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Tips & Tricks

Don’t Say Cheese! How To Get Your Clients to Smile Naturally For Photos

By Hanssie on January 13th 2015

Who actually came up the idea of getting your subject to say “Cheese” as a way to cajole a natural smile for a photo? When someone says “Cheese,” the mouth stretches unnaturally and it is not a flattering look for a photograph. Now, if that’s the look you are going for in your photograph, then by all means. But, if you are trying to coax a natural looking smile out of your client, follow some of the steps listed below.

The following video is a few years old and ironically, a little “cheesy,” but I came across it while doing something very important while at work (okay, fine, I was pinning ideas to redecorate my living room) and found the tips to be helpful. One of my goals as a wedding and portrait photographer is to get genuine facial expressions in photos, but of course, there are times when you have to pose your subjects and point that camera right in their face, which makes things a bit awkward for most people.



The next time you find yourself struggling to get your subject to give you a natural smile, and you’ve run out of jokes to tell, try a few of these tips:

1. Don’t tell your client to say ‘Cheese.’ Instead have them say words that end in the ‘uh’ sound. Words such as ‘yoga’ or ‘mocha’ will stretch the mouth into a more natural looking smile shape.

2. Have your client laugh while the photo is being taken. There have been times that I’ve run out of jokes or funny things to say and I ask them to fake laugh. Many times, someone will burst out laughing, which makes the rest of the group laugh as well.

3. Ask your client to lift the tip of the tongue up behind their front teeth. It will lift the face into a natural smiling position. I also ask them to try to smile with their eyes as well, which adds a more genuine and warm look to the portrait.

4. Have the client relax their face and then smile. A trick I sometimes use is to have them close their eyes, then on the count of three, open them and smile like they just saw an old friend.

5. Combine all the steps.

Watch How to Smile Naturally for Photos

[Via Pleated-Jeans Youtube Channel/Gizmodo]

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Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at Follow her on Instagram

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Graham Curran

    Saying cheese dates back to the days of 15 second studio exposures.

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  2. Michael Old

    I like asking people to say “antidisestablishmentarianism”

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  3. Hans photoWerks

    You can always dance while you shoot. that will bring a smile too

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  4. Jason Boa

    Interesting and funny in equal amounts – like it

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  5. Clare Havill

    Great video and tips.

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  6. Barry Cunningham

    I thought that the idea of saying “cheese” was not that you would photograph people while they were saying it, but that you would photograph them laughing at themselves for being so ridiculous a moment after.

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  7. David Hall

    Funny Vid… thanks for sharing.

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  8. Brandon Dewey

    Great tip, thank you for sharing.

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  9. Christopher Fuller

    Thank you!!! I am/was so tired of having people say cheese! It all makes good sense now with facial expressions meaning a different outcome. This was really good for me!

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  10. Aaron Cheney

    Great tips!

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  11. robert garfinkle

    Photographer’s should wear t-shirts saying “Got Cheese?”

    That’ll invoke a natural smile, and some uncontrollable laughs

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