5 Quick Tips for Getting Real Smiles

by | Aug 9, 2019 | Tips & Tricks | 2 comments

Let’s face it. Real smiles are important for a good portrait. Saying “cheese” usually isn’t enough to help people feel comfortable and really smile in front of the lens. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to have your portrait taken, so starting with these 5 tips, a good photographer can put their clients at ease and start capturing genuine smiles!

1. Give the client positive feedback

First impressions are huge. Whenever a clients walks up at the start of their session, start it off on a positive note. They just spent a lot of time and energy picking out outfits and getting ready for their pictures. Tell them what you like about the decisions they’ve made or the qualities they’ve demonstrated in their preparations for the shoot, whether it’s an attention to detail or a beautiful choice of outfit colors. Just make sure it’s a genuine compliment. Nobody likes a flatterer. When you take the time to encourage your client from the very beginning of the session you are helping them relax and feel comfortable around you.

MaryAnnaPhoto- 4012

2. Distract them

It’s crazy what happens every time someone steps in front of a camera. They suddenly realize that they have hands and have no idea what to do with them! When I go to pose someone standing and staring directly at the camera, it can be a little intimidating! They are so focused on the camera and how to pose it kills any genuine emotion they might be feeling. To help distract them during the session, I try to encourage interaction with either myself as the photographer or other’s they are having their picture taken with, to keep their mind off the camera. Especially for families with young children. Encouraging them to play games or hug each other are cute ways to get real smiles. I still capture posed, looking-at-the-camera shots but it’s fun to have a couple fun “poses” to lighten the mood.

MaryAnnaPhoto- 1648

3. Make fun of the situation

I find this tip especially helpful for clients like teenage boys who are feeling really uncomfortable with having their picture taken. I ask clients to do random things all the time during a portrait session. Instead of trying to make an awkward moment feel natural I turn it into a joke… “Look at us, getting dressed up to sit in a meadow?” or “Yes, I’m walking around a park in my graduation robe.” Usually when I point out how ridiculous things are it makes the client laugh, while all the time, I’m reaffirming that the end result is totally worth the awkward moments.

MaryAnnaPhoto- 3639

4. Re-use the good jokes

One thing I love about working with so many wonderful clients is meeting great people . . . and re-using my good jokes. Little do my clients know that most of my fun, impromptu jokes have been said many, many times before. If a joke works why change it, right? Here’s some of my favorites:

  1. “Alright everyone, squeeze in . . . no, really close . . . come on! Pretend like you like each other!” (This is especially funny for couples on their wedding day)
  2. (For kids that don’t want to smile) “Do you have any teeth in there? Are you sure? . . . Can you show me? . . . Oh wow!! I love them!”
  3. Show them how to do what you want them to do, especially if you want them to fake laugh or do some other odd pose. (It’ll take the pressure off them for being the first one to do something that may be perceived as being silly.) After a whole group fake laughs, pick someone from the group and say something like, “Oh wow! George was really killing that fake laugh!! Good job!!” and snap some photos of the real laughs.
  4. "Alright, no smiling, serious faces only . . ." (This will usually get people to laugh, specially if they are looking at each other.)
  5. "Everyone say cheesy . . . banana!!"

MaryAnnaPhoto- 1981

5. Set the energy level

I’ve saved this tip for last because I believe this is the most important part of getting people to feel comfortable and really smile during a portrait session. It’s your job as the photographer to set the the energy for the session. When I first started capturing portraits I would look at my client and say “smile” or “laugh”. They would comply, but it wasn’t genuine. As I got more comfortable capturing portraits I made sure to always encourage my client throughout the session. Instead of saying “Smile” I would say “Ok guys, smile real big . . . oh wow!! That’s perfect!! You all look so great!!” I noticed the more positive confirmation and encouragement I gave, the more clients started enjoying their session.”

MaryAnnaPhoto- 8517

What do you say to help your clients smile genuinely for photos? Let us know in the comments below!

Hi, I'm Mary, a wedding & event photographer from Virginia. After graduating from homeschool, I earned a bachelors degree in Video Production from Liberty University. I shot my first wedding in 2012 and immediately fell in love! I currently spend most weekends shooting events, weddings or enjoying nature with my family. I am now working my dream job . . . homeschooling my 4 young children with my husband in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.  

Mary Neiman


Get each article as soon as it goes live!

Recommended Ebook


  1. Caitlin Compton

    Thanks for sharing the tips with us, Mary! I can totally relate to people getting fake smiles after awhile or if they’re feeling awkward. 🙂 I’ve used the fake laugh trick as well. But since they don’t necessarily want to do it, I end up doing it instead – which produces the same result! And when their mouth starts turning out really fake smiles, I sometimes ask for fish lips. This gets their mouth relaxed and often ends up with them laughing. 🙂

  2. Sprinkles

    Couple tips: Make the clients laugh to get genuine smiles since those ARE genuine smiles, and when two people’s faces are more than a few inches in difference away from you, use a lens with a wider depth of field. Otherwise the best you can do is one crisp and one blurring.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send the next blog post straight to your email inbox!

Thank you for subscribing!