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Feb 4, 2014

Let's Talk Blog Photography! or "To Smile or Not to Smile?"



Readers, I'd originally intended today's post to be "Men in Skirts: YEA or NAY," but we're past that sort of thing, don't you think? 

Instead, I'd like to discuss photography.  I believe there are two kinds of people: those who smile in photos and those who don't.

Look at any group photo and it's immediately obvious whose natural impulse is to smile, whose isn't, and who is perhaps on the fence.  Most are in one camp or the other, have you noticed? 



We all smile in my family.  It's just our way.





Not bad for eighty-something!

Freddy smiled more before he had half his teeth pulled.



I don't know how old I was when someone first told me to smile in a photo -- probably less than a year -- and I've been smiling ever since, even if I'm not feeling particularly cheery in the moment; I don't even think about it.  Then again, I still have my own teeth (well, most of them) and I am basically an "up" person.

Of course, once you have four or five decades behind you, being photographed with your non-smiling face can be a risk.  By then, one's neutral expression usually betrays some mix of rage, grief, fear, and shame*, all of which a smile can usually help to mask.  (Wasn't it George Orwell who said, "By 50, everyone has the face he deserves"?)

*also too: exhaustion, boredom, effects of gravity.



Does everybody look better when they smile?  Hard to say.















Not smiling definitely gives one an air of mystery; a veiled hat and/or a cigarette help.







In contemporary fashion photography, one almost never sees smiling faces.  I've heard all kinds of theories about why this is so, from the higher status we confer on non-smiling people (since they don't have to please anybody or smile to look obsequious), to a smile distracting from the clothes so that it becomes more about the model than their outfit.  It's probably all these things and more -- if you know, perhaps you can share your opinions with us.







In closing, if you have a sewing blog (or are active on a site like Pattern Review) and post photographs of yourself in your self-made garments, is your inclination to smile, not to smile, or to chop off your head, thereby eliminating the issue altogether.

Why do we usually smile in photos anyway -- they didn't (much) in the 19th Century?   Is it more an American thing?



Smiling or not smiling -- how do you prefer to be photographed, and why?

58 comments:

  1. I'm not a big smiler, in fact, my New Year's resolution was to work on my RBF (that's the medical name for the condition: Resting Bitch Face--look it up!) That said, I at least try for a small, pleasant smile when I pictures of myself for my blog. Too big a smile makes your eyes look beady though!
    Really, who doesn't look better smiling?

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    1. I have a resting bitch face also....and its crooked?!?!? Evidently I actually look like that, but that doesn't explain the tourists asking for directions on the subway. Would you approach a crooked resting bitch face?!?!?!

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    2. RNF, I think I have that too. such a relief to know it's an actual medical condition

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    3. Me too!! I look miserable as well and I AM NOT.

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  2. For my last passport, the photographer would not let me smile...I look like a prison matron. Looking forward to the day my passport expires.

    I do think that your latest photo shoot (with a lot of straight faces) does look much more "high fashion". I suppose that's what we are trained to see, anyway. Although I do like your smile.

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    1. You aren't allowed to smile in passports and drivers licenses these days. :-(

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  3. When I first started photographing myself, I would go for the "model no smile" look. But I'm not a model, so I always just ended up looking uncomfortable or unhappy instead of brooding or sexy or whatever. So I say, if you're happy to have a finished garment, then smile! Us normal people can pull that off much better anyway.

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  4. I tend to be a non smiler. I am getting better about being comfortable in front of the camera, but not comfortable enough to smile.

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  5. I like to smile; that's my natural response. But I do enjoy a variety of expressions in photography, and the personality that comes through that way. I photograph my kids a lot and love all the different results I get. I always enjoy your posts and discussions and am really vicariously enjoying your experience at FIT.

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  6. I ALWAYS smile for photos, except for on my blog. I'm a smiler by nature, and I think smiling makes people look lovely. Ironically, I don't like to smile on my blog because I don't really care about people looking at my face and I just want all the focus on my clothes. Sometimes it works, sometimes, according to my husband I look like a Eastern European spy.

