Most photographers seek authentic expressions in their subjects long after they have mastered the technical aspects of their camera. Photographer Emma Wood is well known for her ability to capture the true essence of her subjects. Emma
According to Emma, the most challenging thing about emotive portraiture is learning how to bring out and capture the beauty within. Unless you know your subject extremely well, this isn’t something you can turn on and off or ask for on demand.
In order to bring out true emotion, Emma likes to establish a connection between herself and her subject even before she begins shooting. Ensuring that the lines of communication are open is so important, whether working with a child or an adult. You want them to feel comfortable from the start, so building up a good rapport is essential. Because each individual is different, in order to understand them and bring out the best qualities from them, there needs to be a level of trust before your camera comes out. If your subject feels uncomfortable, it will show in their expression, their body language and, most importantly, their eyes.
Once shooting begins, Emma has these five tips she uses to bring out authentic emotion in photos.
1. Most of my portraits are shot during interaction between herself and her subject. Emma finds the best way to bring out the real and honest side of the subject is by being real and honest. She doesn’t want her subjects to be somebody that they are not, and the expressions that she gets when shooting are very real moments of joy, sorrow, excitement etc. Emma is constantly asking herself “is this the way that I see my subjects (my children), as they sit or stand in front of me. And is this what I want to remember?”
2. Emma encourages different reactions by asking different kinds of questions or picking things to talk about that might bring out certain responses. For instance, if she wants more of an upbeat, energetic images, she tries to convey a similar mood, allowing the subject to bounce off or mirror her emotions. Similarly, if she wants a more peaceful image, then she speaks quietly and calmly and she and her subject talk about slightly more serious things.
3. Don’t worry or stress if you don’t achieve wonderful eye contact. If there is blur from movement or if your subjects are in a little world of their own, you may wind up with a more powerful, more emotive image. Being able to capture what you know to be true and to freeze these very real moments forever is far more important and valuable than capturing anything forced with direct eye contact. In fact, these types of images often wind up being treasured far more than those with someone looking right into the camera and smiling.
4. Emotional connections aren’t solely about viewer and subject. Real connection has a great deal to do with the photographer. Even during Emma’s darkest hours, photography is her lifeline, freedom, and therapy. When nothing else in the world is going right, she still has her art.
Sometimes Emma shoots to distract herself and sometimes it’s to lighten her mood, but she knows than when she shoots during these times, her work will echo her heart and mind and capture the authentic emotions she is feeling. Some of Emma’s favorite images have been captured while emotions were high. Tapping into your mood and emotional state has a profound effect on the outcome of your work. The images that you end up with are just as important, just as much a part of your journey as any other, and the way that you are able to translate your feelings into them can be extremely powerful.
5. Explore the connection between light and mood, and how it serves as a sort of mirror, one reflecting the other. This is one of the reasons that use of light in emotive portraiture plays such a huge role. It’s not just about the photographer’s visualization and the way that we depict the scene when we’re shooting, it’s also about connecting the viewer with the subject on a higher level and in a more intense way.
With music we literally hear the beauty as it envelops us with each note, and photography is no different. Enabling the viewer to feel completely surrounded by the most beautiful music, in a visual sense, is what we aim for. Light can help us translate those emotions, and the way we use it has the ability to guide the viewers’ emotions.
Ultimately though, Emma is very ruled by what is going on in reality, in the moment she is snapping the shutter. For Emma, it’s very much about capturing and interpreting the feelings of her children, so she doesn’t like to get too set on anything. As a photographer, you can have an idea, a visualization, but in the end being flexible, and letting things unfold as they so often do, allows you to capture the magic in a moment. This is the single most important thing to remember when capturing your children, and possibly any subject that you might be shooting.