Capturing or generating emotions?

Viperine snake in Andalusia Spain

Through the years I have noticed that the difference between capturing and provoking emotions is often overlooked, and at times misunderstood. I am not insinuating that the latter is more important than the former. I am only saying that the two have their own entity and differ in nature, just as the observer differs from what he observes.

A common mistake

Taking pictures on the presumption that a sad face per se can engender sadness amounts to a misconception. As we all know, a person can be laughing as he enters the movie theater but this doesn’t mean the people around him will start laughing. Now, if they would hear the joke he was hearing on his phone maybe they would laugh along. It is the cause of an emotion that triggers more emotions, not the emotion itself. And what is true in the real life is also valid in photography.

Baby crying

For instance, you can look at a picture of a baby crying and not feel sad at all. Actually, you might even smile as you contemplate the cute expression on his face. On the other hand you might eye a picture of a child laughing and feel sad, because she has no legs. It follows that to spark off pity by means of a picture one must find a subject suitable for that purpose, and most surely, a photo of someone pitying a starving child will not get the job done. It is the picture of the starving child that will get it done.

What do we have in mind?

To provoke emotion through photography is an art that needs to be conquered, and the battle must be fought in the shoes of the observer. In fact, we might do a better job if we have a specific group of people in mind, for there are pictures that will deeply move the heart of the aged while leaving the youth cold blooded. The opposite is also true. Likewise, pictures taken in the Antarctic might not arouse the same feelings among Kenyans as it would among Canadians. Correspondingly, the picture below will move war veterans more than civilians.

Soldier's grave

Important answers

Therefore we must ask ourselves: Which emotion do I want to prompt? Which class of people do I want to reach? Who will more likely look at the picture? When and where it will be viewed? Is it for my family or for the international community? Without this sort of self-interrogation we are left with a bare twist of fate.

Selecting our public

As I have written elsewhere, the rule-of-thumb is to purpose our goal. Of course we can shoot right and left hoping for the best. But as we progress and look for improvement these issues are consequential, and more so in publicity and journalism.

When the promoters of Unicef search for a picture in view to raise funds, I guarantee you, they know which sector of society they want to make an impression on. The same is true about Harley-Davidson, Avon and IBM. Why should we, photographers, lag behind in this sort of selection?

The following step

After we have answered the questions and clarified our purpose, we must sit down and think. To go about it with an empty head would be a waste of time and money. Before we move we must know the subject we are after; the weather in which we want to shoot it; the kind of light we need; and the list goes on. Believe me, all this is timesaving and leads to success.

The creative mind

Most of the time our failure to transmit emotions has nothing to do with a lack of knowledge in photography. By this I mean, we normally know how to use our camera to take good shots. But the shooting is only a minimal part of photography. Photography is an art, and art begins in the mind. We can turn the tortilla around all we want, but at the end of the day creativity is what makes the difference, not chance.

Photo credits: Erllre, Pangfolio, Simon Desjardins.

Your article must be written in English

October 24, 2018


Thank you so much for your encouraging words.

October 23, 2018


Very well written and so true. There is much more to effective photography than lifting a lens and snapping the shutter! William

October 22, 2018


Capturing wmotion is the essence of a successful picture! Great post and advices!

Feelings related image searches