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  7. It really depends. I smile in all group pictures, and if I'm not smiling I'm making a stupid face. When it comes to blog photos it really depends on what garment I'm showing, what the overall atmosphere of the location is and the kind of pictures I have in mind. I usually end up smiling though, or at least making a silly face.

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  8. For pattern review, I try as much as possible to leave my face out of the picture (I truly can't stand it, if I could live without mirrors I would).

    Otherwise I have serious RBF too :) but try to force a smile in pictures, especially if it's taken by/for someone that is dear to me. However, I always end up looking like a rabbit in headlights. If I do not smile, I look like I'm stoned, or dead.

    I'm very admirative of people who can look gorgeous without smiling.

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  9. I smile, because i'm so happy to have completed a garment myself and am so proud and happy to be wearing it, camera or no camera! but i've only been sewing for a year, so maybe later on i'll be off the honeymoon phase and just big grouch when it comes to sewing and modeling my garments

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  10. For photo sessions, I try to get a mix of smiling and not smiling pics, but I think I end up posting more of the not smiling or only half-smiling ones I the end. I don't tend to walk around grinning all the time, so I think I'm more used to seeing my not smiling self in pictures and therefore am more comfortable with posting them. Or maybe I'm just trying to cultivate an aura of mystery.

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  11. Oh, smile. It almost always looks better, unless you have really good chiselled features (I don't) and are posing for an arty photo. My take on the 19th century photos has been that they didn't smile because the limitations of photography at that time meant they had to hold the pose for a long time, and it's difficult to maintain a genuine looking but unchanging smile for that long - so safer to tell the subjects not to smile. People (especially women) in earlier portraits often have a small (sometimes even enigmatic) smile. But perhaps I'm totally wrong and it is all about status - I must go and check out some portraits.

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  12. I feel better after reading that Freddy had half his teeth pulled. My dog is on his way home from the vet after having four of his teeth removed. I was feeling so guilty. Thanks for this post.

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  13. Smile, for goodness' sake. It doesn't have to be a big, goofy, grin, but I hate it when people/models look like the clothes are making them unhappy.

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  14. I always smile! I don't feel like I can pull of the 'no-smile serious face look'- I feel like I just look grumpy. And I want to look like I am really happy to be wearing anything I share on my blog- even if I spent the last two day wrestling it into submission! I just can't take myself seriously enough to do the no-smile look- I have to make a funny face at the very least!

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  15. I come from the days when your Dad would tell the kids to smile and then a blinding flashbulb would go off in your face. So I'm usually caught with a half-smile, half relexive grimace, like I'm asking the photographer please not to hit me again. Not great, but apparently the best I can do...

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  16. I think those models are using their RBF because they're so flippin' hungry. I personally like to smile because so many of my middle-aged peers are too botoxed up pull it off.

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  17. My natural tendency is a small smile because I've always been self-conscious about my teeth - but my blog photos taught me a small smile doesn't look like a smile at all :(. I find it really hard to smile at the 10 srcond timer countdown but I TRY for big smiles, and take heaps of photos so I can just use the 5% where my teeth aren't too noticeable.

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  18. It is too bad that now we aren't allowed to smile for our passport pics or licenses. People usually just look happier when they smile

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  19. People didn't smile for photos in the 19th century because they had to hold the pose for so long because of how early cameras worked. It was easier to stay totally still with a serious face. I've also noticed that Europeans and Russians tend not to smile in photographs either--cultural thing, I guess. (especially for passport/identification photos)

    I smile for photographs on my blog because I think my "neutral" expression is distracting, but that is just me. I like your smiling photos! It shows your personality, I think.

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    1. Yep. You might have to sit there for up to an hour, waiting for the image to appear on the emulsion. One tends to look more as if one has a rictus at that point ... I hate seeing photos of myself at all, whether smiling or not. I cannot honestly judge if I look better or worse. I tend to go through life laughing, so a smile is probably a more accurate representation.

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  20. I've read that in the 19th Century photographers told the subjects not to smile because a long exposure time was needed and a person's smile might shift during that exposure time, blurring the image. Sounds somewhat logical, but I'm not entirely sure it's true.

