Por­trait is one of the most diverse gen­res of pho­tog­ra­phy. One of the main ways to make a por­trait eye-catch­ing and mem­o­rable is to cap­ture the emo­tions of the mod­el in the pho­to. These will always attract the view­er’s eye bet­ter than those where a per­son sits in a tense pose with an expres­sion on his face, like a pass­port. Read about how to evoke emo­tions in a per­son and how to catch them, read in our mate­r­i­al.

Cap­tur­ing emo­tions is dif­fi­cult, but inter­est­ing / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

Use the sim­plest pos­si­ble back­ground for emo­tion­al por­traits
Choose sim­ple light­ing schemes for an emo­tion­al por­trait
How to Pre­pare a Mod­el for an Emo­tion­al Por­trait Shoot
How to Cap­ture Emo­tion in Por­trait Pho­tog­ra­phy
How to pro­voke emo­tions

If the whole shoot­ing is planned around por­traits of a per­son and his emo­tions, it is best to use as sim­ple a back­ground as pos­si­ble. This is the case when you def­i­nite­ly won’t find any­thing bet­ter than an emp­ty stu­dio with inter­change­able back­grounds. In the inte­ri­or, both you and the mod­el can be dis­tract­ed by some­thing. More­over, a loaded com­po­si­tion will also dis­tract the view­er, it will be more dif­fi­cult to con­cen­trate on the emo­tions of the mod­el.

So feel free to choose a plain paper back­ground of any col­or that is not too aggres­sive. For exam­ple, white, gray, black, brown are well suit­ed. Red, pink, yel­low, bright green will attract a lot of atten­tion and cre­ate one spe­cif­ic mood for the shots.

For shoot­ing you will need a com­fort­able chair or stool. Stand­ing in the mid­dle of an emp­ty space is dif­fi­cult to relax. It’s eas­i­er with a chair.

You can decide to imme­di­ate­ly shoot in bw — so that noth­ing dis­tracts atten­tion from the mod­el / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

In the mat­ter of light, it is also worth striv­ing for min­i­mal­ism. Not only for rea­sons “so as not to dis­tract”, but also because when shoot­ing emo­tions a per­son can move: lean for­ward, lean on a chair, turn in dif­fer­ent direc­tions. And the point is pre­cise­ly to catch him in all these moments, and not dili­gent­ly put him in the right posi­tion and con­stant­ly make sure that he does not jump out of the light.

There­fore, it is desir­able that the light be as tol­er­ant as pos­si­ble to all these move­ments. The prob­lem with com­plex light­ing schemes is that you still need to be able to sit in such a light. And if a per­son moves, you have to con­stant­ly cor­rect and rearrange some­thing.

So we choose the most sim­ple schemes. One of the uni­ver­sal options: one light source, which stands diag­o­nal­ly to the mod­el. When using this scheme, it is impor­tant to mon­i­tor the height of the light source: it should be slight­ly high­er than the model’s head so as not to draw bruis­es under her eyes.

And one more impor­tant point: when work­ing with the back­ground, it is desir­able to place the mod­el as far from the back­ground as pos­si­ble so that the key light does not over­ex­pose the back­ground.

On the left is a ver­sion with one light source, on the right — with two / Illus­tra­tion: lightingdiagrams.com

You can add a back­light that will cre­ate a beau­ti­ful light out­line on the hair. Don’t put a secu­ri­ty lens right behind the mod­el’s back — you’re con­stant­ly tor­ment­ed to cor­rect it so as not to climb into the frame.

Instead of back­light, you can also use the sec­ond one as a fill — if you want to get a soft­er shad­ow­less pat­tern. Or the sec­ond source can be assigned as back­ground to get a spot of light behind the mod­el. This can be use­ful if, for exam­ple, you are shoot­ing a per­son in black on a dark back­ground and you want the fig­ure to stand out from the back­ground.

The scheme on the left is quite uni­ver­sal. For the scheme on the right, it is impor­tant that the dis­tance from the mod­el to the back­ground is at least one and a half to two meters / Illus­tra­tion: lightingdiagrams.com

Light, back­ground and clothes are impor­tant com­po­nents of the shoot­ing, but not the main ones. If you are going to cap­ture emo­tions, the main thing for you is work­ing with a mod­el. A per­son needs to be relaxed and pro­voked to emo­tions in time.

There are sev­er­al tricks to help relax the mod­el.

Ask the per­son to put togeth­er a playlist of their favorite music before shoot­ing. Such prepa­ra­tion is use­ful both for the mod­el (while pick­ing up music, tune in for shoot­ing), and for the pho­tog­ra­ph­er (you bet­ter under­stand what kind of per­son is in front of you), and for the gen­er­al atmos­phere. It’s bet­ter with music than with­out it. If the mod­el has­n’t brought her selec­tion, turn on the radio.

Try to keep the con­ver­sa­tion going, look for com­mon ground: it can be trav­el, chil­dren, ani­mals, work, weath­er, city events, vaca­tion plans.

Do not crit­i­cize the per­son and do not show dis­plea­sure, even if for the first 20 min­utes of shoot­ing he is sit­ting on a stool in one posi­tion with a com­plete­ly motion­less face. It’s not easy for every­one to relax, espe­cial­ly in pure por­trait shots.

