Why I never say smile

Whenever I am photographing families, one of the first things I say to the parents is ‘Please don’t ask your children to smile’.  I think we’ve all been so pre-conditioned to smile as soon as we see a camera, so we consider that to be the ‘proper’ way to behave once a camera is there.  We all love to have photos of our children smiling and laughing with glee.  But what if they were the only photos you had, would that feel real? Is joy really the emotion to value above all others?

I love to see the concentration in children’s faces, their inquisitive faces, their thoughtful faces.  When I look at my favourite photos of my children, they are rarely smiling, they have real, honest expressions, full of emotion.  They aren’t any less moving because that emotion is not ecstatic joy.

I recently read Annie Liebovitz’s ‘At Work’ and in it she says: “When you see a smile occurring so naturally in children, you hate to see it lost. I crumbled inside one day, when I saw my daughter fake a smile.”

I absolutely feel this, and when I saw my son’s school photo this week, I felt exactly that.  A big, fake, uncomfortable smile. My heart broke a little.

Of course when you see real laughter and smiles, that is an amazing thing and I’m always drawn to joyful moments. But if you want to have your children smiling, do something that will make them laugh.  Just like you would do if the camera wasn’t there. Capture a real emotion and you’ll feel something every time you look at that photo, capture a false emotion and there will always be something missing.

For documentary-style family sessions please contact me to book your shoot – you can read more about my family sessions here