Seeking Out Emotion Within Your Subjects

11/02/2015 11:01 am


As a wedding and portrait photographer seeking out emotion within my subjects is critical to my image making. With practice I have established a few strategies that allow me to tap into the emotional side of my subjects and capture them in the most authentic way possible.

Tilly Clifford - Finding Emotion

When shooting weddings, every couple is different, some are completely at ease in front of my camera and require next to no direction, others are slightly nervous and need a little more reassurance. It is super important to recognise this and act accordingly in order to make your subjects comfortable in front of your lens and in return have the ability to create beautiful images.

How the photographer makes a subject feel when being photographed will ultimately effect the emotional connection between the subject and camera. This is my number one rule when shooting and for good reason.

Here are a few tips to help you achieve this:

1. Get to know your subjects.

I put every effort into getting to know my couples before their wedding, I not only love learning about the people I will spend a very special day with, but this also helps me understand their personalities and how to go about shooting on the day.

Tilly Clifford - Finding Emotion

2. Give Direction.

This is very important! Although I tend to document what I see, when it comes to bridal portrait time you need to be able to direct your couples when they need it. It can be tricky for a bride and groom to forget about the many eyes watching them and instead connect and focus on one another. I always make sure to steal the bride and groom away from the bridal party out of sight so they can spend some time together, just them. This is where the magic happens. I allow my couples to relax and give direction where necessary, this could be in the form of moving them physically into better composition or light, as well as helping them connect emotionally with one another. You can give direction in the most subtle of ways. Even something as simple as asking the couple questions about one another, making them laugh and most importantly having fun in the process will act as a way of giving direction, but simply put the couple at ease and enjoy being photographed.

Tilly Clifford - Finding Emotion

3. Relax!

A relaxed photographer = a relaxed bride and groom (most of the time..) This is your most important strategy when shooting a wedding. The vibe you give off, really does affect the way a couple interacts when being photographed, remember this and act accordingly.

Tilly Clifford - Finding Emotion

4. Know your equipment.

It may sound strange to some, however my choice of camera lenses help to emphasize the emotional connection my subjects convey. This is particularly relevant in my portrait-based work where a single subject fills the frame. Understanding what specific lenses are capable of doing and using them to my advantage is always in the front of my mind when shooting. I almost always shoot exclusively with prime lenses, the Canon 50mm f1.2 is my go to lens when shooting portraits, it allows me to lock in focus on the subjects eyes creating a super sharp focal point. The often dramatic depth of field this lens creates gives the image a very soft edge which in turn, forces the viewer to focus on the sharpest point of the image, creating an instant emotional connection with the subject at eye level. Choosing a slightly lower aperture than usual will help create this effect and in turn emphasize the immediate connection the viewer has with a subject.

Tilly Clifford - Finding Emotion

Although these are just some of the many ways photographers go about capturing the more emotional side of their subjects, they are by far the most simple strategies that will never fail you when you're under the pump, restricted with time or struggling to have your subject connect with you and your camera.

Aside from this the most important of all would be to enjoy what you shoot, your work really does speak exactly what you tell it to. I’m incredibly passionate about my craft and for me it's about creating images that connect with anyone who looks at them, that’s what is most satisfying for me.

If you like Tilly's work, check out her portfolio and galleries here...


Very well said.
Comment by Peter Rossi - 25/06/2015 7:48 am
Hi Tilly,
The most difficult of subjects for me is portrait. I am at ease with landscape, flora and fauna but not people. These most useful and practical tips have given me enough confidence to try again.
Comment by Peter Sparks - 27/06/2015 8:18 am

Nice to have personal interesting and useful advice from some one who produces good photos
Comment by Peter Boal - 2/07/2015 6:23 am
About to shoot my first weddings this year, thank you for the advice!
Comment by Kristy - 22/07/2015 8:55 am

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