Do you smile while somebody takes a photo of you? A little more than a century ago, our ancestors smiled rarely for the camera. And absence of good dentistry was not the reason. In 1870, the grueling time required for a good exposure could reduce any trace of a smile. Besides, an opportunity to have your portrait taken might occur only once in your life, so it was prudent to take it seriously. Emotions played a small role in early portraiture, even though laughter was considered to be one of the qualities of an educated person.

Fashion Portrait

Portraitists aren’t looking for the archaic smile of ancient statues; the mysterious Mona Lisa smile is much more desirable. There are only 4 muscles required to make a smile, and it should look natural. However, as people get older, their smile is less natural, and men generally smile less than women. As a result, smiles look anything but sincere.

The tradition of smiling for the camera appeared around 1920: photographers started to ask children from British schools to reflect joy and happiness on their faces. Soon a request to smile was replaced by saying the word “cheese” — because the broad “e” sound broadened the mouth into a smile. Australians use the word “money,” Spaniards say “patata,” and Japanese use “whiskey,” all to prompt photographic subjects to smile.

Smiling woman portrait

Given that today, almost everyone can be a photographer with serious artistic ambitions, there must be certain criteria to draw a line between high and low art. A smile is one of those criteria. For some working nowadays, smiling to the camera has become vulgar and trivial, but looking bored and worried is an attribute of a high art. Gloomy faces have become a subject for many modern masters. Nevertheless, to catch a sincere smile requires undeniable photographic skill.

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