5 Ways to Get People to Smile Naturally in Photos

by David Em
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There’s a big difference between a fake smile and a real one. People look better when they have a genuine smile. Learn how to guide them.

Person smiling and holding balloons behind them.

1. Create a comfortable and fun environment

Getting your subject to smile naturally begins before you pull out your camera. You must create a comfortable and fun environment before you start the session.

Related: 5 ways to capture genuine family pictures

Take a few minutes to get to know your subject, share things about yourself, and find common ground. Most people aren’t comfortable in front of the camera, so you must create a safe space.

A great photoshoot with beautiful smiles also comes from having fun. Aside from being comfortable, be sure you have fun with your subject.

Tell funny stories, jokes, play games, and prepare cues to direct your client. The session will go by smoothly, and you’ll leave with great photos.

2. A natural smile comes from a relaxed face

If your subject is nervous, you can tell because their face will look tense. When you see this, give them a minute to relax. Tell them to relax their face and jaws. If needed, tell them to close their eyes and take a deep breath.

After relaxing their face and jaws, you’ll immediately see a natural and beautiful smile.

Nervousness isn’t the only cause of tension. If you’ve been shooting for a while, your client’s jaws and cheeks might be tight. It’s hard to smile for a long time.

Related: How to get a blurry background in portraits

If they’re feeling tired of smiling, take a short break. Grab a seat, share the photos you’ve taken so far, and give them positive feedback. By doing so, they’ll be ready to finish the session strongly.

3. It’s all in the eyes

Have you seen someone smile, but they don’t look happy? If so, it’s because of their eyes. A natural smile involves squinting your eyes. This is also called smiling with your eyes.

One of the best methods to use is to tell your subject to chuckle on the count of three. A chuckle will cause your subject to smile naturally and slightly squint their eyes. It results in a real smile.

4. Use props

Props are excellent because they can help put people at ease, give them something to hold or do, and you’ll get a genuine smile.

Balloons, toys, games, signs and flowers are examples of several props that you can use. Bringing something that’s funny can help you get a natural smile because it’ll make your subject laugh.

5. Take the photo quickly

As the photographer, you play the biggest role in capturing a natural smile. One of the biggest mistakes you can make, which leads to missing the shot, is taking too long to snap the photo.

The longer you take, the less genuine the smile will be because it’s hard to hold a smile.

Do your best to take the photo as quickly as possible. It’s also important to tell your subject when you’re going to snap a photo because it’ll allow them to prepare and smile when you’re ready.

To speed up your process, you can use autofocus and semi-automatic modes, which requires less work on your end. Letting your camera take care of the exposure gives you time to frame the shot.


Capturing genuine smiles in your portraits results in happier clients, better portraits, and more inquiries. If you can master the art of getting your subject to look genuine and natural, you’ll be able to capture the essence of a person.

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Featured image courtesy of Pexels.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and advice to grow your photography business. Learn more about Portraits Refined