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


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.



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.



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.


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.


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).


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.


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.



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?