The Secret to Capturing a Candid Portrait

“Say Cheese”!

A priority for me in portrait sessions is to capture my client’s BEST expressions.  The expressions they make in everyday life, that are so integrated with their personality that it makes up a majority of what they look like to us. Who doesn’t love to have that captured- to see a beautifully composed picture of their child in the midst of a laugh, or of their elderly parents, eyes clear and shining with memories and love?

But what do you get when you ask a client to “say cheese”?


The “photo smile” is something we develop, right?  Forced, non-emotive, and totally fake.

However, the cheese smile is hard to drop. It’s automatic.  So how do you keep your clients from putting a fake expression on their face every time you take a picture?

Take your real pictures in the moments between.  Between the fake smiles. Between the stiff poses.  Between the overly angry “serious” poses.

Because that moment of relaxing after the pose, of laughing at the awkwardness of the hand placement you just posed- that’s when your model looks most like themselves.

Here are five tips to help you capture your “moments between”:

  1. Keep your camera raised immediately after a shot.  Announce that you’ve gotten the picture, but stay poised to snap one more right after they relax, while they’re still mostly posed. (If you feel like this is making your model self-conscious, explain your process of weeding out unflattering shots.)
  2. Say something funny to your client, and capture the laughter or suppressed giggles.  This works really well with serious poses.
  3. Encourage your model to make a funny, extreme pose or expression to stretch and relax their face or body in between shots. Capture both the expression and the moments following.
  4. Pose your model, then tell them to hold the pose but look away from you.  Then call their eyes back to you and catch their expression just before they finish fully “reposing”.
  5. Bring another person on the shoot!  Preferably someone the model is comfortable with.  Encourage interaction between the model and the assistant, and snap a few shots of the model looking at the assistant, instead of straight into your camera.

If you prefer, candid, natural portraits, try using some of these techniques to add some “between” moments to your photography sessions.


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