How To Improve Your Smile for Pictures

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. What Makes A Good Smile?
  2. How To Smile Naturally for Pictures
  3. Tips On How To Smile Naturally
  4. Ways To Improve Your Smile
  5. Why A Good Smile Matters

Smiling is a simple, natural act that we do every day (hopefully, several times a day).

Research has shown that even the act of smiling can have benefits for our bodies and mind, increasing mood-boosting hormones and energy. Smiling more may even be associated with lower blood pressure and longer life spans. It also increases self-confidence.1

Of course, not everyone is confident in their smiles. Some people may feel self-conscious about their teeth and certain dental or orthodontic issues, like an overbite or crooked or discolored teeth. Others may feel they just don’t have an attractive natural smile, or they may worry that their teeth aren’t white enough.

Feeling uncomfortable about your smile can be especially stressful when it comes to pictures. When people look at a photograph of you, they’ll likely be drawn right to your smile.

One can even think of it as a first impression. And everyone wants to make a good first impression. This is especially true in today’s world of social media and advanced technology, where your photograph is often very searchable and may impact your reputation, social life, and even career.

Fortunately, there are tips and tricks that anyone can follow to potentially improve their smile in pictures. For those with more serious concerns, like dental or orthodontic issues, there are also options for taking real steps toward an improved smile.

Today’s teeth whitening and straightening products offer most people convenient and affordable options for a better bite and smile.

What Makes A Good Smile?

While there’s no magic formula to a great smile, there are some theories on what makes some smiles more attractive than others. Here are a few things that potentially make a smile stand out:

  • Confidence: Self-assurance helps any smile to stand out, while any nervousness or uneasiness may show as well, resulting in a more guarded or unhappy look that doesn’t inspire trust or enthusiasm.

  • More tooth exposure: People who are nervous about their smile may not smile as wide. Some dental specialists recommend a big smile that shows canine, upper lateral and central incisors, and premolar teeth. Ideally, some of the first upper molars will show as well.

  • Symmetry:  The more symmetrical and properly aligned your bite is, the more attractive your smile may be.

  • Tooth shape: Well-shaped teeth may make a smile more attractive. Often, more rounded teeth are considered “feminine,” while some men seek square-shaped veneers for a more masculine feel.

  • Minimal gum exposure: To avoid a gum-forward smile, some say that no more than two millimeters of gum should be exposed in a smile. Those looking to show less gum might practice a less gummy smile or even consider Botox.

  • Balance: The space between your upper back teeth and the corner of your lips is called the buccal corridor. For an ideal smile, there needs to be some space there, so your smile isn’t too “toothy.” However, too much space can make your smile seem narrow.

  • The smile arc: This is another balancing act. It involves the curve of your bottom lip matching up with the curve of your upper front teeth, which is considered ideal.

How To Smile Naturally for Pictures: Step by Step

Again, there’s no exact formula for a perfect photo smile, but following some basic steps might help to set you up for success:

1. Practice!

Practicing beforehand is one of the most helpful things you can do to prepare. By studying your practice shots, you’ll get an idea of some important factors like these:

  • What’s your best side?

  • What kind of smile works best for you? Does a big smile or small smile look best on you? What about a shy smirk or a small, honest smile?

  • Do you have any smiling quirks, like a crooked or uneven smile, that you want to work on for the final product?

  • Which poses appear to be the most flattering for you?

  • Are there any dental or orthodontic issues, like tooth discoloration or bite problems, that you want to address before the photo session or in the future?

2. Allow your neck and body to be long and graceful. 

Imagine there’s a string, attached to the top of your head, pulling your body and head up. This will provide greater jaw definition.

3. Slightly push your forehead and chin forward, toward the camera. 

This will help to minimize any double chin action.

4. Think happy thoughts.

If you’re going for a bigger or open smile, try thinking about something that will actually make you laugh out loud. Or ask the photographer to tell you a joke, imagining that the photographer is a loved one or family member with whom you feel very comfortable.

5. Go small.

If you can’t do the big smile naturally, consider a “hint of a smile” look with mostly closed lips and a gentle look of amusement or intrigue.

Tips On How To Smile Naturally for Pictures

Here are some tips for getting your best natural smile across in photographs:

Darken your eyebrows. Consider darkening your eyebrows with a pencil one shade darker than your natural hue. This can provide more balance to the face and give a more flattering frame.

  • Go for the angles. Instead of sitting or standing right in front of the camera, play around with different angles. Try sitting on one side or simply crossing your legs.

  • If you wear lipstick, go for a brighter or more vibrant shade. If you can find a standout color that’s still true to you, it can help your smile to pop.

  • Experiment with a “squinch.” A photographer’s trick, the “squinch” is a combination of “squint” and “pinch.”  Gently raise your lower eyelids, creating small “pillows” under your eyes. To get this effect, you can also try smiling with only your eyes, known as the “smize.”

  • Play around with different vibes. Try being silly, mysterious, or even mischievous. The differences in the photographs may be subtle but could help your look come alive. Your best smile might come from a mood you weren’t expecting to portray.

  • Brighten your smile. Consider using a whitening toothpaste before your big photo day to take your teeth up a notch. Brighter teeth will always play better in front of the camera.

Ways To Improve Your Smile

If you’re still not feeling camera-ready, it may be time to consider taking action to get the smile you’ve always wanted. Fortunately, today’s advanced dental technology means there are plenty of options for correcting problematic teeth, including these:

  • In-office treatment plan: People with complicated orthodontic issues or oral health concerns (or people who want the support of in-person dental visits) may seek out a dentist or specialist to design a treatment plan to correct any dental issues that are standing in the way of a satisfactory smile.

  • At-home teeth whitening: There are many affordable and easy-to-use whitening solutions on the market, from a whitening toothpaste that costs less than $10, to $35 whitening strips, to a complete whitening kit that will cost around $50.

  • At-home aligners to straighten teeth: Correcting a crooked smile used to be a long and annoying process, with braces and endless dental visits. Today’s at-home teeth aligners have changed all that with their mail-order aligner tray sets that are designed to move your teeth into their ideal places gradually, in about four to six months. The teeth aligners are removable and clear for convenience. Some providers even offer at-home impression kits, allowing you to get a great smile without the need for a visit to the dentist or orthodontist.

Why A Good Smile Matters

Perfecting your smile into one that really shows who you are and helps your best self to shine through can make all the difference in your day-to-day life, interpersonal relationships, and even career.2

After all, communication is a vital part of our existence. Having a great smile that you love showing off can help you communicate with ease and encourage you to smile more, which is always a good thing.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.