A lifetime ago, before two amazing children and more than a few pounds, I spent time in front of the camera as a model. This experience has completely shaped me as a photographer and given me a very unique and extraordinary approach to how I capture images.
As a model it was my job to learn to emote via body language, convey an emotion and evoke feelings in the viewer of the work. The commercial photographer who was shooting me didn’t know how to direct me – as a model it was my job to understand body language, client intention and delivery. It was the photographer’s job to capture the moment and emotion. Commercial photographers are aware of emotive images because they work day in day out with models that do their job and produce these results.
As consumer photographers, understanding and directing for body language is not in our collective conscious. Emotive imagery, body language, directing – what is that and how the hell do we do it? We have been taught posing (not directing), lighting, depth of field, shutter speed, and composition. There is no dialogue or conversation about creating emotive imagery or the tools and skills needed to do so. To date, there is very little, if any, information in our community about the science of body language, how it affects our work and how we as portrait photographers can use it to our advantage to take our work to the next level.
It is my belief that we all have the ability to create images that convey emotion. It is not magic, or some fleeting moment or chance we have and might miss. This is something you can learn, master, and control with precision and intention.
We all have the power and ability to coach and direct for emotion, to lead our subjects into the emotive states we want to create and capture.
What is emotion in photography?
Emotion in photography, or any work of art, is what helps the subject and viewer connect with the piece. It is an incredible tool and skill that elevates your work from simply being a pretty picture, to something that is quite meaningful and impactful.
It is the exploration of different states of being with an emotional impact in your images. Whether the intimacy is between a couple, the vulnerability, strength and power of a woman, desire, or pleasure… it is all beautiful body language. It isn’t just posing, but truly engaging the subjects within the session.
All of this produces images that resonate with the subject and viewer.
Why should you try and capture emotion?
Emotion creates an experience and final product that is not just a pretty picture, but a truly meaningful and moving experience for your client within their session. Through emotion, you help clients connect or discover facets of themselves within the amazing session you are providing. By taking your work to the next level, an emotional level, you will see an increase in sales and set yourself apart from all of the other photographers who are simply shooting typical poses.
How do you capture emotion in photo sessions?
Through understanding the science of nonverbal communication, you learn the body language associated with beautifully emotive states that can be portrayed in a session. Embody these states in order to coach your clients. If you don’t know it, you can’t show it!
Your next step, right now, is going to involve you pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to reach these emotive states.
The science of empathy
Discovered in the early 1990s by neuroscientist Giacomo Rozzolatti with his colleagues at the University of Parma, mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we see someone else perform the same action. This explains why we learn through mimicry and why we empathize with others.
This is incredibly powerful knowledge to possess, and an even more incredible tool to employ in your shooting style.
In our studio we call this “mirroring.” When we want a client to display a certain body language that embodies the emotion we want to capture, we demonstrate it rather than explaining the pose verbally (this really doesn’t work well with emotive shooting.) We actually get in there and demonstrate the body language we want to elicit from the client.
I have found time and time again that our clients are far more receptive to watching our bodies than listening to an explanation of what an emotion should look like.
Demonstrating an emotion and its correlating body language puts clients at ease. When they see that we are in it with them, that we are willing to be just as vulnerable as we are asking them to be, and that the body language really is very beautiful, it takes much of the anxiety and pressure off the client.
As humans we mimic body language subconsciously. Let’s use this power and harness it to create strong evocative images. By demonstrating body language and posing with our clients we are playing on mirror neurons and evoking the empathy card!
Approximately 2/3 of all human communication is nonverbal.
This means that while speaking the majority of communication is actually being done via body language.
So think about it, when taking a photo, 100% of what is conveying emotion is body language.
It is time to learn, understand and, with intention, coach for emotive body language.
You must have a willingness to be vulnerable with your subject, to give as much as you are asking for, and with that you WILL create spectacular images that your clients will connect with.
You can Photoshop body parts, but you can’t Photoshop emotion.
What might be holding you back
I generally see a few things holding people back from greatness time and time again…
Often times you don’t know that fear or stepping outside of your comfort zone is the culprit, but so many times it is. You are afraid to be vulnerable, you might have your own walls up, you are afraid of how your clients will react to this style of shooting, you are afraid of being judged or looking / feeling silly…
Being aware of these things is a great start, but I am here to tell you that you are bigger than your fears. You are in control, you are the expert, you have nothing to be afraid of, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by letting go. You are the professional, you set the tone and the rules, and your clients trust that you will do an incredible job… and you will!
If you were my client, I’d tell you to start with being open to the idea that a photo should depict how something feels, not just how it looks, and it is you who has the power to guide, coach and direct the most beautiful and emotive images.
This is where it all starts-with an open mind, an open heart, and an understanding of your worth, power and value!
For those of you that have experienced success in your business but feel there is something missing, if you want to take your work to the next level or differentiate yourself from your competition, this is a great opportunity to revisit what you are doing and determine if there are things you can do to improve your work, your skill set, and mastery of photography.
What worked for you to begin with may need to be tweaked – sometimes you need to evolve and acquire new knowledge and skills, a new and deeper understanding of what it is we are doing.
You may have started out doing what everyone else was doing – but now you need to make it your own, more intimate, more personal- more emotive and beautiful!
Art of Emotion Ebook
We have an incredible opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the clients we see. We don’t need to shoot just the pretty pictures and poses we’ve been taught, we need to also create emotional and emotive environments with precision and intention, to take our clients deeper into what it means to be a woman and take our work to the next level.
If you are looking to create images that beautifully capture your clients’ femininity, longing, passion, desire, vulnerability and beauty…if you are looking to create shots that your clients will LOVE, you must add shooting and coaching for emotion into your sessions!
In this book you will find the definition of, example images, body language, questions & answers and how to coach for and create emotive states in your work.
In this video, Denise gives an overview of her Stripped Down course.