I guess my mother was right: My face did stick that way.
October 10, 2007 9:36 PM   Subscribe

How do I look relaxed and happy in photographs?

Help me have good looking pictures of me, like all my peers, who seem to be capable of producing nice, normal looking photos for vacations and all life's little occasions.

I've already tried the take tons of photos trick, but the closest to a smile I can get is a serious look. I constantly have people telling me I'm frowning in photos, which makes me long for 18th century photography technology when a stern expression was the norm.

Is my inability to get a good photograph of me genetic? I'd never met my father before in my life, and finally seeing photos of him, I see we have the same stiff postured blank faced, totally non-photogenic/non-cuddly photo poses. Am I doomed to this? I have Aspergers, but it's not like I can't smile... I just can't seem to cuddle up to group portraits or give a camera face.

Is there some sort of facial muscle technique I can use to train my face into a modern smile when I need it? It would really help me otherwise in life, as far as elevating my mood and giving me a tip raking waitress face, and I'd stop looking like Theda Bara, glamorous creature though she may be, when I'm not in the mood.
posted by Phalene to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
The trick I always used was to, right before the picture is taken, smile as incredibly widely as you can. A huge, fake, clownish, horrible grin. Then, when you relax your face (mere seconds before the picture is taken), your muscles will relax into your natural smile.
posted by Ms. Saint at 9:39 PM on October 10, 2007

I'm in the same situation sans the Aspergers.

The photos where I do look reasonably non-not normal are when I pretend that I like having photos of me shot.
posted by porpoise at 9:41 PM on October 10, 2007

Things that have worked for me to look better in pictures:

1. Thinking of the most hilarious and/or satisfying thing I can imagine while the picture is being taken.

2. Looking at the person taking the picture, rather than at the camera itself.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:42 PM on October 10, 2007

posted by bingo at 9:46 PM on October 10, 2007

Notice what the muscles around your eyes do when you smile naturally. Then do that in photos.

That squint is one of the things that distinguishes a sincere smile from an insincere one. It is something you can learn to do voluntarily, but a lot of people don't think to do it if they're faking a smile.

(Or are you having trouble even getting the corners of your mouth to go up?)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:48 PM on October 10, 2007

posted by b33j at 9:55 PM on October 10, 2007

I used to have the same problem. The secret is raising your cheek muscles. If you try to smile without doing this, it will just look like you are grimacing.

As for how to not look stupidly happy yet still smiling in photos, that eludes me.
posted by pravit at 9:56 PM on October 10, 2007

I actually practiced in front of mirrors so that I knew how it felt when my chin was tilted up enough so that my lazy eye was facing forward, and that I was smiling enough to look happy but not expose too much in the way of snaggle-teeth, or squish my eyes up so much. It's pretty horrid to do that, but better than the alternative.
posted by b33j at 9:58 PM on October 10, 2007

I saw a web site that had tips for this. I thought I saved it, but can not find it. In addition to the natural smile tips given above, it said something like tense you butt just as the picture is being taken as that somehow helps translate a fake looking smile into a more natural looking one. I wish I could find the site, but in any event check it out in a mirror.
posted by caddis at 10:07 PM on October 10, 2007

There was no 18th-century photography.

I don't actually know why we need to fake a smile while being photographed. It wasn't always so.

Lucky photographers can catch a natural smile, but the fixed fake photo smile smacks of taxidermy.
posted by zadcat at 10:27 PM on October 10, 2007

Sorry, 19th century. I get 1800's and turn of the previous century confused.

