Tuesday Tutorial: Quick tips for capturing emotion in a photograph

My favorite photographs that I’ve ever taken, and those that you can find framed on every surface in my apartment, are those that capture genuine and candid emotion of my friends and family members. There’s so much life in a photograph that’s full of smiling faces or laughing friends. To the contrary, the most moving photographs are those that can pull you in with one intense expression on the subject’s face. How are photographers always in the right place at the right time to capture those ranges of emotion? Candid shots are not easy. In fact, everyone I know, including myself, can so easily default to an awkward/stiff mode when a camera is pointed in their direction. Then what? As the photographer, it’s your responsibility to help your subject feel relaxed and free to radiate in front of the lens.
Here are a few tips to help you get started in capturing emotion in a photograph.


Get them talking | Start a conversation with your subject so you can get to know them better. By establishing a connection, you and your subject will feel at ease. In turn, it will allow for  your subject’s personality to shine through each photograph. As the conversation unfolds, look for the things that move them. Latch on to those moments in conversation, never failing to snap the pictures.

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Be trigger happy | Just like the first pancake of the batch always looks weird, consider your first few photos as warm-ups also. Take plenty of warm-up shots knowing you can ditch what doesn’t turn out. The first few shots are about getting to know your subject and making them used to the feeling of a lens pointed at their face. Spend a few extra minutes at the beginning of each shoot to find the beauty and energy in your subject. He/she will be so glad you were able to move them beyond the ever-uncomfortable default awkward stage.

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Play charades | Warning: this can easily get cheesy. Maintain your own confidence as the photographer and it will work. When you’re shooting your subject be prepared to give direction. Walk your subject through a range of (fake) emotions. Start by requesting a smile, then a serious face. Next, ask for a fun, flirty, twinkle-in-the-eye pose, then maybe even all the way to a concerned or angered expression, all the while snapping these shots. Make sure everyone is having fun with it. Not only will this break the ice, it will also help you gauge your subject’s comfort level. Do they shine on their own, or do they need you to guide them? You may learn that your subject nails the “twinkle-in-the-eye” look (or another) and if so, run with it! If they tend to give you the same mundane expression for each emotion, they may need you to be more specific.

The Outtakes | My all time favorite time to photograph people is when they think I’ve finished shooting. It’s then when everyone seems to exhale, relax and reveal how they’re truly feeling. Those in-between moments have the potential to produce the most genuine emotions of the shoot. Often times the subject has stopped paying attention to the shoot and they engage in their surroundings. Those interactions deserve to be preserved. After a grand pose or a long shoot, begin to put your camera down and watch for the emotions to radiate. Three cheers for the bloopers.

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Hopefully this is a good starting point for your next photography project. Take these tips with you everywhere you take your camera & may your frames forever be filled with captured emotions that take you right back to that moment in time!


Want to keep reading? See also: Sarah’s tips on How [not] to Take a Selfie 

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