Producing a smiling face in photography studio

A Squib by Yumei Gan*

In the EM/CA community, we all know the importance of “putting our work out there”: discussing our findings and impressions with other researchers is not only a way to avoid (or at least reduce) the risks of an individualistic analysis, but also, and above all, a precious resource for progressing and improving our work. Long before the publication in a journal, in the midst of the analytic process, collective scrutiny and discussions are fundamental practices to provide the researcher with suggestions, comments, references and even beneficial doubts.

For this reason, this section of the ISCA Forum Newsletter is dedicated to “squibs”: concise articles containing preliminary, in-process analyses in an EM/CA perspective. In this section, researchers can present their work-in-progress findings to the ISCA community in order to generate discussions and collect observations, suggestions, useful references and potential publication venues.


Would you like to share your in-process analysis to have some feedback? Send us your squib! Please note that your contribution should satisfy the following requirements: 1) not exceed 2000 words (2200 for non-English data); 2) contain one or two transcripts and relative preliminary analyses; 3) illustrate a phenomenon fitting within the existing framework of EM/CA analyses.

Please email your contribution to

*Video Analysis, Science, and Technology (VAST) Research Group, Department of Sociology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong


Negotiation of poses in photography studio is an important process for photo taking. In order to produce a desirable photo, photographers and clients engage in artful practices in calibrating body postures (e.g. Tekin, 2017). Tekin showed that the skilful coordination between the photographer and the clients involves considerable interactional work, including linguistic and embodied resources as well as spatial adjustment in the studio. In fact, apart from posing, another important aspect in the photo-making process is to produce an appropriate facial expression (e.g. smiling face, serious face, joking face,  excitement face). Perhaps because smile is often preserved as a positive expression of feelings, such as happiness (Nettle, 2005), affiliation and appreciation in interactions (Peräkylä & Sorjonen, 2012), a very frequent practice in a photographic studio is to instruct and help the client to “produce a smiling face”.

This squib aims to explore the “perspicuous setting” (Garfinkel, 2002, p. 181-182) where smile need to be produced and generated. For Garfinkel, a perspicuous setting is an occasion of inquiry in vivo, which constitutes the specific phenomenon investigated. While many studies have examined naturally occurring laughter and smiles in social interactions (e.g. Jefferson, 2004; Glenn, 2009; Kaukomaa, Peräkylä & Ruusuvuori, 2013), very little has studied the situation where smile and laughter is a targeted event. That is, a setting where participants need to manipulate their face in order to manufacture and produce a (fake) smile. The squib presents preliminary analysis in a photography studio about how a photographer and a client coordinate to produce a smiling face. The aim of the squib is twofold. First, to show the empirical evidences of how a smiling face is produced and achieved; Second, to generate comments and feedback from the reader about further directions for the study.


The data draws on 11 hours video recordings in a professional photography studio in China. The studio runs a variety of photo taking business. Clients pay to the studio to take pictures such as wedding photos, anniversary photos, family group photos and photos for toddlers. The studio provides amenities, such as stage, decorated room, props for clients. Recordings were conducted through two camera views. Images below illustrate the way of video recording. Video stream 1 captures both photographer and client while video stream 2 records the client’s body and face in more detail. Language of data is in a Chinese dialect.

Preliminary analysis

Smiling face as part of posing

While previous studies on interactions between the photographer and the clients have been mainly focused on body postures, I observe that producing an appropriate facial expression is an important part of posing. As one of the significant parts of body, facial expression allows people to display the emotion of their body posture, and can add lively sentiment to a picture. Extract 1 illustrates the need for a smiling face in the photo-making process.

