Question: As a photographer, how do you capture those perfect candid smiles?

Answer: You must elicit those emotions from your clients!

We all know that standing in front of a camera can be intimidating for some because it creates a sense of pressure to perform. Hence the performance anxiety we sometimes feel when we hear the phrase "Say Cheeeesseee". I myself have been there too and in that moment, all I could think of is my head tilted high enough, is this my best angle, does my hair look okay, do I have anything in my teeth?! It is beyond distracting from a client's perspective. We get so caught up in our thoughts and forget how to share our beautiful smile. Regardless of a client's ability to perform in front of a camera, we still occasionally need more than just a tight curled lip smile that doesn't quite reach the subject's eyes. From behind the lens, I want to see the belly laughs that have my clients throwing their heads back, I want to see the tiny giggles when a couple shares an intimate moment, as if I am not even there. These moments are the ones that we want to look back at for the next decade as a reminder of the special moment being captured.

Now if I am being honest, candid photos aren't always so candid but, the emotions are what matter. I find it most successful when I stage my client(s) in the position of choice before I worry about channeling their emotions. Once the pose is set up (do not worry to much about small movements), it is time to play! There are many ways to evoke a smile but I like to use humor. It is important to remember, jokes should not be disrespectful, unkind, or targeted at the client(s). We photographers need to maintain our professionalism and this is not intended to be a roast! Instead I like to play harmless games. My favorite game to play is simple, easy, and quick, the game of What Are You Thinking? How do I play you ask? Simple, once you have your client(s) in the desired pose, instruct them to blurt out the first thought in their head on the count of 3. As the photographer, I tend to be the one to count but you can of course always ask a client to count down if you choose. What Are You Thinking can be played in so many ways. If you want to make the game a little more specific, you can pick a theme/category. For example, I like the prompts including Smelly Things, Dirty Words/Catchphrases - this is a client favorite, and Food. Dirty words were used at Karyn's graduation and I can attest, she couldn't stop herself from giggling like a teenager in health class and she's a Nurse! Karyn has seen and heard it all. I advise practicing your best discretion because we don't want dirty words used at a family photo session with young children but, a couple's photo session or an engagement photo session may be more appropriate. It is important to get to know your client(s) before deciding what may or may not be appropriate but don't be afraid to have fun with it and make it your own. These types of games engage your clients' attention and really emphasizes the fun experience. I guarantee you, they won't forget the session. By allowing the client(s) to decide what to say, they are setting the tone and comfort level. You don't need to take the risk of crossing a boundary that could make them uncomfortable. The photographer gets the benefit of catching some inspiring facial expressions, body language, and precious memories that look truly candid.

Whether you are a beginner or an expert photographer, this game can be used by anyone. If you are too nervous to test it out during your next appointment, ask friends or family members to test it out with you! This way you can explore the endless possibilities of the game or even feel inspired to create your own!

A college graduate dressed in a cap and gown sitting under a tree at Eastman Theatre
A college graduate displaying her diploma from the University of Rochester