Its a fact that we are drawn more to people who seem happy, and smiling is inextricably linked with positive emotion. We are born with an innate ability to recognize a smile as a non threatening gesture and even very young infants will usually respond in kind to a smile from a stranger. Smiling signals friendliness and encourages positive interactions, but not all smiles are created equal!
There is a big difference between a genuine smile - the kind that psychologists describe as a Duchenne smile, and the forced smiles we so often see in photographs where the mouth and eyes are sending out conflicting messages. Duchenne smiles engage the muscle around your eyes and raise the cheeks high, whereas fake smiles involve only the muscles that raise the corners of the mouth and don't have the same impact.
So why is a smile usually important in a professional headshot? Studies have shown it takes as little as 13 milliseconds to form an impression of someone, and in today's fast-paced digital world that all important first impression of you will probably be based upon your visual presence online. There is no guarantee your audience will take the time to read through your LinkedIn profile or the about me page of your website so the image you choose to represent yourself on your social media and business networking sites needs to stop the scroll. The fact is we are more likely to pause over the headshot of someone that looks friendly and approachable, especially if we could be potentially spending a lot of time in the persons company, for instance a realtor or a coach.
Of course smiling to order is not that simple, especially if you are uncomfortable in front of the camera. A forced smile or one that has been held for too long simply does not look authentic. An experienced headshot photographer should have the ability to make you feel relaxed and elicit that all important natural expression.
Although few people will pick out an image of themselves having a real belly laugh like the ones above as their professional headshot, laughter relaxes the facial muscles and leads to genuine smiles that involve the eyes. I usually spend around an hour with clients that come to my studio for headshots which gives me plenty of time to help them feel relaxed, and to inject a little fun into the session. It also makes the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone involved!
When Im shooting group headshots on location I have much less time - typically 5 to 10 minutes and sometimes even less to get the all-important shot, so quickly establishing rapport becomes even more crucial. Humor definitely helps the process! These images were all taken as part of a company-wide headshot day on a recent corporate shoot on location for Tech startup ProdPerfect.