Say Cheese!


Melissa has a wonderful, natural smile.

It’s difficult to get a subject to smile in a way that leads to a good photograph. “Say Cheese!” doesn’t do it.  For one thing, it takes more facial muscles to smile that to make any other expression. So if the photographer asks for a smile or even if the subject tries tro make a smile on their own, it often leads to something that looks forced and uncomfortable. Think clenched teeth.

I’ve learned not to ask for a smile. Melissa has an naturally sunny disposition and so she is predisposed to smile. For this image, I said something silly and off the wall, and she just broke into a big open grin. I was ready and snapped the picture.  In any successful image of someone smiling, the smile is really in the eyes, not the mouth. We can’t force our eyes to smile.

It’s not always so easy. There’s often some level of discomfort, especially when the subject is straining for a certain look and feels she can’t achieve it. This is when I will suggest the person close their eyes and take a deep breath. Or several deep breaths. often, when they come back, there is a relaxed and easy pose.

And, some people do not smile much at all.  For these subjects, it’s fine to take a serious pose. Even if you can get a good smile, it may not be a successful picture, as it is not representative of their personality. In these cases, it’s fine to take a serious pose or one that just mildly suggests a smile, such as The Mona Lisa. I wonder how da Vinci got her to hold that expression for the many hours it took to paint her!


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July 2009
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