20 Photographers Share Their Most Emotionally Significant Images | Part 1
I love my work. I love capturing memories. I love creating stories. But in the past two months, I have shot over 30 client commissions. This includes 12 weddings, 10 portrait sessions, 6 commercial commissions and 2 conceptual shoots.
I say this not to brag, but to state that it is entirely possible to shoot so much that you lose inspiration and forget the true meaning and purpose behind each photograph we capture. I got into this industry because of the power a single image could hold. Powerful images can cause us to evoke emotion, to feel, and empathize with the subject matter as we relate it to our own lives. Images can force us into action, to create a desire and want for something or someone. Images can literally change lives and the perception we have of ourselves.
With this article, I wanted to ask my close friends to help me. While many of you may find this article inspiring, I’ll be honest in saying that the topic was chosen for myself. In this time when I am struggling to stay motivated and keep my head above water, I asked my friends to help me remember the power of imagery. To help me remember how much good can be enacted by simply some words of interaction and a press of the shutter button. To remind me of the entire reason I became a photographer.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all of these incredible photographers that I can call my friends. You will never know how much this article series has helped inspire and lift my spirits. Just so you know, so many of my friends had awesome images to share that I needed to split this into a 2-part series.
Please enjoy their images and stories in Part I.
1. Ashley Fisher of Ashley Fisher Photography
Shep’s father tragically passed away a few weeks prior to his wedding, and the emotions were high throughout the day. During the mother-son dance, everyone was brought to tears while Shep comforted his mother, his mother clung onto him while mourning her husband but celebrating the marriage of her son and her new daughter, and his bride cried in the background comforted by her parents. It was such a bittersweet day. Being a new mom myself and experiencing the loss of both of my parents, I had to leave the room after the mother-son dance to catch my breath from crying so hard. Not only is this image one of the most emotional images I’ve ever taken, it’s also representative of every reason why we do what we do: the images we take are the proof that our clients lived and were deeply loved.
How it was shot: Nikon D750, 70-200 VRII at 195mm, f/4, 1/160, ISO 800 (I think…on the ISO). Off camera flash to camera left in a Rapidbox held by my assistant, and off camera flash to camera right behind the groom.
2. Brian Leahy of Brian Leahy Photography
This bride’s father had been pretty emotional all day at the sight of seeing his little girl getting married. At the end of their father/daughter dance during the reception, the bride’s mother and two brothers joined them on the dance floor where after a couple quick hugs and laughs, it turned incredibly emotional as the bride started crying from her family’s love and support; definitely one of the best moments I’ve seen at a wedding.
This image was shot on a Canon 5D Mark III, with my favorite lens, the beautiful Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art lens. (Settings ISO 1600, f/2.0, 1/160th, on-camera bounce flash). I normally shoot traditional dances (first dance, father/daughter, mother/son, etc.) on a longer lens like the 85 or 70-200mm, but as I saw this moment unfold when the family joined, it looked like a longer lens would miss what was happening in the middle of the circle. I generally try and stay a decent ways away but at this moment knew I had to get up close in between them to really capture the full scene. With the wider 35 and slight natural vignette from the Sigma, it really draws you into the bride as the main focal point.
3. Brett Benham of Brett & Tori Photographers
As the bride and her family and close friends were praying before the ceremony began, one of the bridesmaid’s 7-month-old baby boy decided it was a great time to pass some gas in the loudest way possible. The whole room erupted in hysterical laughter until they couldn’t breathe anymore.
Before this happened, I climbed up on a chair to get a bird’s eye view of the prayer to offer an angle that I hadn’t captured yet. I often like to change up my angle to give my photos more of am interesting look. I used the ambient light from the room lights up above.
