When a "cheesy smile" is no longer an option


All photographers have relied on the "cheesy smile" once or twice in their career, but what happens when the "cheesy smile" is not an option?

I met Peter, Joel, and Kim at the Broadneck High School Craft Bazaar in 2015. Peter was nearing graduation and the family was interested in commissioning me to create custom senior portraits of him.

Fast forward to early 2017 during our pre-session consultation, Kim had mentioned that her son doesn't come by smiles easily. "He's too cool to smile," she told me. "He's mature and doesn't goof around a lot, but he's cool."

I knew instantly this was not the right situation for a forced smile of any kind. First of all, my credibility with Peter would have been shot from the get-go if I had told him to, "Say Cheese!" Plus, the images I created would not have reflected his true self, something I pride myself on doing each and every session.

So I did some research on posing guys and found a great tutorial from Doug Gordon on Adorama TV. He agreed that forcing guys to smile can be a total turn-off in pictures. He said guys prefer to look strong and confident, not silly and goofy. 

On the day of our session, which was under the Naval Academy Bridge in Annapolis, I made it clear to Peter that he not force a smile. I told him if he felt moved to smile then by all means, but I, in no way, wanted him to fake anything. I think he was more than happy to comply and kept cool and calm throughout.

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Unfortunately for him, Peter was also staying cool in a literal sense thanks to the brisk, chilly wind that accompanied the overcast evening sky. It caused a few annoyances along the way, as did the wind, which was wreaking havoc on Peter's perfectly combed hair.

What's funny is, though he was worried about his hair throughout the session, he was quick to put his fears to rest when he saw the final images. These photographs in particular turned out to be a favorite of his and his parents, despite his hair's wind-blown look.

I did manage to get a genuine smile or two out of Peter, but in the end, the straight face expression was working well for him. Mature. Cool. Confident. Just like the man himself.