Useful Photography Tip #186: Make a Portrait Subject Smile; Don’t Ask Them To

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“Smile” is what your parents and those old school portrait photographers used to say to us. “Show a bit more teeth.” It’s just as awkward now as an adult as it was as a child. Indeed, with being both in front of the camera and behind it, I’ve known that asking someone to smile is the worst thing to do unless there’s a very good rapport with the person. Even then, it’s just odd. The best thing to do instead as a photographer is to find a way to make them smile. It can be via conversation, and the idea of tricking someone’s mind into doing this is perhaps the best way to get a genuine expression from the person. Who’d have thunk?! Someone being genuine can translate into genuine photos?! That’s insane!!!

There’s obvious sarcasm in that previous sentence. So how do you make someone smile? I like going to Reddit’s R/Jokes section and telling them something that gets a chuckle. Otherwise, I have them talk about a super happy time in their life.

Also remember that, for some subjects, the more you ask them to smile the more likely they are going to fake it. I’ve done this. Just relate to them as a human being.