Extract 1


At the beginning of the extract, the client holds a prop (a Pink Panther’s hand). She slightly bends over. In line 01, the photographer instructs her to move her back up. He says “okay, back up”. Then the client complies with the photographer’s instruction, as we’ve seen that she straightens the waist and sit more straightforward (line 02). When the photographer sees the client’s compliance, he says “okay=”. As Pillet-Shore (2003) noted that the use of “okay” enables to proceed to the next matter within interactions, the photographer moves to another issue about the posture. He says in line 03, “=with a smile, stretch out the neck” (dai dian xiaoyi sa, sheng zhe bozi). Here he topicalizes that there is no smile in the client’s face.  Then from Figure 1, the client shows a smiling face. However, the smile does not hold for a long time, the smile disappears from the client face in line 06 (see Figure 2). In line 07, the photographer treats this as inappropriate, since he pursues the display of smile again. He says “attention, you should give me a smile sweetie” (zhuyi dou, haishi yao xiao yi ge ha meimei). He firstly instructs the client to be attentive to what he will do next. He explicitly uses the word “attention” in Chinese to get the attention from the client. And then he adds a diminutive address term of endearment “sweetie” (meimei) to this utterance. In Chinese, meimei works as a term of endearment in conversations. The term is often used between family members to indicate some closeness and respectfulness. This is similar to what Goodwin and Cekaite (2018) argued in their study of family life, the use of endearment term in interaction encompasses a sense of emotion and affect. By doing so, the photographer’s use of “sweetie” (meimei) adds some emotional elements to his instruction. What we see here, in pursuing a smiling face, the photographer is carefully designing his instructional utterances. He does not just give directives to the client. Instead, he adds some relational elements into the directives and instructions. In line 08, the photographer continues talking and he suggests a possible method for the client to produce a smiling face. He suggests, “you can giggle” (ni haxiao sa). haxiao (gloss: silly smile)  is an expression in the dialect to describe that people smile/laugh without a reason, or smile/laugh in a silly manner. Because of this, Haxiao can also refer to a fake smile by which someone smiles, but smiles for no particular reasons. Right after this suggestion, the photographer continues instructing the client “laugh out” (xiao chu lai). His continuous instructions of getting the smile out show that the client’s smile is treated by the photographer as not enough. Producing this smiling face requires an amount of interactional work and coordination.

From a fake smile to a real laughter

A fake smile sometimes leads to a real laughter in photography studio. In Extract 1 continued segment, the photographer continues working to calibrate the client’s smiling face, but the use of a humorous expression then provides a space for the client to laugh, and therefore suspends her pose.     

Extract 1 continued


When the client produced a smiling face (Figure 4), the photographer instructs her to “hold” (line 09). He then asks the client to open her mouth a bit more, so that she could produce a larger smile. In line 11, a shooting sound is hear which means that the photographer takes one photo at that time. In line 12, he continues instructing the client to open her mouth. He produces a repetitive Turn-Construction Units (TCUs) “a bit more a bit more” to pursue a larger smile. Then he uses a humorous expression “are you squeezing the toothpaste?” (ji yagao). “squeezing the toothpaste” (ji yagao) in Chinese indicates that people do procedural and careful work to get out some outcome slowly. For example, you slowly press or squeeze the toothpaste tube, then you slowly get a small amount of toothpaste out. By saying “you are like squeezing the toothpaste”, it means that someone does something slowly and carefully, but only results in a minor effect. “squeezing the toothpaste” can be used as a strategy in negotiation. For example, in bargaining a price between a seller and a client. The seller can cut down the price little by little and slowly. Such behaviors are referred to as “the strategy of squeezing the toothpaste”. Here, the photographer makes a metaphor between the smile and toothpaste. For him, getting a smile out of the client’s face is something like getting the toothpaste out from a tube. This expression is treated by the client as something humorous, because it leads to a real laughter from the client. Importantly, before she really laughs, she produces an onomatopoetic term “Oops” (aiyo) to show her recognition of a mistake. This shows that the client treats the real laughter as something not appropriate in the situation. She puts down the Pink Panther’s hand, and produces an audible laughter. Then in line 14, she accounts for her laughter, “I cannot hold”. The fact that the client provides an account for her “misbehaviour” enables our understanding of smile and laughter in photography studio. This shows that fake smile in this situation is expected, but real laughter may interrupt the participation framework of photo-taking and therefore people accounts for the interruptions.


While studies have extensively shown that professional work for producing videos and images (such as video recordings, and use of images) is a situated and timed accomplishment (e.g. Lynch, 1985; Mondada, 2006; Broth, Laurier, & Mondada, 2014), this squib showed a preliminary analysis on the production of a smiling face in the processing of producing a photo in its own right. In this squib, I discussed an example of how the photographer and the client coordinate to produce a smiling face. Firstly, I showed that facial expression (in particular, a smiling face) is an important part of body poses in photo-taking process. Producing an appropriate facial expression is not automatic just done by the client. Instead, it is accomplished and achieved through the cooperative actions. Secondly, the data revealed that photographer employs interactional practices, such as instruction, suggestion, and humour, to help the client to produce a fake smile. Client’s compliance and engagement with photographer’s actions enable the accomplishment of a fake smiling face. Thirdly, fake smiles provide opportunities for a real laughter in interaction. However, people tend to account for their real laughter. The practice of accounting for real laughter shows that participants treat the real laughter as an interruption.

