Photographing People: How to Evoke Emotion from Your Models

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One of the most significant issues that beginner and intermediate photographers mention is the difficulty of creating emotion in their pictures of other people. You don't just want an image of a pretty model/subject, and a client won't be interested in a flat family portrait. A veteran shutterbug might have their own ways of inspiring emotion in their clients, but there are some tried and tested methods to create a depth of feeling in your images even when you're less experienced.

Ignore The First Few Photos

Portrait photography relies on mutual trust between the model/subject and the photographer, and it generally takes a little time for that warmth to develop. Once the subject of your photo feels comfortable, you'll start to see more real emotion from them. For this reason, you can usually get rid of the first few photographs from a shoot - think of them as warm-up shots and remember that you'll get more evocative pictures after your model starts to relax.

“Portrait photography relies on mutual trust between the model/subject and the photographer, and it generally takes a little time for that warmth to develop.”
Find A Pose That Works For Them

Inexperienced models and clients tend to adopt a simple, still pose when they get in front of the camera, often described as stiffness that everyone remembers from school picture day. Encourage your model/subject to move around, loosen their limbs, and find a pose that works for them. You'll draw out more candid images, and they'll naturally show more emotion when they feel physically comfortable.

Remind Them To Feel It

A common mistake for less seasoned photographers is failing to give enough direction to their subjects. You might be so busy getting the exposure and framing right that you forget to talk, making your subjects feel awkward and unsure of how to pose. You'd be surprised by how easily you can inspire emotion just by asking the model/subject to feel it - "Show me happy!" or "Let me see a little more life in your eyes." can bring real feeling to your images.

Shoot From An Angle

Clients tend to tense up when they are being shot straight on or in profile that can lead to losing the precious emotion from their faces, ruining a potentially brilliant photograph. Work from a 45-degree angle to give your model room to breathe and play with their facial expressions. This trick works surprisingly well by removing your model's instinct to stare directly and awkwardly down the lens. If you do need a straight shot, start from an angle and move around.

Make Conversation

Don't forget that the model or client beyond your camera is just a person. You're concentrating on getting the best shot, but they feel like they're just awkwardly standing around trying to look good. Remember to chat with them, and you'll see emotions flash across their face naturally. The times when they laugh at something you say or wrinkle their nose as they tell an embarrassing story are the emotive photographs you want.

Let Them Talk It Out

Your role as a photographer will often segue into that of a therapist or confidant - people love to open up to the person behind the camera. Ask leading questions and let the model/subject discuss the things they love or hate, their relationships to family and friends, or how they feel about the photographs you're taking. The strongest emotion will come when your model is speaking candidly about something that inspires that feeling in them.

These effective methods of inspiring emotion in photography models/subjects will help you add the spirit and sensitivity of a much more experienced photographer to your pictures.
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