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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.