Invitation for comments

Suggestions, thoughts, and corrections for the squib are very much welcome. The author especially would like to invite comments from the reader for the following three discussant questions:

  • As a starting point, I find the phenomenon “producing a smiling face” very interesting on its own right. How do you find this phenomenon? Does my use of “perspicuous setting”  (Introduction, paragraph 2) make sense?
  • I would be grateful if you could recommend to me any literature related to the setting and the phenomenon.  
  • For Extract 1 continued, I initially describe this as changing from “fake smile to a real laughter”, how would you characterize the change?  


Broth, M., Laurier, E., & Mondada, L. (Eds.). (2014). Studies of Video practices: Video at Work. New York: Routledge.

Garfinkel, H. (2002). Ethnomethodology’s Program: Working Out Durkheim’s Aphorism. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Glenn, P. (2009). Laughter in Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Goodwin, M. H., & Cekaite, A. (2018). Embodied Family Choreography: Practices of Control, Care, and Mundane Creativity. London: Routledge.

Jefferson, G., Sacks, H., & Schegloff, E. A. (1987). Notes on laughter in the pursuit of intimacy. In Button, G. and Lee, J. R. E. (eds.), Talk and Social Organization (pp. 152–205). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters LTD.

Kaukomaa, T., Peräkylä, A., & Ruusuvuori, J. (2013). Turn-opening smiles: Facial expression constructing emotional transition in conversation. Journal of Pragmatics, 55, 21–42.

Lynch, M. (1985). Discipline and the Material Form of Images: An Analysis of Scientific Visibility. Social Studies of Science, 15(1), 37–66.

Mondada, L. (2006). Video recording as the reflexive preservation and configuration of phenomenal features for analysis. In Knoblauch, H., Raab, J., Soeffner, H.-G., Schnettler, B. (eds.), Video Analysis. Bern: Lang.

Nettle, D. (2005). Happiness: The Science behind your Smile. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Peräkylä, A., & Sorjonen, M.-L. (2012). Emotion in Interaction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pillet-Shore, D. (2003). Doing” Okay”: On the Multiple Metrics of an Assessment. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 36, 285–319.

Tekin, B. S. (2017). The negotiation of poses in photo-making practices: Shifting asymmetries in distinct participation frameworks. In Mondada, L. and Keel, S. (eds.), Participation et Asymétries dans L’interaction  Institutionelle (Participation and Asymmetry in Institutional Interaction) (pp. 285–313). Paris: L’Harmatton.

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2 years ago

really promising data! a couple thoughts: 1) Haakana (2012) ‘The case of fake laughter’ might be worth looking at. 2) The setting is interesting in that the client pays for a service, but is also an integral part of how the service is provided. That is, the client is paying for photos of her/himself and so must take active part in the production of that service. This leads to a number of interesting issues as to how the activity is undertaken. For instance, the formatting of directives is probably unique. It’s difficult to verbally describe how to configure one’s face… Read more »

Stamatina Katsiveli
2 years ago

Very interesting setting, ideal for the exploration of multimodal aspects of interaction. A couple of thoughts: 1) Building on Emily’s comments on ‘fakeness’, I am not entirely convinced that the real laughter results from the fake smile either. My initial interpretation was that it is the preceding ‘problematic’ sequence (in that the client is producing dispreferred actions vis-a-vis the photographer’s requests) that make her laugh. In any case, as Emily says, I would also be very interested to see more on how in this particular context fakeness is not morally accountable, but, rather, the shared interactional goal. 2) I wonder… Read more »
2 years ago

Very interesting! I agree with you on the idea that this seems to be a “perspicuous setting” for observing the production of smile as a targeted event: it seems fundamental to achieving the main goal of this interaction (that is, taking photos). As Elliott wrote, I think it could be interesting to see how the “taking photo” activity is cooperatively undertaken by the participants through a peculiar series of instructions and mitigated directives. In particular, the photographer instructing the client and the client-and-photographer as pair cooperating for a common goal made me think of multimodal instruction sequences in (couple) sports.… Read more »