20 Tips for Getting People to Smile in Photos

One of the biggest challenges every photographer faces it getting people to smile naturally for a photo. Sure, you can ask someone to say “cheese!” and he or she will likely comply. But you’ll also probably end up with a cheesy smile that doesn’t look natural or attractive. After all, there’s a HUGE difference between a genuine smile and a fake one.

As a professional event photographer, spontaneously getting complete strangers to smile is a big part of my job, and I’ve picked up some proven techniques that I’ll share with you in this article. Note that I’ve broken up the sections into tips for photographing people by themselves, as couples, in groups, and children, but you can certainly mix and match. Also, be careful to always consider your audience and adjust your technique accordingly.

For Singles

1. Approach with a smile

A smile and friendly demeanor are contagious. Before you ask someone else to smile, make sure that you’re smiling yourself and approach with a friendly tone. If you want to get a real smile out of someone, you need to set the tone by approaching them with a giant, genuine smile on your face.

2. Offer a compliment

One of the quickest and easiest ways to get someone to smile is to boost their confidence. This is something you can easily do by offering a compliment based on a feature or quality you observe about them. Are they wearing an attractive outfit or an unusual piece of jewelry? Do they have a friendly smile or laugh? Offer a compliment!

3.  Smile with your eyes

How do you know if a smile is genuine or fake? It’s all in the eyes. A fake smile tends to only have the lower half of the face engaged, with the lips curled into a smile. But if the eyes aren’t squinting as well, you can tell the smile is forced and not very genuine. If your photo subject’s smile is looking a bit off and you can’t tell why, ask them to smile with their eyes, or “smize” as Tyra Banks would say.

4. Fake laugh!

To illicit a genuine smile, your photo subject needs to feel comfortable and relaxed. The best way to break the ice is to get them to laugh. Ask for a fake laugh, saying something like this, “Let’s see who’s got the biggest, loudest fake laugh! On the count of three, 1, 2, 3, LAUGH!” The whole point here is not to capture the fake laugh, but to get the resulting real laughs and smiles that you’ll get after the fact. It’s also important to note that your own enthusiasm for the activity and tone of voice is what makes this technique work.

5. Show me your happy face! Silly face! Sad face!

Most photo subjects respond the best if you give them specific instructions. Help them loosen up and feel less self-conscious by having them go through a series of facial poses. You might think this one only works with kids, but certain types of adults will totally get into this exercise.

6. Instead of “Say cheese,” say…

Most people expect to hear “say cheese” before getting a photo. Surprise them by saying something else, such as, “money” or “whiskey” for adults, or “pickles” or “chocolate” for children. Use your discretion and pick a word that suits your audience.

7. Tell them a joke (or ask them to tell you a joke)

One of the most obvious ways to get people to laugh or smile is to tell a joke. The trick is finding a joke that is appropriate for the audience. Personally, I use the joke below all the time for my corporate event photo shoots, and it almost always gets a laugh out of people. But I wouldn’t use this joke with children; I’d maybe use a knock knock joke instead.  You can also flip the tables and ask your photo subject to tell you a joke.

Q: “What’s the quickest way to make money as a photographer?”

A: “Sell your camera!”

For Groups

When photographing groups, you can use any of the above techniques for singles, but you can also add quite a few extra tricks to get creative, engaging shots.

8. Whisper a secret to the person standing next to you.

The idea is to get the people in your group engaging with each other. This technique can also elicit grins and giggles as people tend to whisper nonsensical noises to each other.

9. Everyone look at each other.

This works best for groups of at least three or more people. The reason why it works is that the instructions are vague. No one is really sure who to look at, and the resulting expressions tend to be smiles and laughs. This is great for capturing candid shots. Use it to loosen people up, and then move onto to the next few tips to work them into a more serious, smiling pose.

10. Everyone look at ____.

It’s essential to know everyone’s names or titles for this one to work. By calling out someone specifically in a group, you’re making them the center of attention and it’s often funny to the rest of the group to see how that person reacts.

Read the full article in Digital Photography School

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