Revealed: Why we say 'cheese' when taking photos

“Saying cheese” goes hand in hand with posing for a photograph. [Photo: Getty]
“Saying cheese” goes hand in hand with posing for a photograph. [Photo: Getty]

“Say cheese” is a phrase synonymous with posing for a group photograph, but few of us know the reason for this.

When the photographer says this, we all know to shoot our best grins at the camera. But why don’t they simply tell everyone to smile?

One possible explanation is that the idea of cheese fills us all with a photo-worthy joy (which, to be fair, is very true). Alternatively, maybe “saying cheese” is another way of referring to a cheesy grin.

However, it would seem there is a more straightforward explanation for it all.

According to Reader’s Digest, the idea of “cheesing” for photographs was first referenced in a local Texas newspaper called The Big Spring Herald in 1943.

The article, entitled “Need To Put On A Smile? Here’s How: Say ‘Cheese'”, explained the photographic trick practised by former US ambassador in the Soviet Union Joseph E. Davies.

“It comes from former Ambassador Joseph E. Davies and is guaranteed to make you look pleasant no matter what you’re thinking […] it’s an automatic smile.”

The article goes on to add that Davies attributed the trick to a “very great politician”. And, although he did not reveal who this was, it is known Davies served under President Franklin D. Roosevelt – who was regularly photographed baring his teeth in a wide grin.

While we cannot know for sure who came up with the “say cheese” trick, we can see the logic.

It’s true: when you make the “cheese” sound, your teeth clench and your mouth widens to bring about a smile.

So what else can you do to ensure you look your best in photographs? There are several tricks you can do to look good on camera, portrait photographer Karen Wiltshire tells Yahoo UK. Here are her golden rules.

1 Stand at an angle to the camera

Make sure you aren’t “squaring on” to the camera, explains Wiltshire, which presents you at your widest. “Even the slightest of people will look broader if they are square on. It’s far more flattering to stand at an angle to the camera.”

2 Don’t slouch

It’s all about posture when it come to looking your best. “Stand tall with your back straight, shoulder back and down, and try to lift and extend your neck slightly,” says Wiltshire.

3 Lift your chin

Push your chin out and down slightly. This gets rid of the dreaded double chin effect. Another trick Wiltshire recommends is to lower the shoulder closest to the camera, which works twofold to lengthen your neck and draw attention to your face.

Create a flattering shape

Emphasise your best parts and detract from the ones you like less. Small waist? Place your hands slightly above your waist in order to show it off.

Meanwhile, if you want to slim down your arms, try holding them slightly away from your body. “Squashing them to your sides will make them appear wider,” Wiltshire explains.

Practise posing

Feel awkward when a photograph is taken? Get ahead of the game by practising different poses in front of the mirror to build your confidence and find out what works.

Bend your limbs

Worried about how your legs look in a full-length photograph? Wiltshire recommends the following: “Stand with your weight on your back leg (the one furthest from the camera) and bring your front leg across your body and up on your toes. Bending the knee will give you a more flattering shape.”


While many of us might tense up when a camera is pointed at us, relaxing (and therefore creating a more natural expression) is crucial to making sure you look good in the resulting photograph.

Wiltshire recommends trying to smile with the eyes rather than just the mouth, and recalling a happy memory to create a more genuine smile.

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