Getting the perfect smile every time.


Getting the perfect smile every time.

While the eyes are the window to the soul, the lips are the doorways to the mood. The mouth gets set in a forceful way when you’re angry. When you’re happy it’s big grin time. The lips deliver the flirt. Great actors can tell whole stories by the set of their mouths.

The quest for the perfect smile is the most requested thing from our clients. There are repeatable ways to always get the great smile you need. I will share them with you.

I learned one effective technique years ago from Cloris Leachman, a very crazy comedic actress that knew a lot about smiles. As I was about to photograph her she suddenly waved her hand at me and said, ”Oh, wait”, then she turned away.

“Get ready” she said then turned back toward the lens. As her face arrived at the perfect pose, she said “ Hellll000” and I got a perfect smile.

She turned away and back that way for an hour, each time doing a variation on Hello. The smiles were all great, all different.



She explained that saying the vowels shaped the mouth in nice way So Hi and Hello give the lips very different but pleasantly expressive smiles and thus a great facial expression. If they draw the word out or shorten it, it changes the mouth shape. I have found that by the third time a subject does this, they are getting a kick out of doing it so the smile and their face gets more and more joyful.

Knowing it’s the vowels that shape the mouth you can see how “Say Cheese!” is the base use of this approach. It pulls the lips back and is an absurd thing to say, making it perfect for that big grin.

However, as pros, we like the more subtle smiles so the more delicate words will give that effect.

You will have to work on your timing of the smile. There is a predictable flow of the smile from the relaxed lip position up to the full gum revealing toothy smile. It crests then subsides back to neutral lip position. I had a client once where the husband loved his wife’s full smile. I would crack a joke and get the smile. But at the top of the smile a very odd thing happened. Her lips suddenly gave the appearance of going vertical then rapidly slipped back to normal. It was like watching her turn into a Picasso real-life face.

Timing saved the day. We got the shot just before and just after the vertical smile.



One of the most critical points of getting a good smile photograph is not in the smile but in the body language. If the eyes are not happy and “ smiling”; if the body is not being mirthful, there is a disconnect with the smile. It rings false with the viewer. But the conversation before the shot or the antics of the photographer during the shoot can fix this.

You can also work with “hooks” that will trigger a smile when you say the trigger word. The subject responds with mirth and the whole look if the body, eyes and smile are honest and warm.

You can also find out about tender moments in your subject’s life through conversation. As the subject recalls the happy or warm moments they smile. It is a warm and genuine smile, usually soft and secret.

Many times I have actually cropped out the eyes in an image, just leaving her expressive lips above a body shot. There is so much you can do with an image if you get that smile just right.

Remember, it all starts with . . . Hello.


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