Emotions through the art of photography

Hi folks,

Greetings from England where it’s getting brighter day by day.

I often get asked by the general public how they can improve their photographic skills and if they have time I will start a crash course on the importance of composition, light and the relationship with the subject. While all these things (and more) are important to make a good photo, I actually never mention what they should ultimately aim for.

Take this picture below for example. It’s a picture I took of a young boy in the streets of Katmandu. Somehow something inside you will have resonated with the boy’s expression. And those feelings will make this picture stand out amongst others. (If you want to know, this boy is really happy because he has just received his new puppy).

Or take this other picture below of school children in Juba, South Sudan. Their discomfort with the heat and sweat is clearly felt. (I actually felt it myself but that’s another story).

As you can see, pictures that trigger emotions will make them more interesting and therefore more memorable to your viewers. Actually, at it’s purest, photography is an art form and as such it should provoke the viewer into an intended emotional state.

Whenever I read books or magazines on photography however, I feel that this is sometimes overlooked. This is also evident in the blogosphere. A lot is written about the technical aspect of the profession; the new lenses to buy, what pose should your subject adopt, what time of the day is best for landscape images, what composition to use, etc… but ultimately all these tools are just means to create an image that will be emotionally charged.

In his latest book, David DuChemin rightly mentions the importance of the intent of a photographer in creating an image. He is right. Before taking a picture, you should ask yourself what do you want to convey emotionally and how are you going to do it. Needless to say it’s not easy.

Take this image below I took in Delhi during the Diwali festivities. I was trying to convey the happiness and excitement of this family as they were playing with the fireworks. While this image does have some excitement to it, it’s too blurred for my liking to make it a great shot.

So how to bring emotions to your pictures you will ask. Here are a few tips that will help you out :

1) If the subject you want to capture is unchanging in nature (workers in a factory, an object, a location in a city,…), then don’t consider taking the pictures on your first visit. Leave your camera at home. Instead focus more on your feelings (through your 5 senses) and remember them (write them down). Observe the light and how it changes through time. Does anything in the scene make you feel different. Think about it. Later on when you have to consider what type of shot you want to make, use these emotions to guide you.

2) When taking a close up shot/portrait, the presence of catchlight (light reflections) in your subject’s eyes is crucial in “bringing” this person alive and catching his emotions. Make sure you use whatever light you have at your disposal to bring some lights into the eyes  (external flash, windows,..).

3) If your subject is a person, take the time to get to know each other.  Only by building up a personal relationship with them will you be able to truly connect and “capture” the emotions felt at the time. For example, the young boy from Katmandu above was taken after I met him the day before. He already knew me a bit and therefore felt more comfortable in my presence. I might not have been able to have this shot without this previous meeting.

These are just a few simple tricks that will help you capture the emotions (yours or your subject’s) on your images. So go out, try them for yourself and let me know how it goes. I hope this will have been useful.

My next posts will be about the work I did in Nepal and my next assignments.

Keep you posted.

1 thought on “Emotions through the art of photography

  1. For those with a good memory, I already posted something related to emotions almost year for year in my previous blog. Funny how things go…
    http://www.photoblog.com/bernardhenin/2011/02/19/emotions-and-photography.html

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