The best photography often conveys emotions, but how do you create emotional photography? How do you add feelings to your photos so you can move the viewer and ensure they connect with the piece?
I’ve spent years honing my ability to infuse photos with emotions. And in this article, I’ll share my absolute favorite techniques – so that you can capture powerful, moving images, too!
Of course, not all viewers experience the same emotions in response to the same photos, so don’t feel pressure to convey specific feelings to everyone. Instead, use these tips, plus your personal emotions, to create powerful, one-of-a-kind images.
Identify your mood before shooting
The emotional state of the photographer – that’s you! – has the largest impact on the emotional quality of your photos. So whenever you head out with your camera, before you take a single shot, or even look for a shot, ask yourself: How am I feeling today? Then let that emotion guide your shooting, and channel it into your photos.
After all, it’s tough to infuse an image with an emotion that you aren’t feeling. If you’re over the moon with happiness, you’ll struggle to find sad or bleak compositions. And if you’re down in the dumps, creating awe-inspiring or uplifting images won’t be easy. So start by identifying your emotions. Look for compositions that align with those feelings.
At the same time, it’s often worth rechecking your feelings periodically throughout your photoshoot. Depending on the view, the light, chance encounters, etc., emotions can change, and you don’t want to miss out on emotionally resonant shots because you’re searching for the wrong thing.
Simplify the shot (try using a telephoto lens)
In wide, busy, expansive scenes, emotions often get lost. Yes, the emotion might be there, but the viewer will have a hard time noticing – the image may fall a bit flat, at least from an emotional point of view.
So if you’re looking to create emotional photography, consider simplifying the shot. Exclude elements from your frame. Choose a perspective that highlights a single area of interest, not the entire scene.
Focus on faces
Faces are full of emotion. The eyes are the windows to the soul, after all, and often show anger, joy, sadness, love, and so much more.
Plus, faces can convey emotions through puffy eyes, tears, wrinkles, etc. So if you want feelings to really shine through, train your lens on people’s faces!
Set your camera down and observe
When I tell people to stop shooting and put the camera away, I often get criticized, yet it’s an important part of photography – especially photography infused with feelings.
Setting down your camera gives you time to observe the world. Just look around and see what pulls at your consciousness. Ask yourself: What interests me? What draws me? What do I want to capture? What matters to me about this scene?
These questions only take a minute or two, but they’ll help you identify new, emotionally resonant compositions, plus they might clarify your ideas about a scene and show you the way forward.
Return to the same scenes repeatedly
Scenes look different on different days, and your feelings are different on different days, too. Take advantage of that fact.
If you’re shooting a subject that you can return to, then do it. The street or beach or room or person will have a different feel on different days, especially if you’re photographing outdoors and the weather changes often.