Photography with less "cheese"

The words “Say Cheese!” fill me with dread. Once uttered you can kiss goodbye to any chances of having a portrait with a natural smile. It seems to flick a switch in the minds of adults and children alike, and causes us to respond with our pre-programmed “Oh, someone wants to take a photo of me” smile – the one rolled out time after time and doesn’t really mean anything.

I prefer to take candid photos – so I can capture a person’s true personality and not the one they put on once they realise a camera is pointing their way.

Snowman, Christmas Jumper, Boy, Christmas Tree, Lego
Luke at xmas

For example, for last year’s Christmas photo of our son, I set up my camera with a remote release just opposite where he loves playing with his Lego (TM other toys are available). We spend a happy hour or two building a treehouse, and every now and again his Mum would pop her head around the door and Luke would beam at her as she came over to see how the build was going. When this happened I would squeeze off a few photos with the remote. This was a lot more fun for both Luke and I, and the photos we got felt far more genuine than what I have tried before.

However, sometimes this isn’t possible and you cannot do things candidly, yet there is no reason this should be a “cheese” photo. If you Google “don’t say cheese” you will find a lot of articles about alternative approaches. The technique which made most sense to me is called “moment design”. Jenny Stein interviewed its creator Jesh de Rox on the TWIP (This Week in Photo) Family podcast. Yes, whilst it does have a funky hipster name, moment design is just the idea of playing games and interacting with your subject in a way which will make them get lost in the moment so they will forget the camera is there and act, laugh and smile naturally. Thereby allowing you to get a candid photo in a non candid situation.

I was a little sceptical so decided to give one of the ideas suggested in the interview a try, called same colour. You ask both the people you are photographing to think of a colour and then shout it out after counting to three. They both win if they both say the same colour.  Yet succeed or fail they will to laugh at the result, and snap you have your natural photo and you have had a lovely fun moment capturing it too.

Luke and I played this game whilst taking this photo…

Father, Son, Self Portrait, Pyjamas
Fun before school

Technically the photo could be better, however the laughs and smiles were genuine, we had fun during the game, we got a photo out of it we all liked and were largely ignoring the camera (again the photo’s technical issues suggest possibly this isn’t something for self portraits) although it was within feet of us.

Photographing your family as they grow is so important and it should be fun for everyone too.  You can find out more about moment design at Jesh’s websites: and the Beloved Collective.


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