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emotional-photography Tips & Tricks

Create Powerful Images By Adding Emotion in Your Photography

By Max Bridge on October 25th 2015

What use is having a great depth of field, if there is not an adequate depth of feeling? – William Eugene Smith

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Emotional Photography – What Makes A Great Photo?

As with any art form, the answer to this question is subjective. What is “great” to one person is mediocre to another. We can spend hours debating a photograph’s technical merits, pouring over its every detail and arguing about whether it conforms to this rule or that. But emotion. Emotion is a universal truth. An unflinching, unapologetic, inspiring, disconcerting, uplifting force that speaks to us all.

Those of you daring enough to have read a book on the subject of composition (and not fallen asleep), will have come across the notion of people (faces and bodies) being something the human eye is drawn to. As a result, they are often talked about as compositional elements. As members of the human race, it is something we are innately drawn toward. Being able to take advantage of this can elevate your photography.

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[REWIND: CAPTURING THE EMOTION OF A WEDDING DAY: HOW TO PHOTOGRAPH A FIRST LOOK]

We, and our clients, are not all great photographers or artists but we are all (perhaps not according to my girlfriend) great at reading emotion. When I talk about emotional photography, I’m not simply referring to hard hitting, upsetting images you may see in the news – a recent example being the horrific photo of the refugee crisis which involved a child on the beach ( if you’ve seen it you know what I mean) – but any photo which displays genuine emotion. These photos are the ones that are treasured. The ones which show our world, our loved ones, as they truly are. They are the ones our memories conjure in times of sadness. The ones who hold special places in our hearts.

Emotional Photography – Is Emotion The Most Important Thing?

In my opinion, yes it is. But it’s not as simple as that. When we first start learning photography, there is this rush to get a grasp on the technical side, as there should be. Unfortunately, that often leads us away from why we loved photography in the first place. I can guarantee that’s not because you loved the way a particular image was edited. It’s the way the photo made you feel.

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[REWIND: 20 PHOTOGRAPHERS SHARE THE ONE IMAGE THAT REPRESENTS THEIR BRAND]

Most people (your clients) viewing an image, I am sorry to say, are not analyzing its technical merits. That is, in fact, a distant second to its subject matter. We’ve all either had or heard of that moment when your client decides to get the photo you hate printed in 30×20 and hung it right above their fireplace. We may be looking at the technical faults, but they are looking at everything else; the look in their new wife’s eyes, the proud body language of a father, or even something as subtle as the way two sisters hold hands. Not the blown out highlights, cropped foot, or whatever else you detest.

So, what does that tell you? Emotion sells. Please don’t mistake me for advocating not advancing your technical knowledge. Far from it. But I do encourage you to nurture the emotional side just as much. SLR Lounge can provide you with some of the best tutorials for learning photography, and I wholeheartedly endorse every piece of education we put out – check out the SLR Lounge Store for everything you need – but do not forget the emotional side. Let’s repeat that quote at the beginning.

What use is having a great depth of field, if there is not an adequate depth of feeling? – William Eugene Smith

From one of THE greatest photographers. Let that sink in for a minute.

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Emotional Photography – How To Add Emotion To Your Images

Well, that’s brilliant! I was just getting a handle on using my camera and now you tell me this! Don’t fret, despite what our girlfriends may tell us, we are all very adept at reading emotion. There’s one more step to go, from reading to creating. I’ll use family photography for my examples. It’s something I do and easily lends itself to discussing emotion.

[REWIND: FROM WWII TO CORPORATE COVER UPS – THE ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS OF WILLIAM E. SMITH]

To add emotion, just do this. Tell whomever to “go over there and look in love, or proud, or any number of emotions.” Even better try that with a child. “Hey, 2-year-old. Can you sit on mummy’s lap and give her love?” Not going to happen.

(Sorry, my sarcastic nature often surfaces in my articles).

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If we want to create genuine emotion, we need genuine interaction; both between you and your clients and between themselves. That’s the key and that’s the hard thing. In some areas of photography, it may be the right place, right time. In others, we’re going to need to coax this emotion out of our clients. Side note – some are better than others.

