How to get natural smiles in your photographs

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Have you ever noticed this funny thing that seems to happen when you pick up your camera and point it at someone?  The gorgeous natural smile they normally have disappears and they give you their ‘camera smile’.  These are the kind of smiles that don’t quite reach the eyes, and just look a little bit flat and fake.  If you want to banish these camera smiles forever, try these tips and tricks to get everyone giving you gorgeous natural smiles instead.


Surprise them to make them laugh.

Whatever you do, don’t ask them to say cheese.  What you can do instead is ask them to say something completely random.  When you start saying ‘on the count of 3 say..’, they’ll be expecting you to add ‘cheese’ at the end. So saying ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’, for example, instead will catch them off guard, and most likely make them laugh.  That’s the moment you want to capture.


Surprise them to make them laugh

Surprise them to make them laugh


Go for the fake laugh.

Ask them to do the biggest, silliest fake laugh they can.  Really go over the top here, maybe demonstrate a really ridiculous fake laugh for them.  Take a few photos of their efforts, but then keep shooting.  What you’ll find is that the fake laugh will give way to a genuine laugh, and lovely natural smiles.


Try some reverse psychology.

This is a great trick for children, but it can work really well for adults too.  Basically, you need to really seriously tell them that for the next photo they absolutely must not smile.  Tell them you don’t want to see any smiles at all, just super serious faces.  If you do this with a little glint in your eye, and an exaggerated tone to your voice, it’s almost guaranteed to bring out a genuine smile!


Use reverse psychology for genuine smiles.

Use reverse psychology for genuine smiles.


Get some help.

If you’re photographing a family, but want to get individual portraits of each family member, then get the rest of the family to help you out to get some real smiles.  Ask them to stand behind you as you take the photos and do whatever they can to make the person smile.  


Get help to get natural smiles

Get help to get natural smiles


Get them talking.

A lot of the time you get forced, unnatural expressions in photos because people are feeling a bit nervous and tense.  So to get lovely natural smiles you need to help them relax.  A great way to do this is to ask them questions and get them talking about things that make them happy.  So for a child you might ask them about their favourite toy or cartoon character.  If you’re photographing parents, then getting them to tell you about their children is a great way to get happy expressions.  


Play a game.

If you’re photographing a family or a group of people together then getting them to all play a game together is a great way to get natural smiles.  One of my favourites is the telephone game, where one person whispers a few words or a secret to the person next to them, and it gets passed along the group until the last person has to say nice and loud what they think was initially said.  It’s so much fun, and brilliant for getting genuine expressions from everyone as they find out how wrong the person was at the end!  A variation of this for couples is to get one person to whisper a silly secret or private joke in the other person’s ear.  Then wait for the reactions that follow.


Play games to get natural smiles

Play games to get natural smiles


Get candid.

One of my favourite ways to capture genuine smiles is to take photos when the person isn’t really aware that I’m doing it.  Photographing a couple when they’re chatting with each other, or a child on the see saw at the park, will let you catch them caught up in a moment, when they’re just being themselves.  


Get candid for natural smiles.

Get candid for natural smiles.


Wait for the moment after the action.

Patience is a really big factor in getting the real smiles you’re after.  So get your subjects to all jump in the air on the count of three, or race each other to a certain spot, or squeeze in as close as they can to each other and then wait.  The natural smiles will come just after the action.  That’s the moment you want to watch for.


If all else fails, tickle.

For family photos especially, a tickle fight is almost guaranteed to result in genuine laughter and smiles.


Get genuine smiles by tickling

Get genuine smiles by tickling

So there you have it, a whole host of ideas for getting genuine, natural smiles in your photographs.  These are the kinds of photos you’ll want to show off and share with people on SlickPic where you can create your own stunning galleries that look just the way you want them to.  Now go and capture some genuine smiles and don’t let me ever hear you ask anyone to say cheese again!

By |2017-04-10T06:30:38+00:00April 10th, 2017|Categories: How-to Tips|4 Comments

About the Author:

Madeline Littlejohns is a portrait photographer from South Wales specializing in photographing natural moments between families


  1. Mary Cambell April 10, 2017 at 10:10 AM - Reply

    Some great ideas, thank you! I really struggle to get natural smiles in my photos so will be trying out all of these suggestions.

  2. Lucille Weisz April 10, 2017 at 4:03 PM - Reply

    My son has been taught to say ‘cheese’ for photos by his Nan, and it looks so fake! Love all these ideas to try and get natural smiles from him instead.

  3. Willard Hatfield April 11, 2017 at 12:51 PM - Reply

    All of these ideas sound like so much fun, which is what photographing people should be all about really. And if you’re having fun, you can’t help but give a genuine smile!

  4. Saanjh October 23, 2018 at 12:21 AM - Reply

    nice photoshoot.. and ofcourse without smile photo will not being captured good

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