Conveying Emotion - Details Matter

Two photographs of the same scene; one is downloaded more often and you may wonder why. News photography, candids and nature all have the ability to convey an emotion to the audience. And, we know that many people will chose a photograph based on how it effects them emotionally.

Screaming Dead Fish

I am not always successful at capturing the feel that I see with my eyes when I review the images in the camera. Seconds of time move a charming micro-expression on a person's face into something unflattering and uninteresting.

Sad Eyes Terrier Dog

Animals will tilt their head toward you, to the side or glance in your direction while you are shooting. As you review your shots, you will see these micro-expressions and that conveys the emotion. Animals are easier to capture in this moment than humans. They have no self-conscious behavior. That is a human response. With animals, I will shoot multiple frames to get what I am looking for. With humans I use a couple of other techniques.

Distraction is a big helper during a portrait shoot. I talk to my subject all the while keeping my hand on the shutter. I am not asking questions, but usually saying things about the shoot, the day, their desire for a good shot. I look for subjects that will evoke a micro smile, a wayward glance, or an inward look of pleasure. When that happens and I click the shutter, I get the look I want and usually the person is happy with the result.

I can remember shooting a violinist for his business card portrait. I was looking for a particular modern musician look and he was focused on how he saw himself. His face was tense at first and as I talked to him about stance, his instrument and the lighting, he relaxed just slightly and I got the WOW I was looking for.

Female photographer in morning light looking over the top of a stone bridge at her subject

The other technique I employ is distance. I stay as far away from my subject as my lens will allow to capture a portrait. In this way the subject does not feel "on camera". Distance gives me a background that is blurred also. I shoot with a semi-wide aperture to accomplish this. This is especially helpful in outdoor portraits, which is my preferred type. The subject are often distracted by the surroundings of a natural environment.

The emotions are in the details and micro-expressions.

Photo credits: Circe Denyer.

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