When we think about family photo sessions, we immediately begin thinking of our smiles. Even during this initial planning process, the fake smiles emerge. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The smile you practice in the mirror that isn’t too large to show off the wrinkles but shows the right amount of teeth while tilting your head at the right angle to accentuate your chin. Why do we do this to ourselves? In my opinion, those fake smiles are the wall that we create in order to hide our authentic selves from others. In our minds, fake smiles seems to satisfy what we deem as socially acceptable and protect our own image of ourselves.
So, if you would like to know how to eliminate those fake smiles, we’re going to need to dig a bit deep here. Just imagine the results! Would you rather an image with a smile that is practiced and measured or one that shines such emotion and happiness that you don’t have time to process if it is imperfect or not? I believe the choice is simple.
How to eliminate fake smiles at your family photo sessions
Majority of my client’s smiles at the beginning of their photo shoots are not a true representation of their real happiness, enjoyment and state of pleasure. Perhaps only about 1 in 10 of my past clients smile naturally because that is who they are. I find that the others are using their smile to please somebody else instead. Maybe it’s the nervous smile that mom is putting on. Or the smile of an obliging husband that’s trying to keep it together and support mom’s master plan. And of course, it could also be the kids’ smiles. Most likely, these are an investment towards a hidden incentive that they were given in order to comply with the photo session.
Being in the photography field as long as I have, I don’t miss much. I see all of these signs and read between the lines to understand people’s motivations. I totally get it! I’ve found myself in the exact same situation before. So, in order to help you out, I’ve put together a list of couple of things to consider if you would like to eliminate these fake smiles to get the most out of your next family photo session.
Don’t wait to have fun
Most certainly, depending on your photographer (who you’ve just met!) to bring out your family’s joy is not ideal. Absolutely, they can try to initiate the idea of having fun and lighten the atmosphere for you. They are the professional with the experience, after all. However, it’s up to you as parents and loved ones to enjoy being in the moment and having fun together. This doesn’t mean we’re looking for uncontrollable laughter and wild activities. It can be simply appreciating the time with your family while someone you have chosen and trust documents those moments.
Don’t tell people within your family how to smile
You know your family best. There is no doubt about it. However, being honest with your observations and telling them to smile better will actually be counterproductive. By mentioning something to improve, it removes them from being in the moment and they become more self-conscious. It also moves the smile from intrinsically motivated to forcing them to smile to please you. Telling jokes or friendly banter often helps relax your loved ones and genuine smiles soon follow. You can compliment but don’t criticize. A negative perspective is never a good way to approach any art such as photography. This is a fun event, not a political rally!
Choose their outfits based on their liking and what you have in the closet
The psychology behind why we show those fake smiles has many layers. Kind of like an onion. We have to peel away and deal with the various different factors that inhibit us. Only then can we uncover the true smile and document our moments of happiness. With that being said, comfort is a very important part of being our authentic selves in an unknown situation, such as in front of a camera. The outfits that your kids, husband or even yourself are wearing must be in line with their liking. I’m not saying they should be giving the sole responsibility of choosing what they wear to your session. That would make it quite an interesting experience, I’m sure! However, keeping them involved in the selections and getting their input on how they feel will in turn help with cooperation. Who could give a fake smile in their favourite t-shirt, right?
Help in building the confidence for your family photo session
The next layer to tackle is confidence. Each person has their own factors that can impact our confidence. When we are not sure of ourselves in a situation, it is easy to try to “fake it until you make it”. We try our best to act genuine but inevitably that fake smile emerges. By working on how comfortable we feel during the photo shoot, we can erase the confidence issue.
During my sessions, I help my clients to build their own confidence as well as their trust in me by asking questions, listening and getting to know them better. When I know what you like or don’t like, I am able to provide a better service that is tailored to your comfort level. Being in the field for over 20 years, I’m able to help anyone boost their confidence in themselves. When we overcome that obstacle, the family is sure to start flashing me the real smiles that will help them look their best.
Forget about me (your photographer!)
