Smiling in School Pictures


We got Daniel’s class pictures back not too long ago.  After our initial fit of giggles, Meka and I decided it would be best not to send them out to loved ones this year.  Daniel is a cute kid (if I do say so myself).  His teeth do resemble Sponge Bob’s at this particular juncture, but they’re better looking than mine were in third grade.  I remember my front tooth was hanging sideways by about three molecules of gum tissue.  I had also forgotten to comb my hair the morning of school pictures and had a cowlick that could pick up AM radio. 

Daniel was neat and clean and well groomed.  The problem was his smile.  Somewhere in the last year or two, he’s forgotten how to smile.  I think he’s figured out it takes something like 17 muscles to smile, but he doesn’t have them all under control.  I take a lot of pictures of Daniel and I have noticed that saying “Smile!” does not achieve the results I’m looking for.  I usually get something akin to his school picture, a bizarre rictus of chin and cheeks.  Put a little makeup on him and he could stand in for a funky villain from Dick Tracy.

I don’t blame the photographer.  A photographer saying “Smile!” is an instinct like breathing is to the rest of us.  Recording Daniel’s smile is a little like big game hunting.  It requires cunning and stealth.  I have a digital camera and – frankly – for every picture of a smiling kiddo I place online, I probably delete twenty or thirty similar pictures where it looks like Daniel’s constipated or being electrocuted.  I have to use my zoom lens a lot and existing light.  That way, if Daniel genuinely laughs, the natural movement isn’t affected by my actions.  However, if I do need to get a smiling shot, I find using reverse psychology works pretty well.  I sit Daniel down and arrange him then step back with the camera.

“Okay, Daniel, don’t smile,” I say.  “Whatever you do, don’t smile.”  Then I wait a moment.  Soon, the corners of Daniel’s mouth begin to twitch.  Then his teeth begin to show themselves and finally I snap a picture in that instant before the smile turns into a laugh and Daniel falls over in a fit of giggles.

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