Grab some props. Even if the pic­tures with him do not go to the final series, in the first 20 min­utes it will be eas­i­er for a per­son to relax when there is some­thing to inter­act with. It can be sim­ple objects like a book, an apple or a flower. Or maybe some­thing unusu­al.

A woman with a flower, a woman with dried floun­der / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

If a per­son asks to show how it turns out, show it. But bet­ter not let’s zoom in on the pic­tures and con­sid­er small details. It would be sil­ly if the girl is not in the mood for the whole shoot because she has a pim­ple on her chin. More­over, you will remove this pim­ple for retouch­ing, but the tense face will not go any­where.

Talk about what is hap­pen­ing: if you rearrange the light, tell why in the process, cor­rect the pose or back­ground — explain. Tell us how you do the selec­tion (by your­self or let the mod­el par­tic­i­pate), how you do retouch­ing. That you will def­i­nite­ly cov­er up the very pim­ple or oth­er imper­fec­tions that may both­er you.

Emo­tions are not only about facial expres­sions, hands can also be very expres­sive / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Take care of your­self and your emo­tion­al state. If you are tense like a string, you most like­ly will not be able to relax the mod­el. Think in advance what helps you set up for the shoot and feel calm and con­fi­dent.

Yawn­ing, by the way, is a ter­ri­bly con­ta­gious thing. The pho­to on the left is easy to get by pre­tend­ing to be yawn­ing. If there is con­tact with the mod­el, she will most like­ly yawn too / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Sup­pose every­one came into the stu­dio, turned on the lights, start­ed shoot­ing, the mod­el more or less relaxed, but still pos­ing with plus or minus the same facial expres­sion. Often — with the very one with which she used to take self­ies.

Emo­tions can be pro­voked. Every­thing we talked about above are rather gen­er­al rec­om­men­da­tions that will be use­ful when shoot­ing any not very expe­ri­enced per­son. They allow you to relax the mod­el and find con­tact with her, which is impor­tant for shoot­ing an emo­tion­al por­trait.

As far as exact­ly how to evoke emo­tions, there are sev­er­al spe­cial tech­niques that film actors use in par­tic­u­lar. We can also learn some­thing from them.

The main thing to remem­ber is that any emo­tion is eas­i­er to feel than to depict. Attempts to “make a hap­py face” at best will look affect­ed and insin­cere.

At worst it will. I am 6 years old, my moth­er insists “well, smile for a pho­to” / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Come up with and com­pile a list of com­mon jokes and talk­ing points. For exam­ple, it is often very easy to evoke emo­tion with the phrase “Now put on a hard face.” After it, as a rule, every­one laughs and begins to gri­mace cheer­ful­ly.

This exer­cise works well: imag­ine some­thing or think about some­thing. If you want fur­rowed brows and a look burn­ing with right­eous anger, ask them to imag­ine, for exam­ple, the voice of a boss who demands to go to work on Sat­ur­day. Need a relaxed dreamy expres­sion? We think about hol­i­days, favorite food, nice peo­ple.

It is best to give the most spe­cif­ic tasks in the fol­low­ing spir­it: “Imag­ine your favorite piz­za was brought to you. What is her fill­ing? Are there pick­led cucum­bers there? Or: “Imag­ine you buy a car. What is her salon like? What col­or are the seat cov­ers?

If the mod­el went into thought­ful­ness or began to sing along to your favorite song — do not scare / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

There are old-school tricks that change hands like “ask the mod­el to explain how a chain­saw works” (most like­ly there will be ges­tic­u­la­tion) or “men­tal­ly mul­ti­ply 13 by 8” (most like­ly there will be a con­fused or thought­ful look). But the best tricks usu­al­ly come from the per­son.

On the set, watch what words and phras­es peo­ple react to: what makes them smile, what makes them look seri­ous. For some it will be a fun­ny sto­ry about a cat wash­ing its paws under the tap, for some it will be some spe­cif­ic pro­fes­sion­al word. There are peo­ple who laugh at the word “fish”.

Take breaks. Any per­son gets tired of the cam­era con­stant­ly direct­ed at him. So we filmed for 20 min­utes, rest­ed for a cou­ple of min­utes. We filmed for anoth­er twen­ty min­utes.

And the most impor­tant thing. Dur­ing these paus­es, do not turn off the cam­era, do not lose vig­i­lance! Most often, the most sin­cere emo­tions can be caught in these breaks. The per­son relax­es and begins to real­ly smile. Or real­ly think. Some­times such a trick works: you put a per­son in some kind of objec­tive­ly uncom­fort­able posi­tion. You take one or two shots, then you say that it’s great, it’s filmed. In these moments, you can catch great emo­tions.

If you are hunt­ing for a smile and laugh­ter, keep one more life hack. Man always laughs at his own jokes. Ask the mod­el to tell a fun­ny sto­ry about col­leagues or a pet and keep your cam­era ready.

They say that the eyes are the mir­ror of the soul, but pic­tures where the eyes are not vis­i­ble can also be expres­sive / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Fol­low the per­son. If the mod­el is a laugh­er, you should not tor­ture her by try­ing to make her thought­ful. Con­verse­ly, if a per­son smiles a lit­tle, it is not nec­es­sary to arrange a half-hour stand-up for the sake of one pic­ture.