Tips for Capturing Real Smiles in Your Portraits

Part of being a portrait photographer is being able to coach your subjects and get them to give you authentic smiles. When working with subjects who are not professional models, it can be really tricky to extract a smile from the subject that doesn’t look forced or fake. Fortunately, Tamara Lackey is here to deliver some excellent tips for capturing that perfect smile:

For her portraits, Lackey shoots with a Nikon D800 that she pairs with a Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 lens—a great lens choice for portraiture; the 85mm focal length will not distort your subjects’ faces as much as other focal lengths. (To learn more about focal lengths affect the shape of faces check out this helpful article.) Lackey prefers to shoot with natural light, but she does bring along a Nikon SB-700 and a double sided reflector to further help her achieve perfect lighting wherever she is shooting.


Interact with your subjects for natural expressions.

Getting a subject to relax and smile naturally comes even before the camera comes out, Lackey stresses. Try to make them feel comfortable with you in all your interactions with them prior to the shoot so they see you as a peer and not a stranger following them with a camera.

When posing your clients, make sure the poses are natural and reflect the personality of the individual:

  • Ask them questions
  • Get to know them
  • Break the ice
  • Make jokes
  • Act silly

….and be ready to snap their portrait when they let down their guard!


Authentic expressions are essential for good portraits.

“So much of great portraiture is about connection; it’s about opening the bridge between you and your subject.”

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