Why Do Photographers Ask You to Say "cheese"?


“What do photographers tell people to say in other languages? Don’t ask me; I don’t get out much. If the Teeming Millions want to chime in with their experiences abroad, now’s the time.”

I asked the wife what Thais say, and she gave me a puzzled look. Said they say Yim of course, which is Thai for smile. They also copy the English word “cheese” even if they don’t know what it means, because they think that’s just what you’re supposed to say.

Koreans say “kimchi”. Follows the same theory of forcing a smile.

Is Yim pronounced with (basically) the same vowel as “cheese”?

When I was a 12 or 13 year old boy, the photographer told me to say :


And then he immediately clicked the shutter button, before I had time to realize that I was giggling.

Got the only good picture of me as a kid–with a smile that wasn’t forced.

No, it’s a short I sound like in “him” or “Jim.”

OT: I can activate the front-facing selfie cam on my phone with voice commands. Two of the commands it recognizes are “say cheese” and “kimchi”. :slight_smile:

For giggles, I sometimes tell people to say “Mouse.” Usually, at least one of the subjects will say “MOUSE??”, which puts their face into an angry-looking scowl. Pressing the shutter button at the magic moment often yields hilariously awful portraits.

For those who have difficulty smiling on command, cheese is supposed to be a substitute for the mouth shape. Fromage does not do it.

My mom always told us to say “Moose Juice.” Usually takes two or three photos to get us to stop cracking up, and definitely gets a smile at the end.

I don’t get it.

Saying “Cheese” does nothing to my mouth, smilewise. It’s the same expression as saying, for example, “Duh”. At least “Beep” makes my lips open and close a couple times, though I don’t see the point of that.

I’d go with it’s a clearly stupid thing to say at the time- intended only to spark a bit of a laugh. (And is so timeworn it no longer works.)

Used to I would purposefully frown when saying “cheese,” just to mess with the photographer.

The day David Cameron was outed* over the pig business I got some great shots of my friend’s habitually stern 15 yr old son by saying “Pork!” “Piggies” and other variants to get a natural grin :slight_smile:

*I realise that he has since denied it but on that day we believed it 100%, now only 99.999…

Nobody looks that happy when they say “I’m getting a second opinion but as of now they say it’s malignant.”

For adults, I always tell them to say “whiskey” instead of “cheese”. Japanese get a kick out of it.

As a child the phrase was “Say ‘hairy horse’s hinies’”. Never failed to make us kids laugh.

My trick is to tell them to say cheese and if there’s any hesitation I yell at them in fake aggravation “I said say cheese, goddamnit!” and it often gets a natural laugh, which is when I take the pick.

When my father-in-law was more active than he can be now, he used to tell his photo subjects to say “sex”. You can imagine.

About the funniest New Yorker cartoon I ever saw was of a photographer under an old-style cloth taking a picture of a group of people who were all screaming “CHEESE!”

A two-ton block of Swiss was about to fall on him out of the sky.

Heh. I was traveling with a bunch of fellow VISTA volunteers – so of course all of us nobly worked full-time in social services. We were in the airport and asked someone to take our picture, and he says “Say money!” Money was so not on our radar or any kind of motivator and so came totally from left field-- one woman has the most befuddled look on her face! The embodiment of HRMM?! :dubious: :slight_smile:

As a photojournalist, I mostly say “stop posing and looking at me and pretend I’m not here.”

When doing portraits, my go-to is “pretend you’re enjoying this,” or for couples, “act like you actually like each other,” which usually gets a decent real smile.

For groups, I say “okay, everybody smile, in three …” [clickclickclick] “two … one.” Because the countdown seems to be the modern way to get people to smile, but they’re usually starting to grimace or blink by “one.”

Isn’t that a little like saying “Don’t think of pink elephants”? Because then you can’t stop thinking about them to save your life.