Ryan Justin Chambers | The art of smiling. (part 1)

The art of smiling. (part 1)

March 27, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Portrait outside orphan home in Nairobi, Kenya. 2010DSC_5163



I'm doing a two part post on smiling. My intent with these posts is to make it more comfortable being in front of the camera by giving you more power in how you present yourself. It feels important to note that my hope is not for everyone to come out with the same smile. There is an uniqueness and almost awkwardness to everyone's smile, an unreservedness. And it's that aspect that I think is really important, perhaps even sacred. So I view this article as a means for you to be able to more clearly express yourself rather than a way for you to adhere to a social norm of what it means to look good in front of the camera. I'm passionate about authenticity. We love communicating people's stories. Making beautiful, elegant photographs is important but equally important is making honest photographs, photographs that pull you back into your wedding day or your time together walking along the beach.
One of the most important aspects of this is your smile. We can all tell the difference between a smile that’s motivated by…
  • “I can’t believe I’m getting married!”
  • “My wife looks so incredible walking down the aisle” (if you aren’t crying).
  • “Dad, I love you so much.”
  • “The ceremony's over... lets eat!”
And smiles that are motivated by…
  • “I have to keeeeeeep smiling….”
  • “This is me looking happy but I wish everyone would pay attention.”
  • “Please take the picture my cheeks hurt.”
The first set of smiles are motivated by something inside of us that can’t help but be expressed. It’s out of the overflow of emotions that your smile finds it’s way to your lips (and eyes). The second set of smiles are motivated by external circumstances that cause us to modify how we present ourselves (rationally motivated as opposed to emotionally motivated). It would be really nice to have everything be an overflow of emotions but at some point in the day (probably during the formal pictures when four different family members wandered off in different directions), you’re probably going to be rationally motivated to smile but emotionally ready to glare. Coming up are some suggestions on how to draw your emotional state back in line with your rational motivation. Sure you may feel really frustrated that you aunt wandered off with someone else's family and now someone has to go find her. But, really, she’s a little crazy and who couldn’t love her? It is the deeper emotional prompting, which is temporarily being masked by the circumstances, that we want to honor in this situation.
How to have an authentic smile even when you aren’t emotionally motivated is embarrassingly simple. The key is to connect with something in your life that moves you to smile authentically, something that…
you love deeply
makes you feel joy or peace
is ridiculously funny
These can be experiences, people, places, pets, youtube videos, etc. Most importantly, they need to be things that are significant to you and that you’re thankful for. Ideally, you'll have a list in your head that you can turn to when you need to. Try taking 30 seconds to make a mental list of people, things, experiences that you’re grateful for. Here’s my top 5.

  1. My small, round grandmother; she’s the embodiment of unconditional love for my family.
  2. 4 mile, a surf spot in Santa Cruz. You walk a quarter of a mile down a trail, along a creek to an incredible beach with high cliffs on either side.
  3. Riding motorcycles through the Peruvian Andes as the sun was setting. It was so incredibly cold and the sky was a color blue I have never experienced since.
  4. The time my friend Rachel taught her pit bull how to dance… she isn't a coordinated dog.
  5. Speaking of dogs, I have to add this one to my list. If I think of any of the lines from that clip, I’ll be smiling.

Your list will depend entirely on you. For some it will be relationships, memorable experiences, or significant objects. The important thing is having a list of things that you are grateful for.

In those situations, where you don’t feel like smiling, you need to go back to the things that move you. When you re-embrace those experiences, your brain releases the same chemicals you felt when you were actually experiencing them. And you will be able to authentically smile. The key is to remember what you’re thankful for and to be able to hold onto it.


Thanks for reading this post and I hope it’s helpful.


Go check out our second part on how to develop your smile and the way you engage the camera.


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