Coat hanger smiles are my enemy.
You know the one, that cheesy smile that makes it look like someone was eating a coat hanger for breakfast.
Since, well for as long as I can remember, I’ve heard people say ‘smile for the camera’, or even worse, parents saying ‘smile or we won’t go and have McDonalds later on’.
That makes me all sad panda - I want people to feel relaxed, comfortable and most importantly, themselves when I’m photographing them. So you won’t hear me say ‘smile for birdie!’ or any of that nonsense.
A portrait, a true portrait isn’t all about showing as many teeth as possible in a weird grin. It’s about letting the eyes speak. They really are the windows to the soul you know.
When I get a chance to connect with the person in front of me, that makes the portrait I will create far more special and meaningful. If they want to smile, I let them smile. If they want to be enigmatic, then enigmatic it is.
I find this especially powerful when photographing kids. So often they come in and default to school photo mode. However after 5 -10 minutes chatting with me they open up and that light comes on behind their eyes.
It’s like a switch is thrown and all of sudden they look not at the camera, but through it with a depth and intensity that often has their parents in tears when they see the final portraits.
Sure there’s a place for warm natural smiles - grandparents LOVE portraits of their grandchildren with welcoming smiles after all. Step back though, take a chance and don’t expect your child to permanently have a super wide smile in all their portraits. I think you may be pleasantly surprised with the story you see in your child’s eyes.