There are Fake Smiles, and then there are Fake Smiles

Filed under Musings on Photography.

A few years the first digital point & shoot camera was released which had a feature where the camera would pick when to take the picture based on when the subject was smiling. I personally wouldn’t want a camera which is that autonomous, but it is fine for people who like snapshots of their friends and family wearing forced smiles.

I was content with smile shutter technology until two weeks ago when I saw a glimpse of the horrible future this technology could unleash.

I was attending a weekend retreat and one of the other attendees had a Sony DSC-W220 digital camera. This camera has the smile shutter, and something much darker and perverse.

* Smile Correction *

You read that right. In a world where a professional photographer can get fired for digitally removing a background element, we can now decide that Uncle Joe doesn’t look happy enough in that snapshot we just took, and fix it in-camera.

So how well does this feature work? We did some experimenting. First up is a photo of myself with my typical everyday face.

No Smile

And then the same image after the camera applied smile correction.

Fake Smile

The smile correction doesn’t do that bad of a job actually. I just hope to hell that it never gets included as a feature which is enabled by default.

I think about the use of Advanced Photo System cameras during the 1990s. For years the APS format camera my mother owned vomited up wretched looking snapshots into my family’s photo album. When I flip through our family album, the mid nineties is the period I consider to be the dark ages. There is a definite drop in the quality of the images from that period due to APS.

There is a lack of good quality prints (in my eyes) in our family albums from those years, but at least what we have is honest imagery. Sure there are a lot of forced fake smiles, but at least those fake smiles are formed by human face muscles. I personally don’t like the forced smile photograph, but there is something comforting about seeing the exact same smile on the face of the same person in photographs spanning decades. Same for seeing similar characteristics appear on the faces of children and relatives from later generations. I have little faith that the algorithm in a $150 camera is going to be amazing enough to accurately render the nuances of each individual’s smile.

While I was now trembling in fear as to the future of our family snapshots, I was also enthralled by this gimmick. Much like Garry Kasparov versus Deep Blue in 1996, I was determined to give this computer a good old fashioned man vs machine smack-down.

The Challenge: Could I produce a frown so deep that the camera couldn’t realistically correct it?


Mega Fake Smile

So who wins? Man or Machine? Give your thoughts in the comments area please.