How Do You Smile For A Photo (Tips For Perfect Portraits)

Smiling for a photo may seem easy enough, but it can often be a daunting task! From cheesy grins to forced smiles, many people are unsure of how to pose for the perfect portrait. 

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Whether you’re taking a casual snapshot or posing for professional photography, a nice smile can elevate the way you come across in photos. 

We’ll share some useful tips to help you smile naturally in this post, so you can feel confident when you next pose for a photo.

Remember To Warm Up

Your mental state before you pose for a photo matters a lot. If you’re uncomfortable or nervous, it will show up on camera. Warming up can help you relax and loosen up beforehand. 

Theatre actors, for instance, do a lot of vocal exercises before they perform on stage. These aren’t just significant for vocal projection, they relax facial muscles so they can create spirited facial expressions.

You don’t need to pull out all the stops in the way theatre actors do, but there are some things you can do to improve your smile. 

Take the time to move your body. Light stretches can help, as well as shaking your arms to relieve any tension. 

Feel free to pull some goofy faces! This will simultaneously help brighten your mood and exercise your facial muscles – just don’t go all out, as this may make you too sweaty! 

Improve Your Mood

If a photographer is capturing your portrait, a little conversation can help both of you feel comfortable with each other. 

Experienced photographers may try to lighten the mood to lower any stress felt before the photoshoot. You can try telling a funny story or some icebreakers. Aim to get some rapport and humor going, as this will help create a natural smile. 

A fake smile may leave after your shoot finishes, but a real one will last through the entire time. Some people may be able to fake a smile well, but if you’re not one of these people, a comfortable, happy mood can help make a successful portrait more likely. 

Try A Smize!

Smiling genuinely involves more than just a curve of the mouth. A huge sign of a fake smile is the ‘dead in the eyes look’. This shows that you’re smiling on command instead of genuinely.

The aim is to convince anyone looking at the picture that your smile is sincere.

A smize will help you smile with your entire face. If you’re laughing or smiling naturally, your eyes will stay open, but will squint a little on the sides. 

Practice this look in the mirror before your shoot. The aim is to look joyful when the lower half of your face is covered. 

If you squint too much, a tip is to close your eyes and open them just before the photographer takes your photo. This will help your eyes look more natural. 

Consider The Teeth

If you’re smiling for a portrait, you can choose whether to show or not show your teeth. If you decide to show them, your teeth shouldn’t be wide open, but they shouldn’t be forced shut either. 

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Closed teeth can lead to more stress in the jaw and neck, which is evident when looking back at the photos. You may look sad, stressed, or tense, which in most cases, is what you want to avoid. 

If you leave your teeth open, you’ll leave the inside of your mouth on display. Some people can look good when smiling with their mouths open, but this is a little harder for those with less experience. 

This might look nice in some candid photography, but if you’re taking a portrait, it’s best to stick to poses that look good most of the time. 

If you do decide to show your teeth, it’s best to leave them lightly resting on top of each other. 

However, remember that showing your teeth isn’t a must, as a light smirk can look great! 

A gentle, closed smile can appear more elegant and is more likely to look good. 

It’s often harder to achieve a natural smile with teeth as the mouth may not open at the best angle. Many people are uncomfortable with the way their teeth appear generally too. 

Nevertheless, a closed and open smile can both look good, but it’s best to try each approach and see what looks best on you. 

Relax The Lips

In the same way you want to avoid clenched teeth in a smile, it’s important to ensure your lips aren’t stressed, but lightly relaxed. Both pursed lips and extra wide smiles can make you appear tense. 

If you often appear this way in photos, a tip is to fake a very large smile, then ease it a little to attain a nice, sweet smile. 

Remember to keep your lips tilted upwards at the end in a curve, rather than one horizontal line. 

Consider Other Areas

A smile is always important in a portrait, but other basic elements also matter. Make sure your posture is straight and that your shoulders aren’t rounded. 

A lot of people also prefer one side of their face or like taking photos from specific angles. If you’re unsure, practice a few poses in the mirror and see which angles you prefer best. 

Make sure that your hair is clean and brushed out of your face. Keep your fingers loose and remember to keep a little space between your body and arms. Facing the primary light source will help draw attention to your smile too. 

The Bottom Line

Overall, if you’re taking a portrait, try to avoid a forced, constrained smile (Also check out Creative Self-Portrait Photography Ideas & Tips). 

If you’re uncomfortable or constantly thinking about achieving the perfect photo, you may seem tense instead. This can look like strained neck muscles, pursed lips, or extremely wide eyes. 

The look you’re trying to achieve is like how you would appear when sharing a funny moment with your friends. It may be helpful to think of the camera as a friend; someone you’re engaging with humorously. This may lead to a natural, genuine smile. 

There’s also no harm in trying a few angles and poses in a mirror, or retaking the shoot when you feel more comfortable. A little practice is all you’ll need to achieve your best on-camera smile!

Laura McNeill
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