10 Tips To Get Your Photography Subjects To Really Smile

As a photographer, one skill that you must master is getting your subjects to truly smile. A photograph can be transformed with a real, authentic smile — one that lights up their whole face. If you’ve struggled with this in the past, don’t worry. I have put together ten tips to help you coax authentic smiles from your subjects!

Get Your Photography Subjects To Really Smile

credit: photorest.net

1. Be Yourself

As the photographer, your subjects will be taking cues from you. Be yourself, and act without pretenses. When you are yourself, without putting up a big facade around you, your subject is free to be themselves.

What you are looking for in your photographs is a true smile; a smile that speaks of real emotion. You don’t want a pasted-on smile, as these are a dime a dozen.

Capture a smile that lights up the whole face, crinkling eyes and all, by acting authentically. This is the only way that your subject will feel that they have permission to act authentically as well.

2. Smile

Psychologists have shown that it is a natural human instinct to mirror behaviors and expressions. When you smile, your subject might just mirror your expression — if they like you enough. Since this is based on admiration and respect, it is best to form a high-quality relationship with your subjects.

Act courteously and kindly, so that psychologically they will feel an unconscious desire to impress you. When you have this foundation in place, smile! Your subject will smile back.

3. Give Them A Compliment

Everyone loves a compliment. Be sure to give your subject positive praise. They may be self-conscious about the photoshoot and facing their inner critic. Ease their fears and worries by building them up a bit. This will get them into the positive frame of mind that you need them to be in.

4. Warm Them Up

Talk to your subjects. Find out what they care about, and what passions and hobbies they have. As you get to know them, watch their face. You will find your subject’s sweet spots; the things that they care deeply about.

When you need them to smile for a shoot, mention these sweet spot topics, be it their dog, child, surfing at 5 am… whatever it is that they love and that makes them happy.

Take them to that happy place! In order to know that happy place, you have to do the work of warming them up and talking to them first. Then, you have a secret weapon at your disposal whenever you need it.

5. Play Music

Music does more for the psyche than we even know about as of yet. Everything is made out of energy, and the sound waves in music create a vibration that travels through the air and fills the room.

You can play upbeat music to create a positive atmosphere. This is especially useful when you want to get candid poses during engagement sessions or family portraits.

6. Be Humble

This goes along with authenticity and is such a vital point. Real, true smiles are gold. They will never come about in an atmosphere that is too pretentious or guarded. You might have to set the standard for the interaction by being humble about yourself.

Say something honest, even if it is a touch embarrassing. Break down some of the barriers that are up between you and your subject by being real. This gets you onto a level of interaction in which real human emotion can be transferred.

7. Use Your Words

Actively ask your subject to smile! You might be surprised about how many subjects are merely waiting for instruction from you! They may be thinking that you want a serious shot, when in fact you want them to laugh and be light-hearted. Be clear on your instructions and talk with them about the goal of the photoshoot. Clear communication goes a long way.

Be sure that you and your subject are on the same page by asking them if they have any questions or concerns. Open up a friendly dialogue and engage with them.

If you are unhappy with the way they are following your directions, try something called a compliment sandwich. With this tactic, you will put your criticism in between two compliments. An example of this would be, “I really loved the way you held your arms in that last shot.

I wasn’t too happy with your expression because you looked slightly apprehensive. Instead, could you try showing your beautiful smile?” This way, you get to interject an item of constructive criticism without breaking your subject’s confidence.

8. Tell A Joke

It seems almost too obvious, but it really works! When all else fails, try pulling out your favorite joke or two. This is especially great for group shots when you want people to look like they are smiling naturally.

Get them laughing with a good old joke, and then take your pictures. Laughter is contagious, so you will find that once one person in the group starts laughing, it will pass around quickly. This also works well when you have a nervous group that seems a little bit uptight. Direct humor can break the ice and get people to open up to you.

9. Create A Lively Atmosphere For Candid Shots

If you own your own photo studio, make sure that it is a lively place. Encourage your subjects to bring friends, and have your own entourage stop by as much as possible. Have music playing and offer some kind of refreshments, even if it is just coffee and a few snacks. This kind of lively atmosphere will lift the energy in your room.

Sometimes subjects are simply unable to conjure up a real smile without an event to trigger it. The more you have going on, the more likely you will be to have them interact in a way that gets them to break into a beautiful grin.

Let energy flow in and out of your studio rather than shooting in a space that feels stagnant. You never want your subjects to feel trapped or tired. You can leave doors and windows open, and add in music to create this effect.

Get the energy moving! Your best shot might just be a candid shot that you take of a subject having an interaction that you didn’t even stage! Let the magic happen naturally by setting the stage for it.

10. Bring An Animal

Animals are natural smile-causing agents. If you own a well-behaved dog, bring him to the studio. Many dogs have friendly energy that can help humans feel settled and secure. This is why therapy dogs exist. Your most nervous or blocked subjects might really need that sense of emotional grounding.


Featured image credit: Medium

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Dennis Carruthers

D. Scott Carruthers displayed talent for the visual arts at a young age, but it wasn't until he owned his first camera that he really found his true calling. In photography he found the mode of expression that he had always longed for. Beginning as an impromptu photographer for a band, he found that people really loved his work.

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