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    1. That would have been true with the earliest photographs, where people often posed with an armature behind them. (Though I'm not sure about the smile shift thing). I have some mennonite relatives who do not smile in photos, and I tend to think that it is because they are not conscious of their own image and how it will look to others. Perhaps it was the same during the early photography period.
      ~Jen

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  21. I remember reading somewhere that there are two different kinds of smiles, one where the eyes crinkle up and one where they don't. The latter is preferred by stars and the more image-conscious and media-trained, but it also has the effect of looking rather insincere. From memory it was suggested that Americans were more prone to the second one, while Brits tend to crinkle their eyes more. I'm definitely a smiler because I have RBF big time, but personally I think I look better not smiling! And I think Lyndle is right about not smiling in old photos, they had to hold still for so long that it was better to have a neutral expression and a stiff pose so that you didn't move. I've seen a few with blurry babies for that reason :)

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    1. It is true that there are two kinds of smiles. A Duchenne smile is where the eyes crinkle and is considered a genuine smile. Different neural pathways are involved with each. You can have a stroke which prevents you from smiling automatically in response to something, but allows you to pose a smile for a photo. I haven't heard about the other studies however.

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  22. Generally, I'm just concentrating on trying not to blink. : ) Otherwise, it depends on the context.
    Prior to getting braces (as a teenager) I was really self-conscious and never smiled. Despite the ordeal, it's something I really appreciate that my parents did for me, even though I didn't realize it at the time. Braces are something I would encourage anyone who is self-conscious about their teeth to do, at any age. I tend to agree, most people look better smiling, and certainly friendlier!

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    1. Yay braces. I got them as an adult as I was always self-conscious about my smile/teeth. Now they look great. It was a miserable 18 months though. Ugh!

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  23. High fashion - they don't smile because they're hungry!

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  24. I am a smiley person in real life but have eyes that crinkle away to nothing when I smile so I tend not to do a genuine smile for blog photos. I tend to do a small smile and look away from the camera.

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  25. I like to smile anything else looks unnatural or I am trying to hard! Years ago, I had a My Twin doll made for a daughter, it looked like her but still wasn't quite her. My sister-in-law pointed out the doll isn't smiling, E always smiles. She was right.

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  26. On her affirmations CD, "I Can Do It," Louise L Hay says, "People's faces show so clearly a lifetime of thinking patterns. How will you look when you are elderly?"
    :)

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  27. My dad has a great photo of his mother and grandmother taken around 1920. His grandmother, off the boat from Russia, is very stern and serious, while his mother--about 6 yrs old--has a cute smile and bobbed haircut. I like to think the grandmother had a whimsical side to her that simply did not translate into a smile.

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  28. My father was a photographer. I now hide in pictures. I belong to to a family that half look superb no matter what and the other half always look like they are making faces. I belong to the latter. My daughter and I had a photographer go through 72 frames to get one that we agreed could be seen by others. I tend to be a cut off the head type. But I think I want to try the smiling and be happy type. After all, I am an over happy person.

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  29. I think the main reason I smile in every photo is my Caribbean roots. We are a smiling culture --photos or no photos.

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  30. I leave this up to the one in front of the camera.
    YET: If I would have found YOU in THIS outfit with a camera in MY hands - bet I know I wouldn't have ANY 'brakes' for my smiling, mate !!! ;-) :-D

    LG, Gerlinde

    N.B.: Veeery nice and daring; you (finally) got 'bled over' by our more colourful Australian, aehem, taste? ;-) :-D
    (= wasn't there SOME post - some day in the past?
    Means: now hurry up, Gerlinde, duck and run away fast since being cheeky usually causes some sort of 'flying shoes' sent after me ;-) )

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  31. We had a convo over on Gawker this afternoon about the nagging problem of Resting Bitch Face (in the context of our First Lady, a wonderful, intelligent, attractive woman, who when she's not paying attention looks like she's getting ready to drown kittens). It reminded me (and how rarely one uses this kind of information twice in one day) of an axiom of my grandmother's - that the way to achieve a serene look for a photo or when entering a room is to look neutrally into the middle distance and quietly (or even silently) say the word "brush." From my experience, it works like a charm...

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    1. And here I'd been saying "floss" for decades!

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  32. I think taking timer photos of myself is hard, so I try to get a mix to choose from, but I generally post the smiles. I seem to have a harder time with looking into the camera or not...which might be easier when I have a person holding the camera to smile to.

