Looking great in photos is an art form in itself. The angle, the lighting, the tilt of your head—all of it can determine that picture-perfect moment. And whether you’re eight years old or 80, you can always count on one classic command before the camera clicks: “Say cheese!” Odds are, you will respond with a cheeky smile and the word, “Cheese!”
But taking a photo—or smiling in one, for that matter—has nothing to do with this tasty dairy product. So, why do we use this phrase in the first place?
According to TodayIFoundOut, the idea of “cheesing” in photos first appeared around the 1940s. The Big Spring Herald, a local Texas newspaper, printed an article that referenced the phrase in 1943. While no one knows for certain who came up with it or why, most believe the word itself obliges you to smile. The “ch” sound causes you to clench your teeth, and the long “ee” sound parts your lips, making a facial expression that resembles a grin.
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The evolution of the selfie
The evolution of the selfie
Robert Cornelius's self portrait made in 1839.
(Photo via Robert Cornelius/Library of Congress)
Self-portrait by photographer Joseph Byron (1847 - 1923), New York, 1909. He was the founder of the Byron Company photographic studio. (Photo by Joseph Byron/Museum of the City of New York/Getty Images)
Five photographers on the roof of Colonel Marceau's photography studio prepare a group self-portrait, New York, December 1920. Among those visible are Joseph Byron, who holds one side of the camera with his right hand, and Ben Falk, who holds the other side with his left hand. (Photo by Byron Company/Museum of the City of New York/Getty Images)
Group self-portrait of five photographers on the roof of Colonel Marceau's photography studio, New York, December 1920. Pictured are, from left, Joseph ('Uncle Joe') Byron (fore, left hand on camera), Pirie MacDonald (second left, in hat), Colonel Marceau and Pop Core (both hidden, and Joseph ('Uncle Joe') Byron (fore, left hand on camera), Pirie MacDonald (second left, in hat), Colonel Marceau and Pop Core (both hidden, and Ben Falk. Byron and Falk each hold a side of the camera. (Photo by Byron Company/Museum of the City of New York/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 1: CBS RADIO - Singer and Broadway performer, Carol Bruce, with her press agent, poses for a 'selfie' gag shot. Photo dated: February 1, 1944. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Express photographer Terry Fincher takes a self portrait using a camera strapped to his foot, whilst parachuting from a hot air balloon, 9th March 1966. (Photo by Terry Fincher/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
US President George Bush holds an Instamatic camera on January 1, 1993 as he snaps a picture of himself with a Marine at the Mogadishu airport. Bush ends his visit to Somalia early tomorrow and flies to Russia. AFP PHOTO PASCAL PAVANI (Photo credit should read PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 02: HANDOUT â EDITORIAL USE ONLY - In this handout photo provided by Ellen DeGeneres, host Ellen DeGeneres poses for a selfie taken by Bradley Cooper with (clockwise from L-R) Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong'o, Angelina Jolie, Peter Nyong'o Jr. and Bradley Cooper during the 86th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California. (Photo credit Ellen DeGeneres/Twitter via Getty Images)
IN SPACE - OCTOBER 7: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this handout photo provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst takes a 'selfie' during his spacewalk, whilst aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on October 7, 2014 in Space. Gerst returned to earth on November 10, 2014 after spending six months on the International Space Station completing an extensive scientific programme, known as the 'Blue Dot' mission (after astronomer Carl Sagan's description of Earth, as seen on a photograph taken by the Voyager probe from six billion kilometres away). (Photo by Alexander Gerst / ESA via Getty Images)
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - JUNE 24: A local youth takes a selfie photograph in front of Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to St George's indoor market on June 24, 2014 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Royal party are visiting Northern Ireland for three days. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid - Pool/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08: (L-R) Kim Kardashian, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen take a selfie during The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
BERLIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 10: German Chancellor Angela Merkel poses for a selfie with a migrant from Syria after she visited the AWO Refugium Askanierring shelter for migrants on September 10, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. Merkel visited several facilities for migrants today, including an application center for asylum-seekers, a school with welcome classes for migrant children and a migrant shelter. Thousands of migrants are currently arriving in Germany every day, most of them via the Balkans and Austria. Germany is expecting to receive 800,000 asylum applicants this year.(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
A boy takes a selfie photo with Pope Francis at the church of St. Maria Josefa in Castelverde, on the outskirts of Rome, during a pastoral visit on February 19, 2017. / AFP / TIZIANA FABI (Photo credit should read TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Granted, we haven’t always bared our pearly whites for the camera. Back in the 19th century, only children, peasants, and drunks smiled in photographs; everyone else kept their faces neutral, which was considered attractive and dignified at the time.
That’s not the only reason people didn’t smile for photos, though. For one, it took several hours (or days!) for cameras to capture the photograph in the first place. As you can imagine, it’s tough to stay still for that long, let alone hold a grin. What’s more, dental hygiene was not a priority back in the day, and most people didn’t want to show off a mouth full of missing or broken teeth.
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Places where tourists died taking selfies
Places where tourists died taking selfies
In June 2014, 16-year-old Italian Isabella Fracchiolla tried to take a picture of herself during a school trip to Taranto, a coastal city in southern Italy. She plunged 60 feet onto jagged rocks.
In November 2014, Sylwia Rajchel, a 23-year-old Polish medical student, was on vacation in Seville, Spain, when she tried to take a selfie on the famous Puente de Triana bridge. She lost her balance on the ledge and fell 15 feet.
In January 2015, a 21-year-old woman was allegedly on a first date with her long-distance boyfriend when she died taking a photo. A witness said Cheynne Holloway was standing on a large rock on the second highest point of Johannesburg, South Africa, when the boulder gave away and she fell almost fifty feet.
