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Alexander and JasmineI’m an image horse. From my first film-hungry Nikon FM in the 1970’s to the inexpensive, but utilitarian digital Nikon D60, I’ve recorded life through my camera lens. I’m not a professional, but I’ve logged years with landscape, micro, macro, stellar, animal, model, and most other forms of photography.

The one type of photography I dislike most is the type that parents love to do, take semi-posed pictures of people. Every time I hear a parent say, “Smile! Smile! Come on, SMILE!,” I cringe. I don’t know who started the “Smile” prompting, but it is the worst thing anyone can ask of the subject of an image to do. It is saying to the child (or adult), “We want you to fake an emotion so we can show you faking an emotion to other people.”

Humans don’t fake emotions well. In fact, we are horrible at faking emotions. Children are the worst. A fake smile is marked by a tight facial expression around the mouth, bared teeth, and cringed eyes. Unfortunately, the people who take these horrible images are often rewarded by comments like, “Oh, he looks so handsome,” or “They look like they’re having such a great time!” Of course people are going to compliment your picture-taking ability, they want it to end!

This doesn’t mean people need to take sad or “how-long-do-I-have-to-stand-here?” pictures. There are a few simple rules that will avoid taking fake pictures of people you love.

Image Composition is YOUR Job, Not Their’s
Instead of going for the posed shot, which everyone hates to be involved in, position yourself so that you can take a REAL image of what is happening. From talking to playing children (and adults) in action are much more interesting than a posed shot. You want a recorded image of people engaged in life, not the camera, so you must do the work required of any good photographer, not them.

Does Fake Happy Really Tell The Story?
Sometimes children can be intensely focused on a task, or interacting with others. WHY would you want to stop this intensity and fake a smile for the image? Take the picture that tells the story instead of the fake happy picture that makes them look stupid.

If You Demand Happy, Make It Real
Okay, happy children can be a great image, but if you must have that type of image, make them laugh naturally. Ask questions like, “who’s the stupidest person with a camera?” When they laugh and point at you, take the picture. I guarantee that image will be better than the one where you said, “Smile!”

Be Unseen and Patient
It’s almost always better to hang around for a while before you take the picture. Look for the best composition, the best angle, and become part of the background. They may notice you, but children attention spans are marvelously short and they have a Jedi-like power to ignore a parent, so use that to your advantage.

It’s Digital, Take Lots of Images, Select Few
People sometimes think that every image should be perfect. I’ll admit, in the days of film cameras, when I got my photos back from the developer I used to feel guilty about all the failed images; however, today they are just digital bytes and bad pictures can be deleted. Take ten images and consider yourself a great photographer if there is one good one in the bunch.

Here’s one thing to consider the next time you see someone point a camera at another human:  if they say ‘Smile!’ it’s going to be a bad image.