Sometimes while photographing people I will ask them to smile with their eyes. This request is often followed by a somewhat baffled look. I then explain to them that if the smile is genuine then it will show in their eyes -- just like you can hear it in somebody's voice if they are smiling as they are talking to you on the phone. That little sparkle and gleam in somebody's eye can make all the difference in the world when it comes to the impact of a photograph.
I recently did headshots of Cassandra Garcia, a local dance instructor here in Atlanta, and managed to capture a perfect example of what I am talking about. Check it out:
Take your hands and crop out everything on her face except her eyes. Notice that you can see that she is smiling just from the gleam in her eyes. She has a beautiful smile -- but that sparkle in her eye is what would make me want to meet her or call her in for an interview if I did not already know her. She just has a very flirty and fun look to her in this shot. I got several shots of her where she looks great –- but the sparkle in her eyes on this one is what made it stand out above all the others to me.
Another great example of what I am talking about:
This is a shot I did on a recent editorial assignment. It is of Dr. Woolfson, who is one of the first doctors in this country to do Lasik eye surgery (he has performed thousands of them). Anyway… he was a super nice guy but seemed to be kind of confused when I was asking him to smile even with his mask on. One again I explained that it would show in his eyes. And sure enough, it did –- don't you think so?
Would you like another example? Well, check out Phoenix-based photographer Don Giannatti's photo of Briana. Don is a regular contributor on the Strobist Flickr group and always seems to share sound and reasonable advice. Many on there respect him, myself included. His website can be found here.
So how do you put somebody at ease and capture that sparkle in his or her eye? Well, the best answer I have for that is to learn to love people. Study them and try to appreciate who they are regardless of who they are or where they are from. Take the time to set your camera down for a while and just talk to them. Learn from them and take genuine interest in who they are, and what they do. Everybody wants to be appreciated… everybody.