Chapter 4: How Should I Smile?


   In getting a head and shoulder photo, one of the concerns some have is their smile.  Should I smile?  Should I show my teeth?  What can I do to improve it?  What makes a good smile?

    Before we start, I would like to mention that we tend to be to critical about ourselves.  We want that “perfect” smile.  Most people don’t.  And what is more, other people never even notice.  If we become too self-conscious, we will loose the naturalness of our expression and that will make us look odd.  That is what people will notice.  I hope the following will give some ideas though.

   The first thing to keep in mind is that a good smile in a professional headshot should be natural.  We all know that one which is forced looks forced and uncomfortable or even a little weird.  The fact is that when we normally smile, we don’t think of what the mouth does.  We just smile.  In other words, we smile with the face.  Also when we see a person’s photo, we look more at their eyes.  The same goes when we talk to someone.  Thus the expression:  “smile with the eyes”.  Natural smiles really start inside based on our mental state.


  • “My eyes close when I smile”.  That really isn’t that bad in my opinion.  It is naturally what the face does. If you try to force your eyes open when you smile it might look strange.  Better natural than strange.
  • “Should I practice?”  I think that is a great idea.  Take some time at home and try smiling in the mirror.  It can’t hurt and might make you feel more at ease in the portrait studio.
  • “I have a chipped tooth”.  Photoshop can fix a lot so just discuss it with the photographer.  They can also lighten teeth some or even clean the edges up.  Often I find people trying to hide a great smile for things that I have no trouble fixing.

  • “My teeth and lips look funny”.  Some people actually look better not showing their teeth.  Keeping the lips together, lightly and having a pleasant, personal expression can actually be better.  Try both in the session and you might be surprised. I always have my subjects alternate between both and then we will see what works the best.
  • “What might be avoided”?  The ideal smile normally does not show the bottom teeth.  Smile in the mirror and see what happens.  If your bottom lip is crooked or shows teeth, try practicing having your upper lip slightly touch your bottom teeth and see if that works.  If the lips are only open a little bit it can look odd.  Experiment.  Also the ideal smile doesn’t show too much gum.  Of course that too is a matter of opinion or culture.
  • “Should I try laughing?”  Some do that it works for them a little.  However, it also can also look a little silly.  Remember that it starts with what we are thinking.  I would suggest that you really focus, concentrate or connect with the camera inside the lens.  Do this like you would with a person inside the camera.  This way when a person looks at the photo they will think you are connecting with them.  That is perfect.

  • “Grow a smile”.  I try this sometimes. During the shoot, start with a slight smile and slowly smile more.  Let the photographer take his shot when he sees it “come alive”.  I look for a kind of sparkle in the eye.
  • “My face gets big wrinkles when I smile”.  So does mine.  I can remove the wrinkles some in photoshop.  However the problem with that is that a natural smile is really all about the whole face.  It is the natural “smile lines” and even lines under the eyes, etc that make the smile.  Remove the wrong lines and you end up with a bored expression.  The magic is gone.
  • Finally:  Smiles in photos are different than in real life.  We all love big smiles in real life. However in real life we are moving and the focus is on the experience and not the mouth.  In pictures, everything is frozen and we tend to focus on the details of that split second.  So while you might actually look better in photos with a warm expression with the lips together, in real life:  smile, smile smile.