In May 2015, Eri Yunanto, 21, was on a hike with fellow students when he fell into the crater of the volcano Mount Merapi in Central Java. He lost his footing while taking a photo and his body was found 320 feet below.
Mohamed Aslam Shahul, a 21-year-old Singaporean man, died on an island off the coast of Bali in May 2015 after losing his balance when he was hit by a wave while taking a selfie. He fell into the sea from a 6-foot-high cliff. He reportedly couldn't swim and drowned.
A 21-year-old Russian student died trying to take a 'memorable selfie' with friends next to the Moscow International Business Center in July 2015 . Sources conflict on whether the bridge's fence broke while she leaned on it or if she couldn’t hold on to the railing.
Eyewitnesses say a Japanese tourist was snapping a selfie with friends at the Taj Mahal's Royal Gate in September 2015 when he and a friend fell from the staircase of the monument. One man died while the friend only broke his leg.
A 28-year-old South Korean tourist trying to take a picture plunged more than than 1,600 feet off of a cliff at the Gocta waterfall in Peru in June 2016. Divers retrieved his body 20 feet under the Amazonian lake.
On June 29th, 2016, a German tourist named Oliver Park, 51, was visiting Machu Picchu in Peru when he asked someone to take a photo of him mid-leap in an off-limits area. He slipped off a ledge and fell approximately 130 feet.
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Photographs were also expensive, meaning the average person only sat for one or two photos in their lifetime. Because this was such an important occasion, each person was on his or her best behavior—hence the somber expressions.
No matter the original reason for these serious-looking photos, the trend didn’t last for long. The invention of Kodak’s $1 camera in the 1900s, along with the rise of the Hollywood movie industry, allowed more and more “everyday” moments to be captured on film. Thus, smiling in photographs became the norm.
These days, all we have to worry about is the filter we’ll use on our next iPhone selfie. But ironically enough, experts say there’s one secret to looking more photogenic on screen: Don’t say “cheese.” Here are ten more tricks to look better in your own photos.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - NOVEMBER 6: Protestors take a selfie in front of burning police motorbike in Brussels, on November 6, 2014. Belgians protest government's policies that will extend the pension age, contain wages and cut into public services. (Photo by Mehmet Kaman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - NOVEMBER 22: A Chinese man takes a selfie in a snow covered Tiananmen Square during a snowfall on November 22, 2014 in Beijing, China. China's capital and other parts of northern China had its second snowfall of the year Sunday. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - 2015/03/22: Two men take a selfie with the traditional bonfire, at Newroz celebration rally. (Photo by Piero Castellano/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Palestinian protesters take a selfie after a march against Palestinian land confiscation to expand the nearby Jewish Hallamish settlement on August 28, 2015 in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh near Ramallah. AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 09: A demonstrator, marking the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown, stops to take a selfie while protesting along West Florrisant Street on August 9, 2015 in Ferguson, Missouri. There are reports that two people were shot when gun fire broke out during protests later in the evening. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9, 2014. His death sparked months of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson and drew nationwide focus on police treatment of black suspects. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
BANGKOK, THAILAND - MAY 22: A member of the press takes a 'selfie' with Thai army soldiers standing guard at the grounds of the venue for peace talks between pro- and anti-government groups on May 22, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The army chief announced in an address to the nation that the armed forces were seizing power amid reports that leaders of the opposing groups attending the talks were being detained by the military. Thailand has seen months of political unrest and violence which has claimed at least 28 lives. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)
A participant of the Mrs Universe 2015 contest takes a selfie picture as she stands close to a 360 ton payload BelAZ mining dump truck at the BelAZ plant in Zhodino, outside Minsk, on August 26, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI GAPON (Photo credit should read SERGEI GAPON/AFP/Getty Images)
HUNSTANTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05: A man takes a selfie next to a dead sperm that stranded itself on a beach between Old Hunstanton and Holme on February 5, 2016 in Hunstanton, England. The whale is currently the 29th to get stranded in Europe in the past two weeks and due to its weight of between 25 and 30 tonnes was unable to be rescued. (Photo by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images)
Tourists take a selfie during a desert safari trip in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on November 4, 2015. Britain temporarily suspended flights from Sharm El-Sheikh as it was concerned a Russian airliner that crashed in Egypt may have been downed by a bomb, while the Islamic State group insisted it caused the disaster. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Runners take a selfie during the 'The Color Run Night' in Stockholm on September 11, 2015. The Color Run founder, Travis Snyder, was inspired by the Indian Holi Festival, and decided to combine the idea with a 5km running experience. From the first event in the United States in January 2012 The Color Run has since spread across the globe leaving a trail of color and happy runners. AFP PHOTO/JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
VAN, TURKEY - DECEMBER 25: A man takes a selfie as water sprayed meters into the air, freezing to form icicles after the freezing cold in the neighborhood of Muradiye led to the explosion of a water pipeline at the Sarimehmet Dam in Van, Turkey on December 25, 2015. (Photo by Necat Hasar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Kuwaiti man takes a selfie with a falcon during a training session in al-Salmi district, 120 kms west of Kuwait City, on December 19, 2015 in preparation for a falconry competition. / AFP / YASSER AL-ZAYYAT (Photo credit should read YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 5: Tourists enjoy sticking wads of gum to surrounding walls and taking selfies at Seattle's famed 'Gum Wall' on November 5, 2015, in Seattle, Washington. Located in an alley below Pike Place Market, the gum wall will be steam cleaned next week after accumulating 20 years of chewing gum. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)