The Smile in Portraiture

written by:
David Lazar


The Smile in Portraiture

Emotions are synonymous with people, and photography for me is an expression of emotion. So it stands to reason that portraiture is one of the most powerful styles of photography that, when captured artistically, can create strong feelings in a viewer on an emotional level that no other genre of photography can create. I’m interested in capturing expressive faces that convey a story, a sense of individuality and character, and I am drawn to cultural travel photography, specifically portraiture.

I like to capture a wide range of emotions in my portraits, but the emotions of joy and happiness are especially important for me to capture and include in my folio to fully represent a culture and create art that will resonate strongly and captivate an audience. In photography, smiles are best when they are genuine and better yet are moments of pure laughter. A real reaction to humour will create a better result and be more successful than a smile that has been put on for the camera. It’s important to be upbeat and enthusiastic as the photographer, and not afraid to be a bit silly, in order to encourage genuine smiles and laughter from subjects. I like to make jokes and smile a lot myself to help encourage this mood.

Essentially, the key to taking successful portrait photos is in the ability to create a rapport with your subjects and make them feel comfortable with you. This can be done fairly quickly if you are relaxed, good natured, enthusiastic, and show interest and respect to those you meet. The skill of meeting someone new and making them feel relaxed around you in a short time can be practiced by approaching others with a smile and a sense of curiosity to learn more about them.

We should never forget that strong light on a subject is a necessity for a photo to be engaging and powerful. It’s important to be thinking about where the light is coming from every time you take a photo. Since I only use natural light in my travel photography, I always look around the scene or up to the sky to find where the brightest area of light is, and then make sure the subject’s face is angled appropriately to it. I usually avoid using the direct sunlight unless the sun is low and soft such as at the very early and late times of the day. Hard sunlight on a face creates unflattering black shadows that will detract from the artistic merit of the photo. Most of the time, I photograph faces under cover or when a cloud is covering the sun, while making sure the face or body is angled towards the strongest area of light.

An easy mistake to make while photographing a person is to have all your attention on the subject and to be only concentrating on their face when you put the camera to your eye. But the key to taking artistic portraits is in the background. You must see the overall scene and be conscious of everything that’s in the frame. Look for clean backgrounds and ideally ones that complement the subject, perhaps in texture, colour or environment. The first thing I always think about is the background, and then I envision the photo as a whole and the relationship of the subject to the background.

Smiles and laughter in portrait photography can sometimes be more easily attained when photographing people in a group. There can be a lively and humorous atmosphere when friends are together posing for a photo, and the photographer should encourage this. Often I will indicate for subjects to get close together, as this creates an emotional connection between the subjects and the viewer.

Sometimes I will encourage people to put their arms around each other, or to look each other in the eye, and this will almost always illicit genuine smiles if the atmosphere is already light hearted. Make sure to always smile and be relaxed yourself, and your subjects will also feel relaxed and understand you that want to have fun and create something positive together. Be confident and unafraid of embarrassing yourself to make everyone happy, and your photos will reflect the magical emotion of pure joy!

See more of David’s work at www.davidlazarphoto.com

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David Lazar

David Lazar is a travel photographer from Brisbane, Australia, who captures moments of life, culture and beauty through photography. He is drawn to locations which have a rich cultural background steeped in tradition and is especially interested in portrait photography.

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