4. Stephen Vosloo of Stephen Vosloo Photography
16-year-old Minka was on a picnic in the woods when she was assaulted and raped. As a result this innocent farm girl―who still thought the stork brought babies―was pregnant. The baby was secretly born, named Betty Jane, and given up for adoption. For decades, Minka wrote letters trying to get news of her daughter; she kept loving and praying for her, even though she never dared believe they would meet again. Nearly eighty years later, when Minka whispered her secret, impossible prayer for the first time: God, I’d like to see Betty Jane before I die. I promise I won’t bother her or interrupt her life. I just want to lay eyes on her. Unbeknownst to Minka, that very same day, a judge was releasing the sealed adoption records to her 77-year-old daughter. And soon, Minka’s phone would ring. Written by Cathy LaGrow (Minka’s granddaughter), The Waiting brings three generations of this most unusual family together over the course of a century to tell a story of faith that triumphs, and love that never forgets. (excerpt from the back cover of the book)
I got to photograph Minka holding the only photo she had of her baby girl for the cover. It was a profound experience and one that taught me the value of hope and the beautiful mystery that life holds where even in the face of such horror one can still find beauty and love.
5. Bud Johnson of Common Spark Media
Kimmi and Ken are the quintessential couple. Over-the-top kind, always looking out for everyone else, and never have a bad thing to say about anyone. They are so in love and were THRILLED to be able to share their wedding day with so many friends and family in Richmond’s most beautiful ballroom, The Renaissance. Kimmi and Ken both worked so hard and are incredible ‘DIY-ers’, and every single part of the wedding came together beautifully. I love the pure joy a bride has when she knows she’s thrown an epic party.
I tend to switch between extreme shutter-dragging, and these really clean, well-lit dancing photos at receptions. All of the blue and pink uplighting made for some really amazing photos, but to keep the pink-cast off of my subjects on the dance floor, I opted for some pretty direct – but diffused – lighting.
I had an assistant (thanks, Ryan!) holding a monopod with an SMDV Diffuser 60 over a Yongnuo YN-500EX, using the YN622-C remotes. I was able to direct my assistant to hold the light relatively overhead, but without casting sharp shadows in people’s eyes. The diffuser is literately millimeters above the frame here – we were getting the light as close to the subject as possible.
Bon Jovi’s, ‘Living On A Prayer’ came on, and I immediately made a beeline for the bride knowing the classic hit would result in some great photos. Just one of the things you just pick up after doing this for a while!
6. Dan Dalstra of Dan Dalstra Photography
I think many of us, especially photographers, feel that the energy and action on the dance floor is reserved for the young. What I love most about this image is the fact that these ladies didn’t bat an eye about having fun, being crazy, and even a bit risque during the party. The groom’s mom is looking on with the biggest smile on her face and I know this photo is significant to their family simply because they will always remember the joy and happiness they felt at this particular moment.
Shot with a Nikon D3s, two off camera Cheetah flashes in opposite corners of the dance floor and one on camera flash set to bounce. Flashes were triggered with Yongnuo 622n transmitters.
7. Jenn Bischof of Jenn Bischof: Underwater Fashion Photographer
Choosing joy is the only way to fight the impending darkness. The best people to turn to to learn this: children. The energy that exudes from their starry-eyed selves will have you carefree in a matter of moments. Allow yourself to get swept away in their mischief. Sharing my love of water with these two beings, and seeing their beautiful friendship unfold, is all the therapy I need.
Shot with a 24-70 mm. One strobe in the corner of the bathroom pointed at the ceiling to create a natural, blown out gradient on the white tile.
8. Julie Wilmes of Julie Wilmes Photography
This image was taken at a surprise wedding, and it’s the first photo taken of the Groom’s grandfather in over 30 years (he was seriously anti-camera). I showed the groom and he teared up, saying that he’d never in his life seen his grandfather in a photo willingly. Sadly, his grandfather passed away unexpectedly a few days after the wedding, and now we’re even more grateful to have captured the moment between them.
This image was naturally lit and captured on a Canon 50mm f/1.2 lens, at 1/400 at 2.8 and then edited with a custom B&W preset in Lightroom. It was a candid shot and entirely naturally done.
9. Shannon Cronin of Shannon Cronin Photography
The groom in the photo was diagnosed with ALS 15 months before the wedding. At the time of the wedding, he didn’t know if he’d be able to walk down the aisle with his wife. When it came time to do it, with the support of his bride, his brother and the cheers from a church full of people, he walked the entire length of the aisle…to thunderous applause the entire way. This image was taken almost at the end of the aisle- and I just adore the look of joy on their faces, in particular, on the groom’s face. It’s one of my favorite images I’ve ever taken- especially when I see him now no longer able to walk or speak… it’s a beautiful reminder of how incredible that wedding day was to everyone present.
