How is it that the moment people are placed in front of a camera, a nervous air suddenly washes over them, making it incredibly difficult to capture a natural smiling shot. It can be quite a challenge to take great pictures of people when photo time makes them feel awkward and uncomfortable.
We all know the “say cheese” trick; however, it always seems to produce an ingenuine looking smile. It’s unbelievable how different a natural smile and a fake smile are, and people can tell. Fortunately, there are a few foolproof tricks that can help you to get people to feel natural and relaxed in front of the camera. Try these ten helpful tips for getting people to smile as naturally as possible when being photographed.
1. Create an emotionally safe environment
People tend to be highly attuned and reactive to other peoples’ emotional states, meaning that the overall “vibe” of the environment you are photographing may reflect on your subjects’ emotions, and their ability to produce a natural smile. To provide an extreme example, imagine trying to get an entire football team to smile for a group photo when they’re debriefing in the locker room after losing a match only moments before. The emotional state of the environment is simply not right for capturing a natural smiling shot, and you will likely be unable to get the image you want.
Although not always something that the photographer can control, you may be able to influence the emotional state of the environment by taking control of the situation, keeping everyone involved, and staying positive and patient.
2. Mirror the emotion you would like to capture
Ever wondered why smiling at a baby will often result in the baby smiling right back at you? There is some science at play behind this reaction. Specifically, something called ‘mirror neurons.’ Mirror neurons are described as “a special class of brain cells that fire not only when an individual performs an action, but also when the individual observes someone else make the same movement.” Mirror neurons allow us to simulate peoples’ actions and even the emotions behind those actions.
If you’re trying to get people to smile as naturally as possible when they are being photographed, simply smile yourself. Everyone will likely react to your warm, natural, smiley demeanour and start to smile naturally themselves.
3. Fake laugh
People need to be comfortable and relaxed to produce a natural smile. An excellent way to break down people’s feelings of discomfort is to try something silly like asking them to fake laugh. Set the challenge for your subjects to see who has the most outrageous phoney laugh. With a bit of luck, your subjects’ facial expressions after hearing the simultaneous roar of fake laughter should be of genuine happiness. Just make sure you’ve got your finger on that shutter button.
4. Compliment them!
Often the reason that people feel uncomfortable behind the camera is due to a lack of confidence. So, what a better way to make them feel more confident and relaxed than to offer them a genuine compliment. The options are endless when you compliment—for example, their hair, their outfit, or their jewellery. Better yet, if you can compliment them on their natural smile, then chances are that those natural smiles will just keep coming. Be sure that your compliments are genuine and don’t feel forced, as this may have the reverse effect.
As touched on earlier, we all know the “say cheese” line. We half expect to hear the photographer say it each time we pose for a photo. As a photographer, you can use the historical overuse of this term as a tactic for triggering some natural smiles. Throw your subjects a curveball, and they will likely crack a smile or even a giggle if you’re lucky. Instead of “say cheese,” use the line “say…” followed with a random word that you think might entertain your subjects. Take into account the age of your subjects, any jokes or funny situations that may have occurred earlier during the session, and use your discretion to pick an appropriate word.
People become quite bemused when they are posing for a photo, and the photographer asks them to simply “look at each other.” The vagueness of these instructions creates a sense of confusion among a group of people. It often will result in laughter or smiling natural reactions as people look around seeking validation from their peers as to what they are being asked to do. This technique is great for capturing candid shots and can be followed up by tip 7 below to get a more classical smiling picture.
7. “Look at me”
While your subjects are still smiling following the confusion caused by your earlier instructions to “look at each other,” follow up with the new directions, “everyone, look at me” to capture those natural smiles before they dissipate.
8. Trigger a special memory
This tip is most suitable when photographing couples or people you may know well. By asking your subjects to recall a particular moment in their relationship (e.g., their first date, first kiss, or engagement) or history, you’ll help them feel more relaxed and attuned to each other. This method is likely to result in those loving natural smiles you want.
9. Try not to laugh
Here’s one for when you’re photographing groups of children. Have you ever challenged a group of children to try not to laugh, and the exact opposite happens? The longer the children stare each other down, trying not to laugh, the more their lips quiver, and all of a sudden, they’re all bursting into fits of laughter. This idea is an incredibly simple but almost foolproof way to get natural smiles out of children.
10. Tongues out
To finish off the list, here is one more simple tip for getting natural smiles out of children. Sometimes, sticking your tongue out at children is all you need to get some giggles out of them. Hopefully, you’ll be able to catch some natural smiling shots before they stick their tongues back out at you.
With these tips, you’ll be in good stead to go out there and get those natural, smiling, photographs that you’re seeking. Just remember to stay positive, be patient, and adjust your techniques appropriately.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.