Learning the technical side of portrait photography can be quick and relatively easy. But part of making a great portrait is able to get your subject(s) to show true emotion. Capturing genuine emotion in portrait photography could arguably be one of the more difficult tasks of a photographer.
The skill of being able to evoke emotion from people while they are in front of a camera is difficult to learn because each person you photograph is going to be different.
Here are 5 tips to help you bring out emotion with any type of personality you will meet.
1. Take Some Shots to Warmup
During the first few minutes of your session, tell your subject that the first shots are only test shots, that you are testing the light, exposure, etc. You can tell them that you are warming up and that these first photos will probably end up deleted anyhow.
During this time, it’s good to strike up some conversation, get to know one another, ask them about themselves; your goal is to begin to draw out their personality and help them forget that you are photographing them.
2. Skip the “Cheese”
It’s the “tried and true” method to get someone to look, well, cheesy, in a photograph. Wherever the technique came from, you know that it doesn’t really work. When your subject says “cheese,” their mouths clench unnaturally and it’s unflattering.
3. Give Them Something to Think About
Have you ever seen a portrait where everything looks perfect – the light, the pose, the location – but something about the image is missing. Usually, it’s because the eyes are dead, which lends to just enough tension in the smile/face to keep the look from showing genuine emotion.
Try giving your subjects something to think about.
4. Give Them Something to Do
When you give your subject(s) something to do, it takes their minds off the “I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-hands-deer-in-the-headlights” syndrome. It works well in a variety of situations. Ask your subject to play with their hair or fake laugh or twirl or jump. You don’t necessarily need to take a picture of them jumping if that’s not your thing, but the moments after you’ve distracted them with the task is the moment you’re looking for, and that’s when you snap the shutter.
5. Just Keep Shooting
Some of the best opportunities to capture genuine emotion are when the subject thinks you aren’t shooting because, well, they are acting genuinely. Be aware of these moments that happen when you’re in-between shots, like walking to the next location and be ready to capture them.
After you have created your two images, upload both in your post on our Muench University Facebook page. Our pros will be waiting to offer helpful commentary, and we also encourage you to leave comments on each other’s images.