10. Jeremy Chou of Jeremy Chou Photography
The bride’s mom is a cancer survivor, and they are extremely close. The bride had prepared a surprise gift for her mom; it was a simple locket with two images inside. On one side, it’s a picture of them together when the bride was still a baby. The second image was taken after the bride’s mom found out she had beat cancer. It was a very emotional scene for the bride & her mother, and everybody else in the room!
I knew the gift exchange was going to happen, so being an available light shooter, I asked the bride & her mother to move closer to the window where I could capture the beautiful window light. Our team moved out of the room to give them some privacy and space and the emotional scene just unfolded organically right in front of us.
11. Mike Allebach of Allebach Photography
This image was a follow-up to a photograph I had taken of Allyson while she was receiving chemotherapy. I wanted to photograph her after the chemotherapy was done. Allyson had much more strength since she finished and this photo captured it.
I used two Profoto B2 heads shot through a 8’x8′ scrim to light this image.
12. Leaha Bourgeois of Popography
In a world that is ever changing, the first look has become one of the newest additions to wedding traditions. Brides are getting creative and breaking all the rules when they choose how they want to see each other for the first time. For this New York City wedding, the groom hung out at a clothing store on the corner while his bride arrived in a Yellow Cab a few minutes later. The family overlooked from afar. It was a beautiful and authentic choice for a first look.
This was shot on the streets of Brooklyn. I was standing in a corner clothing store with the groom waiting for the Yellow Cab to arrive. When I got the call, I ran out to the street with my 70-200mm lens and never stopped shooting. There were micro moments happening that were so precious and not to be missed. I then took a look over my shoulder to see the family down the road in tears, clapping as the couple embraced outside the taxi. Simply gorgeous.
13. Nicole Chan of Nicole Chan Photography
Christine and Reggie handed teacups filled with tea to her father first and then to her mother. During this private Chinese tea ceremony on the morning of the couple’s wedding day, Christine’s parents express how proud they have always been of Christine and how happy they are because their daughter had found such a trustworthy and noble man to spend the rest of her life with. They wished them lots of health, fortune, and many children.
Christine’s parents offered the new couple gifts of red envelopes with money and gold jewelry. Depicted in this image are Christine’s mother and aunt helping her put on her jewelry.
This image is significant to me because I feel like the Chinese cultural norm is to generally have emotions on lockdown. Expressing “I love you” is rare and a verbal showing of such affection touched me to the core, especially because I relate and see myself connecting with Christine. I, too, hope that I also make my parents proud. I also very much enjoy the old tradition of tea ceremonies – showing respect and gratitude to one’s elders.
Nikon D750 with 35mm 1.8 (Yes, the lightweight, cheapie one!) The bride and groom were kneeling in front of the bride’s mother and father, and I stood directly behind the parents with the camera glued to my face. I had an off-camera Speedlite with a MagGrid and MagSphere to camera right clipped into a bookshelf via a NastyClamp. I leaned in close to the back of the bride’s mother’s head and squared up with Christine’s face, cropping out the dozens of family members surrounding us.
14. Alicia D’Amico of Pure Emotions Photography
A rainbow is a symbol of hope after the storm. A rainbow baby is the new life that a mother is blessed with after a loss or losses in her previous pregnancies.
Kara had two difficult storms and was blessed with two rainbow baby twins, Kason and Campbell.When she told me her story, I had to put a concept together that would somehow showcase the lives of all four babies, those lost and those still baking in the maternal oven. I told her I had a concept and asked her to trust me, and she did.
Art is interpretative but for me Kara had to be suspended in the air as if she was letting go and giving in to the plans the universe had for her new babies. Her arms are outstretched as if to say “I surrender myself to you.” She is looking up with hope in her eyes but with a solemn expression as the future was uncertain at that moment. The fabric is intentionally loose instead of taut to symbolize being in limbo. The two rainbow circles that surround her are the auras of the two babies that while lost will never be forgotten. Those angels will look over and protect Kason and Campbell as they make their journey through life.
This single image, I feel is the most emotionally significant one I’ve ever taken because it has given women around the world hope for another chance at the greatest gift in the world – being a parent. I am proud that I created something for my client that is uniquely hers and tells her story. Her babies both made it safely into the world. I am watching them grow up, and that gives me faith in the universe.”
