in talking with clients and saying weird things or jokes to get a natural reaction, but not everyone can pull that one off. The other 6 tips still can help.

Kirk Darling's picture

Food. Get them talking about their favorite foods.

Scott Mason's picture

Ugh, the dreaded "forced smile". Some subjects simply can't produce a natural smile, and it can be very frustrating and obvious. Putting them on the spot seems to only make the forced expression worse, so a laugh is often the go-to.

I know the issue all too well, and while I haven't perfected a "smile system", one of my best tips is in regards to timing is this: if someone laughs or smiles big, the very moment they smile or laugh isn't the optimal one. Instead, I wait just one second and then snap a couple of shots. The most natural-looking part of a laugh or smile is right after it begins, when their face is still forming the expression but it it isn't contorted and their mouth isn't wide open anymore. If you snap away during the whole laugh process (start to end), you'll see the progression that I'm talking about.

Thanks for the great advice!