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  33. I am a smiler. I always like pictures of me (and everyone else too) if there is a smile.

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  34. I am definitely a "smiler" I find it more natural in pictures to smile, similar to a previous comment, I find it hard to look sexy, or serious and so I rather be comfortable in the pictures.

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  35. I have a crooked smile which makes my eyes look lopsided, so I do smaller smiles for photos. If I don't my face just looks saggy! So I smize.

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  36. I'm definitely a smiler. I always look like I'm spoiling for a fight if I attempt a sultry non-smiling face. Having said that, I'm not especially photogenic so it takes at least 20 photos to get even one to put on my blog. Sometimes even that doesn't work and I have to chop my head off. Like you, I'm an 'up' person so my natural inclination is to grin like a loon! Keep smiling Peter, you have a great smile! x

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  37. My very amateur family photographers won't click unless I smile. I smile a lot in real life, but would prefer to look more moody and mysterious in my blog photos.

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  38. I'm sure I have some deep, dark self image issues that only years of therapy could discover, so I used to chop of my head in photos. In addition, I had a hard time producing a smile that doesn't look fake - so "Off with her head!". But recently, I've begun to include my head, fake smile and all. People tell me they prefer the smiley pictures over the headless pictures, so I guess I'll stick with it.

    PS Your mom has a great smile!

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  39. I didn't smile at all on my photos for the blog and BurdaStyle posts, but the readers complained about it - said I looked too serious. I tried to put a happy face on, but I usually dislike it. I think I look best when having a relaxed face, with lips just slightly pulled up into a smile.

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  40. Peter,
    It might not look as high fashion, but I love your big grin :)

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  41. The sullen looks in fashion photos don't bother me. The hunched over shoulders and bad posture, like the model in the blue dress could go away though.

    I'm not a smiler in photos - I think I've only had 2 decent photos in my life - kindergarten school picture and my high school graduation picture. Crooked discolored teeth, thick ill-fitting glasses and hair that did not cooperate, combined with being laughed at in any photos I did appear in pretty much took away any good feelings about being photographed.

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  42. I'm a smiler. I tried to take non-smiling pics. You know, because I think they're usually edgier or like you said, more mysterious, but I just thought I looked really arrogant and moody in most of the non-smiling pictures. I just can't work mysterious, it doesn't fit me...
    So now I'm back to smiling and I'm OK with that.

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  43. My opinions on smiling in photographs aside, that is FANTASTIC jacket in the first picture. Did you make that?

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    1. Yes -- it's from a vintage 70's bedsheet!

      http://malepatternboldness.blogspot.com/2013/03/peter-models-1970s-groovy-sheet-suit.html

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  44. For my blog, I take my own pictures, and I feel awkward just standing there. I always either make faces or smile (which is really just me making another face) to help cover up my awkwardness. I honestly can't even look in a mirror without doing this.

    I'm a generally smiley person irl, and I have an RPF, I guess (resting pleasant face), so my favorite pictures of myself are acutally the candid shots that other people take, when I don't have time to prepare (get awkward).

    Having said all that, I really think people underestimate how amazing their smiles are. Stop focusing on your teeth or crows feet or whatever, and just beam! I guarantee it looks good on you.

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  45. I'm a smiler. In fact, if I'm having a hard time remembering who a person is, usually all they have to do is smile and my memory is jogged. I've always liked the phrase "keep smiling, it makes people wonder what you're up to" :o}

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  46. It's very hard to maintain a natural smile when you're waiting for the 10 second self-timer to expire! Maybe that's why I end up with far more RBF photos than smiling ones.

    But smiling suit some photo styling more than others. I try to have fun with the photo, seeing it as a creative outlet as much as the sewing. So if the styling narrative is meant to be lighthearted, and a sour face just won't do!

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  47. Whenever I take a picture of myself, for my blog or otherwise, people say I look so serious. I think it's because I'm concentrating hard on taking the picture and I'm not thinking about what I look like.

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  48. Actually, Peter, while you do have a charming smile, you also look surprisingly handsome and distinguished- looking with a SERIOUS face on, as well. Even while wearing a flowery blazer made from a sheet!

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