When you feel you have come upon a good portrait subject and assuming the logistics are worked out, i.e. lens choice, aperture choice, background, point of view, you will, in all likelihood, just before you shoot, feel compelled to say something along the lines of “smile please”. Let me suggest that before you make that request that you ask yourself WHAT WAS IT, about the person that made you stop and consider shooting their portrait in the first place?
Was is it their smile; or was it a gesture of their hand, or the intensity of their eyes, or the light falling upon them, or the color that surrounded them or…
My point is simply this; we are conditioned to always ask our subjects to smile, just as we have all been asked by family or stranger photographers to smile since our terrible two’s all the way through today, yet there are countless portraits taken by photographers world-wide where the photograph would have been far more compelling without the subject smiling.
Let there be no doubt; a genuine smile generates a warm response from the viewer, but DON’T forget to shoot ‘serious’ portraits too, especially when that is first and foremost the biggest reason you were drawn to the subject in the first place.
This was certainly what attracted me to this ‘serious’ shopkeeper in Chandni Chowk market in Delhi. At no point did I ask him to smile simply because it was his forceful, intense gaze that caused me stop and thus take his portrait and all the blue that surrounded him also seemed to magnify the seriousness of his gaze. Maybe NOT having your subject smile is a better idea; something to consider on your next portrait outing? You keep shooting!
Nikon D500, Nikkor 18-300mm @ 284mm, F6.3 @ 1/60 sec. 1600 ISO