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How to Smile for Pictures (21 Tips for Getting People to Smile)

Last updated: March 13, 2024 - 9 min read
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Smiling for pictures is one of the most important things you can do to make your photos look great. But it’s not always easy to do—especially if you’re not used to it. Here are a few tips to help you smile for pictures.

21. Smile For Pictures: Get to Know Them First

A female model smiling naturally for a portrait
The best photos of people smiling are taken by people who know their models well. When you get to know your subject, you’ll have a few inside jokes or stories. You can share these during your photo shoot and entertain your model with.

Before you do anything else, sit down and have a conversation with your model. You don’t have to talk about photography. Just get to know them as you would a friend. The rest will follow.
Once they have a clearer idea of who you are, they’ll feel more relaxed in your presence. This will make it easier for you to make them smile naturally during your photo shoot.

20. Make Sure They Feel Beautiful

A female model sitting outdoors and smiling naturally - smile for the cameraIt’s easier to smile when you feel comfortable in your own skin.
Before your photo shoot, make sure your model has picked out an outfit that makes them feel like they can seize the day.
If you can, hire a makeup artist and hairstylist. They will ensure that your model feels as glamorous as possible.
To make your shooting experience even better, ask them to bring a friend who can encourage them throughout the session.

19. Choose a Location That Sparks Joy

A female model standing outdoors in front of flowers and smiling naturally - how to smile in pictures
You can use Marie Kondo’s expert organizational skills in photography. During your conversation with your model, get to know where they enjoy hanging out.
If a place sparks joy, it will effortlessly make your model feel comfortable in their own skin.
You can also shoot in places that most people associate with happiness. Think of public gardens and vibrant cafés.

18. Keep Them Entertained with Fun Activities

A smiling male hiker - how to smile for pictures
Hiking is a great way to take beautiful photos of people smiling. You can walk, have discussions, and take spontaneous photos at the same time!

After even a short conversation with your model, you’ll know more about their hobbies. If you can include them in your photos somehow, your model will be too distracted to worry about your camera.
If your model enjoys biking, you can take fun action photos. If they love going to the park, you can take atmospheric and nature-filled photos.
The love your model has for their hobbies will shine through your photos. And it’ll give them more reasons to smile.

17. Include Other People in Your Photos

A smiling joyful couple in the snow - smile for the camera
One of the best ways to get your model to smile is to photograph them next to their significant other. The chemistry, combined with mutual love, will create naturally joyful photos of people smiling.

It’s easier to laugh and have fun when your loved ones are with you. If it’s appropriate, ask your model to bring a friend or family member to your photo shoot.
Ask your models to talk, work on their mutual hobbies, or be silly while you take photos of them.
This will allow you to take lots of candid and natural pictures of two people who enjoy each other’s company.
This will also help you improve your best friend photography skills!

16. Take a Few Group Selfies!

A group selfie of smiling people outdoors
Right before or after your start shooting, take a few group selfies.
These will probably not end up in your portfolio. But they’ll let you bond with your models, show them your silly side, and make them feel more comfortable.

15. Avoid Using Words Like Cheese

A portrait of a man in glasses smiling natural
Most people say cheese when they smile for pictures. This makes their smiles look unnatural.
search cheese with words like feta. You can also just give your model ridiculous and irrelevant words to say. This will surprise them and might even make them smile!
If you’re working with children, ask them to say their favorite silly words.

14. Tell Them Ridiculously Cheesy Jokes

A woman laughing against a white background - smile for the camera tips
You don’t have to try too hard when it comes to jokes. In fact, trying to make a great joke will stress you out. A few cheesy jokes will surprise and entertain your model.
Here are a few clever ones, courtesy of Reddit:

  • If you’re photographing rings for an engagement or a wedding, say, “Oops, let me get that again. Your hand blinked.”
  • During a couples shoot, tell your models to act like they love each other.
  • Similarly, ask your model to act like they’re happy.

As ridiculous as these jokes are, they’ll catch your models off guard and make them smile naturally.

13. Don’t Get Too Close

A portrait of a dark haired man smiling natural
If someone brought their camera very close to your face and asked you to smile, you’d feel uncomfortable. Avoid doing this to your models at all costs.
In order to smile during a shoot, your model should have enough room to pose and move around. You can use a zoom lens to give them more physical and creative space.

