Ryan Justin Chambers | How to Smile (part 2)

How to Smile (part 2)

April 12, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Everyone can tell the difference between an authentic smile and one that is forced, but most people don't really know why. So we've come out with a two part series on smiling. The fist part is our why to smile post which came out a few weeks ago. Today's post focuses on how to smile. We'll talk first about a universal aspect of smiling and, secondly, how to understand and fine tune your unique smile. We hope to help you be more fully yourself in front of the camera.




Every person is a little bit different and so is there smile. But there's one aspect that connects all authentic smiles, and it lies at the first place we look when viewing a portrait...the eyes. The eyes tell us more than about how the subject feels than anything else in a portrait. When people smile genuinely their eyes open a little more widely and their cheek bones raise, causing a slight scrunching with their eyes. Go ahead and think about something from your list developed from our earlier post on smiling. Do you notice how your whole face is active and how your eyes widen and scrunch slightly when you have a genuine smile? Now try smiling with just your mouth. You'll notice that the first smile looks authentic while the second is the classic "I'm trying to look excited but I'm not?" Smiling with your eyes is the most important aspect for connoting authenticity and vulnerability. Spend a few minutes trying it out in front of the mirror.

I've noticed that most people that don't like their smile don't spend very much time looking at it or thinking about it. It's almost as if we ignore it, it'll go away. And like most things in life, when you ignore it, it still doesn't go away. So today we're going to address it. Go ahead and look as yourself in the mirror. Spend some time looking at your features. Notice the different shapes that happen as your face transitions from one feature to the next. Squint your eyes so that everything gets blurred and notice the broader shape of your face. When we first look in the mirror we hold our muscles tense but as time goes on we tend to reach a more resting posture. We see our features relaxed. Now go ahead and image something thats makes you smile. Imagine your looking into the eyes of someone you really care about.

How does your face change? What do you like? Your eyes? The shape of your mouth? What don't you like? Do you show a lot of gum? Does your smile become a teethy skeletal grin because your bottom lip drops too much? Do your eyes open really wide or scrunch tightly?

Now go back and practice adjusting different aspects about your smile. Let your upper lip relax instead of being pulled tight. Allow your eyes to scrunch into a smile but maybe not so intensely. Practice going through a round of smiling with your changes and note how your face feels. Try smiling without looking at the mirror and the turning back to see. It's important to learn how to control your face. And repetition builds muscle memory.

Now go look through pictures of yourself (Facebook?). Which smiles do you love? Which arent working? For me, a closed mouth smile looks awkward and makes my face look wide, it creates this shape < > on either side of my lips. So, for me, I'm going to try smiling with my teeth. The other important thing I've realized is I need to acknowledge the camera. I don't have to stare into the camera but I need to consciously acknowledge it and choose to allow it into my space. What works for you? What doesn't?

Now you can make a plan for next time you'll need to smile.
Here's my plan:

  • Acknowledge the camera and embrace its presence (thinking about something from my smiling list if I have to)
  • Smile with my eyes
  • Remembering to show my teeth
  • And, most importantly, try to let go.

Learning to smile will likely start off feeling forced but through practice and intention, it will become a natural part of being in front of the camera. It will also allow you to be more comfortable when you're being photographed which, ultimately, will give you the space to be yourself.




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