We all like to look our best when we’re photographed, especially if the photograph will be used as a head-shot on our business cards, for our social networks, or any other public media. Our instinctive response is to create a smile, but faking it doesn’t always work.

Genuine smiles are the ones that count.

Smiles are powerful communicators. Babies start smiling from around six weeks and doing so marks an important stage in the development of their communication skills. As we grow up we discover that by smiling we can make a positive impact on most social situations. Not all situations of course; probably most of us have been told at some point to “wipe that smile off your face”.

Smiling is cross cultural and has the same meaning to Eskimos as it does to Australians. A study of a cannibalistic tribe in New Guinea which had never been in contact with Western culture found they smiled at the same things that make us smile and for the same purpose.

Smiling communicates to other people how we are feeling; amongst other things it tells them we are feeling positive, we wish them no harm, and they can trust us. We smile spontaneously when we feel good, and the act of smiling makes us feel even better. A smile is a form of positive feedback loop.

Not all smiles are equal.

It is easy to fake a smile. All you need do is raise the corners of your mouth using one of your face muscles, the one called the zygomaticus major.  It is the kind of social smile most of us use occasionally and although it can be effective it’s easy to detect. With a genuine smile you don’t just smile with your mouth; you smile with your eyes too. This involves another face muscle called the obicularis occuli.

Mona Lisa

When you smile with your eyes and your mouth you are making a “Duchenne smile” named after Duchenne de Boulogne, an early nineteenth century neurologist. Duchenne believed facial expressions provide a map to one’s soul, and he spent much of his life documenting them using photography, which was then a recent invention. Charles Darwin was impressed with the work and used drawings of the photographs in his publication “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals”.

The most famous example of a Duchenne smile is the Mona Lisa!

Although good actors can create believable Duchenne smiles, most of us believe we can tell the difference between genuine and fake smiles. The tell-tale signs of fake smiles are:

  • There is no partial closure of the eyes – when you smile for real you tend to close your eyes.
  • There is an absence of crow’s feet – otherwise called laughter lines.
  • You can see too many teeth – especially the bottom ones
  • You don’t instinctively smile yourself – genuine smiles trigger mirror neurones that make you want to smile yourself.

Sometimes even fake smiles are worthwhile. Making yourself smile even when you are sad can improve your mood and make you feel better. By using your smiley muscles you trigger off associations with happier times and start that positive feedback path we mentioned earlier – the more Duchenne like your smile the better.

At Bakehouse we understand the difference between a fake and genuine smile, which is why we rarely ask someone to “say cheese”! Finding your genuine smile is a team effort; finding the right mood, in which you are smiling naturally.  It is all about communication, and we’re really quite good at getting results you’ll love! So give us a shout and let’s talk about taking your business headshots.