Expression sells Portraits and can Complete the Look of a Unique Portrait

Probably the one of the first sayings in photography you heard was, “expression sells portraits” and it is very true, but the problem is getting the expression that is right for the subject and the buyer of the image.  Some photographers try to determine the expression an image should have by the clothing, posing and general style of the image that are creating.  I think this is a mistake, just like trying to determine whether a portrait should be in black and white or color and only offering it that way.  Clients have different tastes and feelings about whether they like images in black and white or color, as well as if a portrait will be purchased that is smiling or not smiling.  I want to have a variety of expressions ranging from large, almost laughing smiles to very sultry non-smiling expressions and everywhere in between. This gives my clients the ability to choose what is right for them.

Photographers are the worst judge of the expressions that clients will buy.  Most male photographers prefer women to have a serious, sultry expression with the lips slightly parted to slightly see the teeth between, however unless you are selling boudoir portraits or a portrait to give to a romantic partner this expression is typically too much for the average client.  This is a lesson my wife taught me.  For years I photographed my seniors and selected display prints of them with the expressions I liked (typically with sultry serious expressions).  I would hear from parents that the girls in the display images looked too “sexy”.  Finally, I listened to my wife (who told me a large smile takes the “sexiness” out of the portrait, especially for seniors) and I started selected poses with larger smiles.  I haven’t heard anyone complaining of “Sexy” portraits ever since.

Capturing the variety of expressions that a client wants to see requires that you understand a few things about human nature.  First you must understand that your client will “mirror” the expression you or the person they are looking at has on their face.  If you smile, they will smile, if you relax your expression, they will relax their expression.  Combine that with word play and an upbeat tone in your voice and you will have very large, sometimes laughing expressions.

The second suggestion is to always have the client looking at you so you can mirror the expression you want them to have.  This  means you will have to use a camera stand or tripod. Your face will be right beside the camera on the main light side slightly higher than the lens.  This will increase the catch lights rather than decrease them.  Once you master these simple techniques you can create the expressions that your clients will buy.

The last thing about expression, I realize that smiling photographs outsell non-smiling photographs about 3-4 to 1 (in most types of portraiture and without dental issues), so I tend to focus more attention and take more images smiling than not.  Another thing learned from my wife, who used to complain because clients would mention there would have liked to see more smiling images, finally I listened and my sales average went up.  It’s amazing what can happen when you get over yourself and give the client what they want!


~ by jeffsmithbooks on August 2, 2010.

One Response to “Expression sells Portraits and can Complete the Look of a Unique Portrait”

  1. Totally agree. The other two items are gesture and composition. I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks.

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