I love to photograph people laughing. It’s such a happy, unguarded moment that, if shot well, can put a smile on your face for years and years to come. But unless you have awesome people like my favorite person to shoot “Chrissy” who's laughter comes to easy and so beautiful, shooting people laughing isn’t as straightforward as it might seem. It takes a bit of thought to do it really well. Here’s the scoop.
1. Balance Emotion With A Flattering Image
There’s a careful balance to be found between capturing a genuine emotion, and presenting a flattering image of someone. Like many aspects of photography, there’s no hard and fast rule here. You’ll have to learn to judge the balance for yourself! But here’s a tip. Wait it out.
When a laugh starts, it’s a bit hesitant. Then, when your subject just gives over to it, they can sometimes laugh *big*. Photos at this stage of a laugh can be intense! Then, as the laugh dies down, it looks more like a huge smile. This is where the magic happens. Some people look great at the peak of a laugh, some don’t. But everyone looks great on the downswing!
So, to capture this, try shooting throughout the laugh. You’ll be able to see just how someone’s face changes as they laugh. As you practice, you’ll be able to time your shots with the most photogenic part of the laugh, and produce shots with genuine emotion that are super flattering!
Bonus: If you wait even longer, as the laugh dies completely down, you’ll often get some simple pure smiles. The beautiful little aftershock of a laugh.
Most of all, be patient when shooting laughs. There’s a lot to capture if you wait it out, and shoot the whole experience. Don’t start checking your screen halfway through!!! Keep the camera up, and stay focused. You’ll get something pretty special.
2. Get Them Close
Whether you’re shooting a couple, family, or large group, you’ll want folks to get close for a great laughing shot. If everyone is spread out, it’s hard to capture the connection between individuals that happens when they laugh together.
So just prior to a laughing shot, make sure everyone snuggles in really tight. Bring heads close together. If you’re shooting a family, where height can vary wildly, getting them to all sit down really helps! I think laughter is more contagious when you can see the people around you laughing.
3. Get Yourself Close
I’m shy, so I always have to push myself to get close to people while photographing them. But laughing folks are perfect to get close to! They’re happy, and not really focused on the photographer, so there’s less awkwardness as you move in close.
What’s so great is that when you’re right in tight you can get some really amazing shots. Like I mentioned, people aren’t too focused on the camera when they’re distracted by laughter, so the emotions you capture are real. Shooting close also gives the photo a feeling of being there, and heightens the happiness generated by the image.
Tip: For close up portraits people look better when photographed from eye level, or above. So if you’re tall, then you’re golden. If you’re a bit shorter, like me, this will work particularly well if people are sitting (on a bench, the ground, whatever). Or stand on your tiptoes for a while, which I find myself doing quite often.
4. Make ‘Em Laugh
At this point you’re probably wondering how on earth to get people laughing so much to capture all those awesome emotions! Here are a few tricks I’ve picked up.
Tickling: It’s a cheap trick, but it works. I probably use it so much because I’m not ticklish. But a few tickles really gets everyone laughing!
Crazy Faces: A great crazy face makes you, and everyone around you, laugh. And who doesn’t love pulling a crazy face? Adults. That’s who. Parents have re-learned the fine art of the crazy face, but many adults are a little too uptight to let loose. If that’s the case, start them off with something easy. “Sad face! Angry face!”. They can handle that, and then crazy face doesn’t seem so silly. This is guaranteed laughs if you have them make crazy faces at each other.
Bum Wiggling: This is a new one I learned this year. I sometimes get some resistance (from those pesky adults), but gosh it’s funny. Just get everyone to wiggle their bums. It keeps your pose in place, but gets folks moving, loosened up, and usually laughing. And who doesn’t giggle when you say “Bum”. I’m giggling right now.
Have A Couple Great Jokes: I have a KILLER knock knock joke that I tell all the time, and is guaranteed laughs. But I can’t tell you here. It has to be in person. Feel free to ask me about it if we meet in real life. But I highly encourage you to find a couple solid, all-ages jokes that you can tell. Always easy laughs.
Fake Laugh: This is my biggest secret to getting people to laugh. Works. Every. Time. Get everyone to give their biggest, silliest, fakest laugh on the count of three. But here’s where patience comes into play. The fake laugh won’t be very photogenic. It’s fake. What makes for the great photos are the real laughs that come after hearing everyone else being so ridiculous with their fake laughs. Seriously try this out. It’s magic.
So there you have it! Quick and easy tips to take better photos of people laughing. Oh, Chrissy is always available to show you how its done.