Smile, Damn it!


For years, every morning as I drove down Topanga Canyon to PCH, a homeless man would be standing on the corner, grinning a toothless smile and greeting all the morning commuters happily holding a sign that read "Smile, damnit!" That's it.  He didn't ask for money; he just offered a smile.  And boy did he get a lot of money!

This man was tapping into an ancient piece of our evolutionary past to get people to respond to him in the way that he wanted. He was tapping into our neural network and making us smile, simply by genuinely first smiling at us with seemingly no regard for anything other than making us smile. 

So what can a few neurons teach us about having a successful photoshoot? Well, I'm not the best, nor the most experienced, photographer, but, as another professional photographer once told me, "This is a social business, and, unless you are at the top of your game, what you bring in personality to your client matters! You've got to make them smile." Well, I'm also no neuro-scientist either, but there are a group of neurons that could help make a dramatic impact on your photo session (and this goes for models and clients as well).

"Mirror neurons", as they are called, are a group of neurons that are strategically designed to activate upon observing the actions of others.  When we observe certain behaviors, such a laugh, a frown, a scowl, and perhaps a yawn, the brain triggers a similar neural firing within us that makes us have a similar neural reaction to what we see, hence the term "mirror". And this is just as true with a smile as anything else.  

Probably some the most uncomfortable moments for photographers and clients alike, are the meetup and the beginning of a shoot.  I have observed dozens of sessions where both photographer and client look like they are having a miserable time, and I wonder to myself, how are these images going to look at all good? In my sessions, the way I think about it, my first responsibility is to connect with the clients and make them feel comfortable.  Their image is going to be in front of my face for hours, both during the session and after in post. So we need to get comfortable with each other right away.  So smile. And smile a lot. And mean it.  I mean it! One thing I have learned about this business is that you will go a lot further, and have lots more success and a lot more enjoyable success if you can get your clients to feel comfortable and ready to shoot.  We already take every measure to make sure that our light and styling are perfect so that we can get the right shot, so why not also make the effort to make sure our clients are ready for a fun and exciting experience having some awesome images made of them?  So smile, and mean it. From my experience, I am always rewarded with a smile in return and some amazing client images.  Thank you, mirror neurons!  I appreciate all that you do for me.