Of course, the best smiles—and therefore the best photos—come from laughter, so I always try to get my clients to chuckle, even if it's just for a moment and even if it's less-than genuine, because it usually turns into real laughter and beautiful smiles. Lesson learned! (Except the flirting.)
It only took me about 30 years to learn how to properly smile in photos. Even now, the only reason I look decent in pictures is because a photographer friend kindly let me in on the key to looking natural, relaxed and happy in pictures. But let me back up.
I had this boyfriend in college. We'll call him B. He was really, really cute. And, of course, I wanted to take pictures with him to show off the hotness. (This was pre-Facebook. Or, at least, Facebook was in its infancy at this time.) But he hated taking pictures, so it took a lot of convincing to get him to pose for one photo. He did, but once I got the film back, I was bummed to discover that B looked great, but I looked...kind of like a monkey?
Just so, so happy.
I wasn't imagining this. B looked over my shoulder while I stared at my picture and, as sweetly as possible, asked, "Why don't you look like you in pictures?"
I just stared back. I had no idea.
Until recently, I was a great example of how the way you smile can dramatically change your picture. Take, for example, this picture (right) from what I'll call my "learning years"—before I learned how to do my hair, smile in pictures and properly apply makeup. (Real talk, guys: Flirting is not on this list because that is a skill I never acquired. Thank goodness I found someone who was charmed by my dorkiness, because I can barely flip my hair without looking awkward. Truth.)
After many awkward photos (and then a few years where I would not smile at all in pictures), I finally asked a photographer friend what my deal was—why do I look so weird in pictures?
"Uh, because you're smiling."
What she meant was that I was SMILING. Like the world was about to end and only I could save it through the showing-off of teeth. There was no middle point between a relaxed expression and full-on, ear-to-ear, happiest-person-ever smiling. And that's the key: to find the mid-point where your smile looks genuine but relaxed. It feels like you're only half smiling, which might seem weird, but you will look like you're full-on smiling.