I have spent a considerable amount of time (in my fifty years of being a photographer) shooting people, either in the studio or out on location. As a result, I have a good understanding of ” the way people smile”…believe it or not!!!
I compare a smile to what I call the peak of action. The peak of action can best be though of as an apple being tossed up in the air. There’s a point in time when the apple is no longer going up, but has not begun coming down; that split second is what I refer to as the peak of action.
How does this relate to portraiture? I have seen it hundreds of times when I look at other people’s photos of people smiling, and have actually watched students taking pictures of people.
What happens is the photographer tells the subject to smile and while the person continues to smile the photographer starts clicking away. There’s an inherent problem with that approach and I identify that issue with the peak of action.
How long can a person keep the same smile as he had in the first second of being told to do so? The first second of the smile (the apple not going up or down) is going to be the freshest and the most genuine, after that the smiles begins to fade ( the apple on its way down) and becomes a mere direction given by the photographer.
How do I approach this potential problem? By giving the initial smile just one click of the shutter release; one shot per smile.
I ask my subject to smile and at that moment…that peak of action, I’ll take one exposure. I say something or make some minor adjustment, then ask for that smile again. This keeps the smiles fresh and natural.
In the featured environmental portrait at the top of this post, I had my daughter turn her back to me. I told her that when I called her name I wanted her to recognize my voice and begin her smile while turning around greet me. At that point the smile was as fresh as it was going to be and as seconds went by her smile would begin to diminish; just enough to make it look like she was being directed to smile.
We did this about a dozen time so I could get a dozen different adjustments in my composition.
So, my fellow photographers, the next time you’re taking pictures of people whether they be friends, relatives, or strangers, try just giving each smile just one click.
By the way, I’ve found this technique to have no geographic boundaries, as you can see in the additional pictures.
If you’ll send me a photo and question to:AskJoeB@gmail.com, I’ll create a video critique for you.