Say Cheese – Creating an Authentic Smile

Post by TWiP Contributor: Alex Singh

Point a camera at someone and more often than not you will be met with a smile. While a smile generally makes for a good photo, an authentic smile makes for an even better one. In order to elicit an authentic smile we first have to learn the difference between a real smile and a fake one. French  physician Guillaume Duchenne, while studying facial expressions, identified the two different smiles as entirely distinct. There are two muscles involved in the making of a smile. The  zygomatic major muscle which raises the corners of the mouth and the orbicularis oculi muscle which raises the cheeks and creates crow's feet around the eyes. A real smile invokes both of these muscles while a fake smile only invokes the former. Essentially, the difference between a real smile and a fake one is the eyes.

Knowing and recognizing an authentic smile is only half the battle. It's also the easy half. The challenge that faces you as the photographer is in getting your subject to give a real smile. Compounding the difficulty is the fact authentic smiles are generated by the unconscious brain as a reaction to positive emotions and are difficult to mimic. Think about what you do when you see a camera; you either run in the other direction or give the perfunctory smile. You smile not necessarily out of happiness or joy but because it's what you've been taught to do all your life.

The solution is to create positive emotions in your subject and the smile will just come naturally. You have to make your subject happy! The saying ‘the camera points both ways' comes into play. If you are truly and genuinely passionate and happy to be taking the photo, this will be reflected in your subject's face. Though it helps to the outgoing and gregarious type, it isn't necessary, just keep in mind that you don't want to direct or tell someone to smile, try to make them happy. Instead of saying, “Smile!” give them a compliment. Instead of blurting, “Say cheese” at a party ask them if they are having a good time. Tell your kinds that the picture will be for mom or dad. A great way to make people happy is to let them do something that makes them happy. This works great for weddings and parties. There are plenty of ways to do this and once your are in mindset of making your subject happy the smiles will come.

In summation, real smiles are better than fake ones. Positive emotions lead to real smiles. Creating positive emotions in your subject will make for a better photo.

Bonus: Hone your skills in spotting a fake smile with this online test.


Alex Singh – Alex Singh Photo


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