With my background in the film industry, I quickly applied that knowledge to photography. It’s more natural for me to think about a family photo session in terms of scenes and to then direct within a scene. I scout out 3-4 good spots and then, along with my clients, think about scenes for those locations. That could be as simple as the picnic scene or the hide and seek scene but I find it much easier to think in these terms.how-to-add-emotion-to-wedding-photography

When a family is in a scene, they are just behaving as they normally would, they aren’t actors after all, and that is exactly what I want. In a few hours, it’s not possible to build a bond even close to that of a parent and child. That’s why I prefer to play off their existing relationship. For instance, we’re in the “woodland picnic scene,” mum and daughter are sitting on a blanket (roughly posed). I then have dad play one of those silly games that Dad’s always have. I capture the build-up, laughter and most importantly, the moments after.

[REWIND: RUSSIAN MOTHER ELENA SHUMILOVA SHARES HER TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING CHILDREN]

I often have people do very silly things, not to capture that moment, but the genuine emotion that always follows. The key is to think of situations to place your clients into; picture a more natural version of improv from drama class. The emotion will then naturally flow. That’s when your technical knowledge should carry you through.

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Summary

A solid grasp of the technical is essential. There is after all no point in having great emotion and expression but a massively underexposed and terribly framed photograph. For that side, turn to us and check out the SLR Lounge Store. For the other side, the emotion; turn to yourself. If it’s photographing people, learn to direct in a manner which feels comfortable to you. If it’s anything else, think about how composition, lighting, colour, etc. can add emotion.

What do you do to add emotion to your images?

About

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
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8 Comments

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  1. marcel bauer

    Thank you great article

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  2. Benni Klomfass

    As you mentioned, the answer is subjective. Depends on which photos you are shooting and what / where they are used for.
    If you’re shooting food, one image should make you say “that looks delicious” or “I must eat/try that” or even “that looks amazing/beautiful”…
    In contrary, if you’re shooting landscapes or architecture, a picture of the most beautiful place can look boring / uninviting if not edited / corrected…. So it depends because even the worst picture (technically) can bring something emotionally to its viewer …

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  3. Benni Klomfass

    As you mentioned, the answer is subjective. Depends on which photos you are shooting and what / where they are used for.
    If you’re shooting food, one image should make you say “that looks delicious” or “I must eat/try that” or even “that looks amazing/beautiful”…
    In contrary, if you’re shooting landscapes or architecture, a picture of the most beautiful place can look boring / uninviting if not edited / corrected.

    Natural and artificially Emotion should and could be added by editing, composition and colour.
    But sometimes the worst technically picture can be the most effective of all (emotionally)

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  4. Carlos Bracho

    For emotions, I tend to sit and talk with the people is helping me as models. I try to explain my emotions and try to relate their experiences with mines. At the moment of the shoot, beside instructions, I tend to to poses with my body first, and then I direct them.

    Nothing better that to explain your intentions to get emotional at your personal work

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  5. robert s

    I think emotion with interaction is great. capturing moments is important, personally, I think bringing out an emotion from those looking is more. we are in a world where we see many images. an image should bring upon an emotion from people looking at them.

    video has many frames, music and time to convey emotion, but stills only has 1 image which needs to bring emotion.

    an image can be of people enjoying, laughing, crying etc but if your frame isnt fitting the emotion wont be as powerful. it doesnt even have to be people in an emotional state like crying or laughing. even a good frame thats impressive will be emotional to people. capture a bride in a specific pose (not smiling or laughing) with specific lighting and it can bring a feeling thats powerful to the one looking.

    emotion in the picture is nice but not always necessary. composition/perspective and lighting (warm/cold WB) is more so and can bring a larger wow effect.

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    • Carlos Bracho

      Totally, composition, lighting and color (warm vs cold) are a big help, and as photographers we relly on just one image, which makes it more challenging and fun

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