Many families give too much focus on their photographer during their family photo session. They look to please the photographer and perfectly follow every direction. The focus is on the person behind the camera, not the ones in front of it. Putting it that way, we can see that this is definitely the wrong approach. The photographer (me!) is there for the family, not the other way around.
Although it may take some focus, try forgetting about the process behind the session. Even though the photographer is there in the distance, instead focus on your loved ones beside you and your connection. This allows me to capture and focus on the very real and genuine moments as viewed from the outside. The beauty of these candid moments and smiles is difficult for you to see when you’re apart of them. This is probably my #1 tip when it comes to eliminating those fake smiles.
Connect with the photographer upfront
Developing a connection with your photographer before your session is a great way to start building a rapport. It also initiates the trust that is needed to reduce those fake smiles as well. You might find that the gorgeous photos that you come across on the Internet aren’t taken by exactly the friendliest of photographers. As well, connecting solely with the price point of a particular photographer is not the path to a great family photo session experience either. While economically that choice may be attractive, your most likely going to miss out on that unforgettable family experience.
Make sure that your kids and pets also have a chance to meet your family photographer before your session. Their reactions will tell you within the first 5 minutes if you made the right choice or not. These little ones are professionals when it comes to detecting unfavourable personalities. The moment when they begin to connect with your photographer before the session is the turning point towards shining those real smiles for your best images.
Don’t overdo it
We’ve all heard the saying that less is more. This holds true for your family photo session too. For those involved, overdone sessions are more of a chore than an experience. Whether it is being overoptimistic about how much to fit into one session or for just the planning of what you would like to achieve, try not to control every moment and fill every minute with a different expectation. Have a plan. Find a photographer that works for you. Share your plan with your photographer and work on a plan of acton together. Then, once you have established what will happen, trust your choice and be realistic about what you can do. The most important part is to be truly present on the day of the session so that you can enjoy it!
Even before we begin a session, I see the faces of tired parents because they were trying to make everything perfect leading up to the event. They are already exhausted from the photo session and we haven’t even started! It would be so difficult to change your mindset to calm and relaxed after running around, organizing and obsessing over details. It’s almost impossible to make it enjoyable after that and, for sure, those fake smiles will start showing again. In the end remember, it’s not about the “perfect picture” but about the perfect moments unique to your family. What happens, happens, and we will be flexible to accommodate whatever might surprise us on the day.
Ask to see photo proofs while shooting, not to criticize but to visualize
I always give my clients the opportunity to see the images we are taking throughout the photo session. In my experience, it doesn’t spoil the surprise of the final images at all and instead is very valuable for everyone. By doing this, I’m giving the opportunity to check in with the family. With the parents, I can ask questions and gauge if we are on the right track for their session. When showing the kids their images, I begin building rapport and giving them ongoing positive reinforcement. Lastly, at this time I give the clients an opportunity to check the end of result of the images. If they are not happy with their outfit choice, for example, they have an opportunity to switch it at this time.
Seeing what the photographer sees reassures my families that they are doing everything right in the way that we have planned. They are able to see how beautiful they look and are encouraged to continue to work together to keep those gorgeous images rolling. This makes the real smiles really shine. They know what they are doing is what they wanted and perhaps even better!
Keep it unique; for you and your family, not others.
In the end, the most important way you can eliminate that fake smile is to be true to yourself. Make sure the photos we are taking are for you and your family and your memories together. While I’m sure you will want to share your images, social media and peer pressure should not be your motivation. It should not be a matter of “keeping up with the Jones’s”. Making sure that it is unique to you, it will be full of great memories, be an excellent family experience and there will be no fake smiles for miles in your beautiful family photo session.
My passion and biggest asset is taking the time to make every client comfortable and relaxed before I even pick up the camera. The result? Photos of you that actually look like you at your best! I can prove to you how much you can enjoy having your picture taken. Lifestyle photography is about the experience that happens to be served up along side of some great photos.
Family Photography for families that like to move around and enjoy their photo time, Wedding Photography for couples looking for a mixture of photojournalistic, contemporary and traditional images and Professional Corporate headshots that are far from cheesy and stiff.