5 Tips for Photographing Real Emotion

Oliver Hutchinson
Oliver Hutchinson
  3 min read
5 Tips for Photographing Real Emotion

This is a challenge that any portrait photographer knows all too well. Unless you only shoot documentary-style portraits or exclusively candids, a lot of the time you're going to be trying to capture feeling that your model might not really feel.

But a portrait with no feeling in it at all is likely going to look flat, inauthentic, forgettable.

You've got to bring some kind of emotion into every portrait shot to capture the viewer's attention. And then, even if you are shooting genuine feeling, capturing it right in the moment, how can you do that well and make sure it gets across to the viewer?

Well, there are two tried-and-true methods for capturing emotional images that you probably already know and use.

Portrait Idea 1: Zoom In

Number One is the Zoom In. Just as it sounds, you zoom way in and fill up the frame with the subject's face. This of course puts all the focus on how they're feeling, and it is indeed an effective way to create a highly emotional portrait.

Portrait Idea 2: Headshot

Number Two is the Headshot. This entails simply photographing your subject head-on, placing them squarely in the center of the frame, without any other visual interest around them. Like the Zoom In, it's an easy and failproof way to put focus on your subject's facial expression.

While these methods can result in gorgeous portraits (like our examples here!), these are far from your only options to putting the spotlight on emotion in your portrait photography.

These four simple techniques will help you bring more emotion that actually feels heartfelt into all your portraits — including lots of photo examples to inspire your next shoot.

Tip #1: Set the scene

While emotional portraits are often close-up captures, a well-chosen background can really help draw out the feeling depicted in any portrait.

You can easily add emotion to any photo by harnessing the power of the weather. A sunny day provides a happy background, while a dark, gloomy evening naturally lends itself to images with a sad or fearful feeling.

Nature is full of useful backdrops that can add emotion to your shots: surrounding your subject with flowers in bloom will make a portrait come alive, while placing them alone in an empty field works well to achieve a lonely image.

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Shooting indoors also provides tons of opportunities to effectively set the scene for your portrait, amplifying the emotion you want to portray.

Think of your portrait as storytelling, and the environment in which your subject is photographed is a crucial part of the story. The room they're in can offer the viewer hints about their emotional state before they even see the person's facial expression.

For example, a person alone in a completely empty room can convey a more intense and dramatic feeling of loneliness than a close-up shot of their sad face would. Creative use of props and framing can help you achieve these kind of effects in your portraits.

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