What is it about our constant desire in Western culture to have people smile when in front of a camera? It’s as if we want others to look happy and relaxed without us (those taking the picture) putting out much effort to fulfill that desire. It’s no wonder that most people feel so uncomfortable in front of a camera, being asked to put on a genuine smile with no true engagement from the picture taker.
Having been a professional photographer for thirty-four years, I’m quite aware of the dysfunctional relationship that takes place when most of us are having our picture taken, thus, I always do my best to make people relaxed and feel safe throughout this most unique process. Where else are we asked to be still and hold a pose with the expectation of it looking relaxed and flattering? These days, there’s no escaping a camera in your face given that they are built into almost every cell phone on the planet!
The next time that you’re asked to smile for the camera, take a stand and tell the “clicker” to do something that will get you to smile. This will surely bring a bewildered expression to their face. Explain that it’s not an authentic request if they’re not engaged with you in bringing forth a genuine smile. Taking another’s picture requires a certain level of responsibility; it needs to be a co-creative process.
Think about what you could say or how you could be playful or honoring with another when you are photographing them. When we’re in front of a camera, we need to feel safe and secure within ourselves, so how can you interact with the subject in a way that will put them at ease? Joy, playfulness and off-the-wall silliness are one of the easiest and quickest ways for us to lighten up and forget about ourselves when the camera is on us. Another effective technique is mirroring back to your subject how you would like them to look and be. In other words, if you bring forth a beautiful, genuine smile it will help to place the subject at ease. If you give the example of breathing a few deep breaths and coax your subject to join you, they likely will. Gyrating your hips and doing a little dance will almost always win people over!
Make picture-taking an interactive and connected experience and everyone will have a good time. Remember, smile is just a word. We are naturally beautiful when we’re truly relaxed and being ourselves.