So far the very silly 'butt clenching' thing seems to work best, probably because it's distracting and so daft I grin anyway.
posted by Phalene at 11:34 PM on October 10, 2007

it's an awesome BBC experiment where you see videos of people genuinely smiling and faking smiles, and you guess which is which. fun and fascinating.

it's true that the thing that makes a smile look sincere is lifted cheek muscles, which results in crinkled outer eye-corners. it's hard to fake that, though.

if you were an actor, your acting teacher would tell you to image that the camera is a child you love and smile warmly and sharingly at that child, like you're whispering "you're so cUte!" i'd say try that and see if it helps.

you can also make a not-genuine, but still nice-looking pleasant picture-smile by lifting your eyebrows slightly (like 1/2 a centimetre) when you fake-smile.

but hey, maybe a happy smile isn't the look for you. what about other pleasant expressions, like a mischievious grin? to do that, you fake-smile and raise one eyebrow and tip that side of your forehead towards camera by about one inch. think the thought, "i know what colour your underpants are!"

good luck!
posted by twistofrhyme at 11:55 PM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

When I took a photography class, we were told that the look you want the person to have is exactly the look they would have if they'd been busy doing something and right at that moment an old friend suddenly walked into the room.

So try looking away from the camera at something else, then imagine that an old friend (or your celebrity-crush) has just called out your name from the general direction of the camera.
posted by Martin E. at 12:03 AM on October 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

if you don't want to show teeth when you smile, raise your eyebrows.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:47 AM on October 11, 2007

My wife, sick of how I smiled in photos (too much apparently), advised me to smile as I do when I meet someone the first time. To accomplish this, instead of saying "cheese" for photos, I pretend I am being introduced to someone. I even say "Nice to meet you".

Something like this might work if you can think of a scenario in which you are normally relaxed and happy.
posted by poppo at 4:48 AM on October 11, 2007

here's another thread involving smiles, photos and Ambrosia Voyeur.
posted by canine epigram at 5:40 AM on October 11, 2007

Chill out a little when there are photos being taken. Chances are you're freezing due to the anxiety of having to perform a nice face for the camera.

Just relax and enjoy the moment, after all you're being recorded for a good reason. Someone wants to capture a picture of you forever, might as well enjoy it eh?

Just tried that BBC fake smile site and managed 16/20 - interesting stuff.

posted by triv at 6:41 AM on October 11, 2007

Here's the butt clench article: 5 Steps to Being More Photogenic.
posted by caddis at 7:16 AM on October 11, 2007 [4 favorites]

Relax. Forget the outcome. You'll be ok.
posted by philmas at 9:42 AM on October 11, 2007

Don't look at the camera straight-on, always be tilted a little bit. Nobody looks good dead-on.
posted by radioamy at 10:27 AM on October 11, 2007

Radioamy has good advice. Also, if the camera is ever so slightly above you, that looks best--emphasizes your eyes, de-emphasizes your chin and jaw, and makes you look demure.

You don't need to look happy in photos. Think of some other adjectives that you'd enjoy emboodying, or that already describe you: mysterious, glamorous, fetching, innocent, knowing, smart, ultra-confident (even if you're not) etc. Maybe these attitudes would be easier for you to portray. Consider shades of gray. There's more than just happy/sad, relaxed/tense. In fact, some tension in your affect might create an interesting vibe.

You can look serious without looking grim. Photographs of musicians in bands will show you that it's possible to look uber-cool without smiling. (Might be the only way!)
posted by frosty_hut at 1:34 PM on October 11, 2007

It is not necessary to "smile" and look "happy" in photographs to look good in photographs. In fact, an authentic expression, in my opinion, always looks good in photographs.

Whenever I take a photograph, I do the following:

-Remember that every photograph has a recipient, some person who will be looking at the photograph. (Usually the person taking the photograph is the person who will be looking at the photograph.)

-Remember that I am pleasing to the person taking/looking at the photograph.

-Look straight into the lens, thereby looking directly into the eyes of the person looking at the photograph, someone to whom you are pleasing.

-Allow an authentic expression to arise.

I find my expression tends to change depending on the situation in which the photograph is taken. Infinitely preferable to that forced smile that looks the same whether you are out getting pizza with friends, standing in front of the Grand Canyon, or getting married.

Of course, someone you detest might take your photograph. An authentic expression of displeasure might come up. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by vplane at 11:11 AM on November 8, 2007

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