I was taking someone’s headshots a while back and while I was resetting a light she asked me, “is it true that you can smile with your eyes, or is that just baloney?”

I thought about it for a few seconds and came to the quick conclusion that yes, “smiling with your eyes” does indeed exist. I can remember many headshot sessions that would start a little bland and dry, with a familiar phenomenon that I’ll refer to as the “cheese syndrome.” I will be talking with a headshot client about something unrelated, like sports or something, and we’ll be conversing and smiling geniunely at each other and laughing. Then as soon as I bring my camera up to my face to take a photo, and my subject is looking down the barrel of the lens, they have the instantaneous “cheese!” reaction and bring out the fakest smile since Joan Rivers.

I don’t blame them, I blame cameras. We have all had our photo taken hundreds or thousands of times in front of national monuments and at school portrait sessions in the gymnasium, that as soon as we see a camera we have a Pavlov’s dog reation to “say cheese!” and mindlessly flash our pearly whites.

During my headshot sessions, I try to medicate this “cheese syndrome” with an old-fashioned home remedy: conversation and jokes. If I can get a client confortable enough to be around me as individuals, they can momentarily forget the camera is there and smile for me- a person- insted of for the camera. I have noticed a real difference in a person’s smiles while looking through the photos following a session and can tell when the person was just smiling for the camera, and when I told a joke or said something dumb and they were smiling at me.

And I just stumbled on a WikiHow and a Wikipedia entry on smiling with the eyes, which made me smile with my mouth. Apparently, there is a scientific difference between a smile and a “genuine” smile, which is referred to as a “Duchenne smile,” after its discoverer, Guillaume Duchenne.

As Wikipedia explains:
A Duchenne smile involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and forms crow’s feet around the eyes). A non-Duchenne smile involves only the zygomatic major muscle. Many researchers believe that Duchenne smiles indicate genuine spontaneous emotions since most people cannot voluntarily contract the outer portion of the orbicularis oculi muscle.

I love this description because it reminds me of one of the main reasons why I like to call my headshots “organic headshots.” I think of an organic headshot as a headshot that someone means. It’s a headshot that shows a person as they really are and can convey a sense of who they are and their personality and friendliness through the photo.

Okay, so now that we know we need to smile with our eyes to get a genuine smile and make a photo look better, how do we do it? Here’s a Wikihow with some good tips.


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