Photography Help: Real smiles

I mentioned this before but I figured it deserved a post of its own.  Today I want to give some help getting real smiles in photos. Watch the 2 minute video for a quick explaination or read the more in depth post below.


Here are two photos both of my son smiling:





Hopefully one looks a lot better than the other, but can you tell why?


Look more closely at this specific element




The reason I wanted to post this is that, as usual it's nothing to do with cameras or gear, so this can be done with any camera, even a phone.  However its actually quite a complex skill to master. So what is this technique?

Engagement with your subject.  The first picture is my son smiling to get his picture taken, the second is him talking with me about his favourite thing at the minute (happens to be a computer game, Monster Hunter 4 for anyone interested)

In the second picture he is more alive and engaged in the picture and there is a real twinkle in his eyes.

This is what folks mean when they say "your eyes are smiling".  It is extremely hard to fake, the best way to catch it is to draw it out of your subject by engaging with them on something they love.

These are just snaps to illustrate a point and all it took from me was a question about his game to get his face to light up.  So try not to force your kids or subjects to smile, make them smile with a joke or a story or some questions about their lives.  Everyone likes to talk about their hobbies or passion, it works with people of all ages, you just have to find that hook.


So try and talk to the people you want to photography, dont ask them to smile, its a sure fire way to get a fake smile.