If you tell people to smile in your portraits, you have to stop it right now.
That’s right — I’m giving you an order!
Here’s one thing all new portrait photographers need to understand: most people can’t give a perfectly natural smile on command.
In fact, the average person tends to stiffen up as soon as they have to smile.
Commercial models — the type of people you see in insurance ads — are the exception to the rule. They can put on beautiful smiles instantly.
So how do you make a ‘regular’ person beam with a happy, naturally beautiful smile?
Simple: you make them feel happy, and you get them to laugh.
So here are 5 ways to get perfect smiles in your portrait photos:
1. Have an Imaginary Friend Make the Subject/Model Laugh
This is my #1 of making people smile.
This is what I say “Close your eyes and think of the funniest person you know. Don’t tell me about them, just think about them.”
9 times out of 10, I get a laugh, and a big, natural smile.
I’ll also sometimes add things like “Imagine this person is standing behind me making faces at you.”
2. Talk About Chocolate Chip Cookies
I once heard fashion photographer Stephen Eastwood talk about how he would tell people to imagine the smell of chocolate chip cookies.
This is an incredibly powerful technique because it’s something very positive that people can imagine.
I often ask people what their favorite food is.
If they say dumplings, I’ll add “imagine you just won a lifetime supply of free dumplings.”
Yep, it’s cheesy. But it works.
3. Talk About Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Here’s something you probably don’t know: having someone put on a fake smile often leads to a great smile.
So I’ll ask my subjects to imagine they’re in an ad for toilet bowl cleaner, and that I need a big, happy smile.
Most of the time, they’ll start laughing at themselves, which of course leads to a naturally warm smile.
4. Put on YouTube
Ask your model what they find funny.
And then search it on YouTube.
Then just sit back and start shooting. Yes, it’s that simple.
I once had a shoot where I was playing Ace Ventura: Pet Detective behind me.
5. Say “You’re Not Allowed to Smile!”
This is by far the riskiest trick in my playbook.
If a person looks nervous and trying to hold back nervous laughter, I’ll say something like this:
“You need to look very serious right now. If you smile or laugh, it’s going to ruin the whole day.”
Half the time, the person starts laughing uncontrollably. I’ve actually had people laugh so hard they cried!
In these cases, you’ll get some amazing smiles.
And the other half of the time?
The person just stares at you, and you have to explain it was just a joke. Yes, it’s awkward.
How Do You Make People Smile?
Do you have any tricks? Let me know in the comments!