I'd like to take a wild guess right now and say that you probably stumbled on this page because you have no idea what to do on camera.
You might know how you like your hair, or how you like your makeup, but when it comes to expression, don't you wish someone could hold just your hand through the whole process and tell exactly what to do?
Well, if you shoot with myself or one of my team photographers at City Headshots, we'll make sure to do that.
But I'm assuming you found this article because you're either shooting with a different photographer or you haven't made a decision on one yet.
That being said, let's jump into it!
So, to smile or not to smile, that is the question!
Well, because everyone is different and I don't know you personally yet, I'd like to start off by first listing the plusses and minuses of smiling and not smiling:
SMILES ARE GREAT BECAUSE:
1. They allow you to connect on a genuine level with the viewer. Make sure your smile isn't fake!!!
2. They show approachability, warmth, and build trust.
3. They make the viewer more comfortable with you.
4. They make you seem easy to work with.
5. They can help you look younger.
THE DOWNSIDES OF SMILES CAN BE:
1. If you don't like your teeth, they will probably show if your smile is genuine. But remember, your teeth can be whitened and straightened in Photoshop!
2. If you already look young, you will look even younger and possibly inexperienced.
3. It's dangerous to fake a smile in a headshot because if it's not a genuine, real smile, you could appear untrustworthy. An easy fix to get a real smile is to just laugh!
4. Your eyes can become squinty. Fix this by looking at the top part of the photographer's camera, or do a more subtle laugh/smile instead of a big one. Don't deliberately widen your eyes or you'll look like a deer in the headlights!
5. Wrinkles can show on your face, or your face can look wider. Lighting tricks and Photoshop can easily help with these issues.
SERIOUS SHOTS ARE GREAT BECAUSE:
1. They can help you appear older if you look young.
2. If you do a very subtle, closed-mouth smile, it can show confidence with approachability, which is an awesome look.
THE DOWNSIDES OF SERIOUS SHOTS CAN BE:
1. If you're not careful, you can look dead, blank, or mean/angry. A simple fix to this would be to keep your lips closed and do a subtle laugh to create a tiny little approachable smile that still looks like a serious shot.
2. You can look older than you are.
3. You have to work the camera more to show engagement and confidence. If you don't truly feel the emotion of confidence, or curiosity, or intelligence, or even sneakiness (for actors), your shot can look forced and fake.
So, now that you understand the main differences, take a look at our recommendations:
What characters do you like to play? Are you looking to go work in TV, Film, or Theater?
If you are looking for commercial work, a great smiling shot is the way to go. A good photographer should be able to help you achieve not only a great smile, but an interesting smile. You don't just want a stereotypical snapshot, you want your smile to engage and say something about your personality.
If you are looking to play more serious roles, you'll of course want a more serious headshot. Does that mean your headshot should seem angry, blank, or unapproachable? Not at all! Work with your photographer because a serious shot can show anything from vulnerable to sneaky, to arrogant, and even to insecure.
Remember: engaging your viewer is key, so make sure your expression is genuine and natural. Longer sessions allow you to play with several expressions, which can give you more shots to choose from when submitting to casting calls.
BUSINESS PEOPLE AND NON-ACTORS:
You'll first want to consider what is most appropriate in your company. What is your company culture? If your industry is generally laid back, focusing on more of a smile or laugh will show that you not only understand the culture but fit with the culture.
Alternatively, if your industry is formal and takes itself seriously, a more whimsical headshot may not be fitting. You'll want to prioritize approachability, but show that you take yourself as seriously as your industry.
Often your clothes and background will reflect the kind of expression that works best for you. If you would wear a polo or teeshirt to the office, a smiling shot will likely work best. If you feel a suit and dark background is most appropriate, a more serious headshot may be the way to go. But remember, confidence and approachability are key, regardless of whether you smile big or not.
What are your thoughts? Please feel free to leave a comment below.
You might also be interested in visiting this page, where we answer all kinds of other questions you might not have even thought to ask!
20 Questions You Should Be Asking Before Shooting a Headshot