12. Ask Them to Do an Impression of Someone They Know

Doing impressions of celebrities, friends, and family members is both entertaining and funny. This works best with young people and children.
While your model does their impression, you can take silly and beautiful photos of them having fun.

11. Purposely Create an Awkward Silence

A black and white portrait of a man smiling natural - how to smile for pictures
It’s likely that you tend to give instructions and compliments during your photoshoots. In the middle of your shoot, do the opposite of that.
You can either not say anything to your model or ask them to stand awkwardly in front of the camera.
Because people expect to look good during photoshoots, the last thing they expect is intentional awkwardness. This might give you lots of opportunities to take joyful portraits.

10. Ask Them to Look Straight at You

A joyful photo of a blonde woman in an aircraft smiling naturallyAnother way to create intentional awkwardness is to stare straight at your model. Because this instruction is unusual, it will make your model giggle.
If you’re photographing several people, ask them to stare into each other’s eyes without blinking.

9. Let Them Be Silly

Fun portrait of a laughing female model holding a cake to her eye - how to smile for picturesPosing instructions can be daunting and uncomfortable. Don’t give your model the impression that you’re expecting something incomparable.
The less stressed you look, the easier it will be for them to relax.
While you’re at it, encourage silliness. This is easier to do with multiple models.
If you’re photographing one individual, give them something to be silly with, like a pair of funky glasses or a wig.

8. Dance!

Fun portrait of a laughing female model tossing her auburn hair - how to smile for picturesDancing is one of the easiest ways to relieve stress and gain a boost of confidence. Put some music on and encourage your model to be as silly or as professional as they please.
This is particularly useful in children photography. Funny children’s songs can prevent boredom and give you a bunch of adorable smiles!

7. Have Someone Encourage Them Behind the Camera

Fun portrait of a laughing female model tossing her auburn hair - how to smile for picturesEven though it’s your job to compliment and encourage your model, it doesn’t hurt to have some extra help.
The easiest way to make a model laugh is to ask their friend to cheer them up with inside jokes behind the camera. This will prevent awkward moments and loneliness.

6. Ask Them to Take a Few Deep Breaths

Fun portrait of a laughing female model posing on an urban rooftop - how to smile for picturesIf you notice your model feeling awkward or out of place, tell them to take a few deep breaths.
If you have time, take a break to show them your mood board or to just talk about something unrelated to photography.
You can even bring a few treats (or a thermos filled with tea). This will make your photo shoot seem more like a friendly get-together than a formal event.
The less you’re rushing and feeling stressed, the easier it will be for them to smile for you.

5. Encourage Fake Smiling

Monotone portrait of a laughing female model - how to smile for picturesIt’s easy to catch someone off guard when you tell them to do something seemingly unacceptable, like fake a smile. This is what you should do if your model looks tense.
Ask them to give you their best fake smile. The first few photos will look fake, but the rest will have genuine reactions to the absurdness of it all.

4. Tell Them Not to Smile at All

Again, this is a great way to get an authentic reaction from someone.
It’s difficult to follow strict instructions during a photo shoot. Especially when you think that you’re expected to smile.
Tell your model to look as serious as possible so you can take conceptual photos. It’s very likely that they’ll end up laughing and giving you lots of funny reactions to capture.

3. Include Pets in Your Photos

Fun portrait of a laughing young boy holding a small dog - smiling peopleIt’s almost impossible to look serious while holding an adorable kitten or puppy.
If you or your model has a pet, take photos of them playing with it.

2. Play a Game Together

Fun portrait of a laughing female model covered in falling glitter - how to smile for picturesIf your model is having fun, you’ll have a lot of opportunities to take happy photos of them.
You can play board games, throw confetti at them, or simply run around so you can take very spontaneous portraits.
Make sure the games you’re playing are safe for your equipment. Tennis wouldn’t be such a great idea.

1. Count to 10 Without Telling Them

Sweet portrait of a smiling father and young daughter outdoors - how to smile for picturesTell your models to smile on the count of three. Once you reach 3, keep going until 10 or more.
This will surprise your models, create an awkward silence, and make everyone laugh.
You can only do this a few times during the same shoot. Otherwise, you’ll end up with unnecessary awkwardness.


Photos of people smiling naturally are powerful. They can make someone’s day or inspire someone to take happier photos.
They can also teach you how to have an authentic relationship with your models.
Because of all these reasons, it’s more important than ever to know how to take authentic and joyful photos of everyone you know.
Check out our great tips for mother and daughter photoshoots next!