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Smile If You Mean It!

Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors

Smile If You Mean It!

Instant feedback from the lens.
Carl  Studna
Carl Studna More by this author
Nov 16, 2012 at 09:00 AM

I love having my picture taken! How often do you hear people proclaim this statement with glee and conviction? I imagine that most of you love having your picture taken as much as going to the dentist or the proctologist! That’s the consensus I’ve heard during my thirty-plus years of photographing people.
My first vivid memory of having my picture taken was a family portrait when I was four years old. After setting up his lights and camera in our living room, the photographer stuck us in a rigid pose. The last thing I wanted was being told to be still. I wanted to bolt off the couch and run around outside. I wanted to be free, not pinned down and ordered to be quiet and constrained. I’m sure that I was a royal pain in the butt as I squirmed and complained! I surely did not see any value in this experience, nor any purpose whatsoever that made it interesting or worthwhile.

Shortly after this fiasco, I began watching the television show, Love That Bob. Bob Cummings played a hip, bachelor photographer who appeared carefree and quite the ladies’ man. The show always began with an upbeat theme song and as the song ended Bob entered. As he lifted his camera and took a picture of the viewing audience he would say, “Smile, I think you’re going to like this picture!” This carefree, happy, creative adult set an early childhood imprint that taking people’s pictures could be fun. He sure looked a lot happier than my father or any other male adults in my life.

This TV show and the positive reference to having a camera in your face was likely the only time as a child that I witnessed having one’s picture taken as an enjoyable act. The rest of the time it felt like an obligation or something that needed to be done in a certain way.

In the early fifties and sixties, the photographer’s protocol was to give the command, “Say Cheese,” and everyone in front of the camera would respond in unison with their artificial, plastered-on smiles. This technique must have been invented by some brainchild as a simple way of getting people to flex their mouths in the form of a smile while saying this silly word. Clearly, it was not about invoking natural smiles that would look authentic on film. Imagine if there had been a different scenario to effectively get people to authentically laugh and smile. If that approach had caught on, perhaps we might actually enjoy having our pictures taken and see it as an opportune moment to playfully interact and let our light shine.

What if every time someone was photographing you, you experienced it as a moment of self-honoring, even if that was not the intention of the person behind the camera? Feel like a stretch? Each time I travel to a developing country that has not been indoctrinated by western values, I’m moved by how simply and seamlessly the people respond to my request to take their portraits.

When my wife and I traveled to remote areas of Bhutan several years ago, almost everyone that I approached to request a photo had a similar response. They would look at me, perhaps a bit perplexed, not understanding why I would care to have a picture of them, but nod yes and feel completely comfortable with the process. I didn’t ask them to smile or do anything other than be present. They would simply look into the camera and show up without any seeming concerns, thoughts or agendas. I was acutely aware that they were not conditioned to feel like they needed to be a certain way in front of a camera. They showed no signs whatsoever of being concerned about their looks, how they were dressed or whether they were doing it “right.” They only smiled when they genuinely felt like smiling.

Being in front of a camera is a method for receiving instant feedback on where our thoughts are being placed. How are we feeling about ourselves? What “false” values are we placing on ourselves that take us away from being fully present, radiant and alive while in front of the camera? What does it look like to be fully authentic in expressing our true selves, in this very moment, while being in front of a device that objectively documents whatever moment of expression is present? Every time we are in front of the lens we can assess what’s truly important and muster up the willingness to be real.

About Author
Carl  Studna
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Carl Studna is a multifaceted portrait photographer whose three decades of commercial shooting covers the spectrum of musicians, authors, celebrities, corporate, advertising and fine art. Studna’s intimate portraits of Continue reading