Never Say Smile!
I tend to work on the basis that nobody wants to do business with grumps. That is, nobody buys anything from people who are miserable or who don’t at least appear to be approachable. Even funeral directors have to show a warm, human side if they want gain customers.
This can be a challenge for those of us who photograph people. My photographs are aimed at helping them get work if they’re actors or get customers if they’re in business.
The actors usually require several photographs that allow them to show a range of emotions, depending on the type of working they’re looking for, but every actor needs at least one photograph known as a ‘commercial headshot’. In this they should be smiling and showing lots of warm emotion. It’s called a commercial headshot because even while they’re waiting to get picked for a Broadway lead or a starring role in a movie they can still make money doing commercial work. That is, they can work in advertising and sell product. I suppose this actually lends more weight to the argument that if you want to sell stuff, you need to smile.
I sense some people are asking if this is going anywhere, so here goes. I learned a very long time ago that if you point a camera at someone and say, “smile!” they simply wrinkle their nose and show their teeth – and that’s just the few who are confident enough to open their mouths!
As a pro, I don’t have much time to waste so asking people to smile and repeatedly deleting the results is a huge waste of time and resources. Obviously they require some direction but even that isn’t fully effective until they feel they are on the right track. For me, the best results occur when I engage the person and have a real conversation with them. This helps them to relax and the smiles (along with other genuine emotions) begin to follow. Then my job is simply a question of catching them at the right moment and offering them feedback and encouragement to achieve even better results.
This process may be easier with some than others but invariably it works and it’s much more reliable than simply asking someone to smile because most people don’t know what that actually means. Once they are relaxed and feeling confident I find people are far more likely to be open to new ideas and to take some risks. If the process is helping and the experience is pleasant, why wouldn’t they be willing to try something new and achieve a result they didn’t think was possible?
As a photographer helping people relax, feel confident and then get them to show it is a critical skill and I’d say it’s more important than lighting, driving a camera, clever backgrounds, or mastering any other photographic tricks. A relaxed, genuine smile is the key to a successful promotional photograph, whether you’re an actor, an entrepreneur or simply someone trying to get traction on Match.com.
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