How to Capture an Authentic Smile: Quick Tips from Photographer Tamara Lackey

When it comes to portraits, one of the most important factors is capturing an authentic expression — a real smile. Unfortunately, a genuine smile can be hard to come by during a structured photo shoot. With gear around and pressure on the subject, a fake smile is much more likely, and not at all what you’re looking for.

As shown by Nikon ambassador and talented lifestyle photographer Tamara Lackey in the video above, however, getting a genuine expression is far from impossible. All it takes is some clever communication, preparation for capturing that authentic moment, and maybe a small dose of luck.

Coming in at two and a half minutes, this quick video — which is part of Nikon’s Behind the Scenes series we told you about a little while back — shows just one example of how Lackey manages to capture the most genuine of expressions.

(via The Digital Picture)

  • Mike Burgess

    Some good tips in here, but I would have liked to see an older subject. I find it fairly easy to get genuine expressions from children, it’s a little tougher with adults.

  • Akeem Casey

    i totally agree

  • C Schel

    This is so lame. Nothing but a silly Nikon promo.

  • Annie Kitzman

    I agree as well. Very easy to get genuine expressions with children, they are not self conscious at all. Adults, on the other hand, can be a challenge. I can always get genuine expressions from adults, but it requires trickery on the part of the photographer. If they think you’re not shooting “the real thing” it’s easily accomplished. Test shots are the answer. I always shoot a series of “test shots”, telling them that I need to get the exposure right, just relax and let me test my lights. Then I engage the person in conversation and shoot away. They always purchase the test shots. Of course, I don’t ever tell them which ones they bought. Using this technique, a photographer needs to be quick on the shutter release, anticipate the expression he/she wants to capture and grab it when it happens. It takes a little practice, but it can be done.

  • Jeremy Madore

    I’d be willing to wager a photo session fee that Tamara (outside this ad) doesn’t aim the flash head directly at subject… come on! Would it have been that hard to take the reflector and hold it at arms length to bounce the flash off of? Sigh.

    Other than that annoying promo b/s, there are some good tips that shouldn’t go overlooked.

  • Omar Salgado

    I did not know your advice. Sounds plausible. Gotta try it.

    My approach is the opposite, well, kind of: get them used to the camera till they no longer care. It takes time, but once done, the perceived camera threat never comes back.

  • Anthony Papagallo

    what a load of old crud.

  • docholliday666

    Can we say…spray and pray?

  • Eric F Woods

    like Larry explained
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  • TamaraLackey

    Interesting, Mike – I photograph both children and adults, and I typically find an authentic smile tougher with a child because they are so focused on giving pre-programmed responses (cheese, etc.) & you have to work harder to hold their attention, whereas adults at least seem somewhat more interested in actually listening to you ; )

  • TamaraLackey

    Intriguing wager, Jeremy : )

  • TamaraLackey

    I agree with you about how test shots can ease the subject in, Annie. As well as being quick on the shutter release & practicing anticipation – that’s huge. In terms of self-consciousness, though, I feel like I see it all the time in kids and to quite some varying degrees, based on personality & age. I did a whole program on embracing self-consciousness at Google. If you’re at all interested in seeing that, let me know & I’ll share the link.

  • Jeremy Madore

    Really?! I ask this with every ounce of seriousness I can muster: do you feel this provides the quality your clients expect? I can never bring myself to use a flash head directly like that because I feel the results look horrible. Your posing and framing are awesome, wouldn’t you want to match that with flattering light? Or is that just a different style you dont subscribe to?

  • Matt R

    On camera flash? Really? Looking at Tamaras portfolio, you can tell she doesn’t use a flash on her camera, so why did Nikon make her do it in their commercial?

  • DaniGirl

    Yes please!

  • C Schel

    Be careful DaniGirl, Tamara may try and sell you something

  • Gerald Fagan

    Tell them to pick their nose, or if they have a friend with them tell them that friend has stinky feet. Works with kids and adults :)

  • Tiktian C

    maybe it’s set really low as a sort of fill?

  • TSY87

    seems like she delivered, and for free! very cool!

  • TSY87

    “im using an SB-700″… how else are you going to sell a flash if the photographer says, “I only use natural light.” Though I’m sure she’ll use a flash when necessary.

  • Annie Kitzman

    I think being self-conscious or not has a lot to do with the photographer too. Some are better at making people feel comfortable around them than others are. I’ve never had a problem getting people to feel comfortable around me, whether it be children (of any age) or adults. We’re laughing and friends within a few minutes. Kids have always been comfortable around me, maybe because I am oldest child of 11 and grew up around a lot of people, who knows.

  • Justin Sheely

    Great advice Tamara, thank you.

  • Justin Sheely

    Have you ever tried fill light with a flash? It adds a spark to the eyes of the subject.