15. Kara Miller of Kara Miller Photography
When my sweet friend Kristine told me last spring that she was pregnant, I was OVERJOYED for her! But then I stepped back and thought about it. Her husband Eric was in the middle of chemo treatment for cancer. It was a diagnosis that I remember thinking would be devastating for their sweet family, as I knew that Kristine dreamt of having a son of her own. Kristine is carrying the son that they never dreamed could have been but came to be at the perfect time. I took a photo for them on Eric’s last day of chemo for them to use to announce their pregnancy. It was a day of celebration for sure, but also a day of utter exhaustion. Fast forward to a few months later, and Kristine is four weeks away from her due date. In this photo, Eric has bounced back with a vengeance, and they are nothing short of ecstatic about the arrival of their son – their miracle baby!
This photo was taken in natural light in an olive grove, with the sun behind the couple and to the right of the frame. Canon 5D Mark III with 50mm 1.2L; f/2.2 @ 1/400 ISO 200.
15. Ning Wong of Ning Wong Studios
I shoot for Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. The mom knew her son was diagnosed with Trisomy 13, but she prayed and prayed that he would come out ok. Sometimes prayers don’t get answered, but she was ok with it. She just wanted to be the best mom she could in those few hours he was alive.
Shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, Sigma 50mm Art at F2, 1/320; All natural light
16. Stephanie Court of Stephanie Court Photography
Because of the Prop 8 litigation at the time, Miriam and Beth originally planned to have a symbolic ring ceremony in their home state of California. Three days before their ceremony, the Supreme Court issued its decision invalidating Prop 8 and two days later, on the eve of their wedding day, the 9th Circuit lifted the stay on same-sex marriage licenses allowing counties to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Miriam & Beth were able to go to San Francisco’s City Hall and get a valid marriage license literally hours before their wedding! The brides and their families were thrilled to know the symbolic ring ceremony would now be an official, legally recognized wedding. They were so happy they danced down the aisle, totally unplanned, in celebration. The pride in knowing their commitment to each other would be recognized and respected, and the joy in being able to share that with loved ones, made for a lot more smiles and happy tears than usual at this wedding!
Shot with Canon 5D Mark III and 50mm f/1.4. using only natural light (ISO 400 | f/2.0 | 1/1250 sec.)
18. Cass Bradley of BlueSky by Cass Bradley
I adore this image as our bride, Molly had ‘warned’ me her father was a very emotional man and would most likely spend the day in tears. Instead, when he entered the bridal suit to see his girl in her wedding gown–he glanced up at her and his eyes filled not with tears, but such incredible pride. (And for the briefest of moments, she reached up and touched his cheek…both of them beaming.) To me, this is what our jobs are all about. Protecting those ‘small but magical moments’ in life.
19. Melissa Niu of Melissa Niu
Sometimes the best camera you have is the one you have with you. And I was so grateful to have my phone with me at this very emotional time. Technology allowed my little family to witness the last dying breath of my father-in-law. My daughter was confused and so hurt, but my husband leaned over to tell her that her Grandfather is finally at peace and that she will see him again.
As I was shaking, crying and trying to hold my phone still, I took multiple shots as I wiped the tears from my eyes. I didn’t look at the photo until later but my heart was full to be able to capture an emotional moment that I hope my daughters will always remember; sadness, heartache, and absolute love.
20. Julie Paisley of Julie Paisley Photography
The father-daughter dance always gets me, but this one was extra special. The bride’s father is very ill and is battling a life-threating illness. The couple decided to do a destination wedding that was more like a family vacation to celebrate not only the marriage but to celebrate dad as well since they knew that he might not be with them much longer here on Earth. Family came from literally all over the world. It was a full weekend of celebrating family. Dad was in a wheelchair but was determined to dance with his daughter. He did it but she was basically holding him up, and there was not a dry eye in the house. Everyone was crying including the videographers and the DJ! I love this image because of the emotion from dad but also the emotion from those watching. Such a special “this is why I do this” moment and I will never forget it.
This image was shoot using the Nikon D4, Nikon 35mm 1.4 lens, and lit with a video light. I love all the ambient lighting and chose not to use flash. Sometimes simple is better, and I didn’t want the mood to be disturbed by the trigger of the flash.