There’s a lot of discussion about what makes a ‘great’ photograph – light, composition, moment, post-processing, posing, location, styling, the subjects… There are so many different elements at play during any photograph that it’s probably safe to say that any ‘great’ shot is the happy alignment of a number of these things.
But for me, if I had to pick ONE thing that for me, above all else, creates a ‘great’ picture, it’s emotional connection – in two very distinct different ways. Photographing emotion can be difficult but I find that ensuring there is emotional connection in these two ways is key to achieving it.
EMOTIONAL CONNECTION BETWEEN YOUR SUBJECTS
The first type of emotional connection is the one more commonly considered – the emotional connection between the subjects. In recent years there’s been a much greater focus on this within the photography industry. There’s been a move away from empty ‘posing’ and towards encouragement of authentic interaction between your subjects, in order to engender that genuine emotional connection and expression.
I always try to encourage these authentic responses in my subjects by chatting to them, interacting with them, playing with them, asking them questions, trying to make them forget about me and the camera. My aims is to make them feel I’m with them, not watching them.
I don’t want my clients to ‘pose’, I want them to genuinely have fun with each other, to genuinely feel the love between them. I want them to soak up the way their loved ones move, speak, talk and play. I want them to genuinely enjoy hanging out with each other, to feel truly joyful about themselves, their home and their family.
EMOTIONAL CONNECTION BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR SUBJECTS
“If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.”
(Eve Arnold, award-winning photojournalist)
The second kind of emotional connection is one that I think is more commonly overlooked, and that I passionately believe is just as important, if not more so. It’s the emotional connection between YOU as a photographer and the people you’re photographing.
This might seem like a strange concept, as frequently you’ll have never met this family before… They’ll often be complete strangers apart from a couple of emails… You probably won’t have even clapped eyes on them before turning up on their doorstep… You’re only going to be there for an hour or so… How is it possible to develop an emotional connection in that time?
The answer is that it’s completely possible and I believe it’s this that makes the biggest difference to the photographs – every bit as much as, if not more than, traditional aspects such as light and composition. MOMENTS are where the photographic gold-dust lies… and if you’re not CONNECTED to your clients then you’ll miss half of them.
SHOOTING WITH EMPATHY
“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
(Don McCullin, documentary & war photographer)
My biggest piece of advice is to shoot with EMPATHY. Forget about being a photographer and your clients being photographic subjects. While you’re there, you’re a person and they are people. Shoot with empathy, look for the humanity, really root for this family, get involved in what they’re doing, tap into their emotion, truly care about how they’re feeling.
Once you do that, this imbues itself into your photographs – so that they’ll be full to the brim of all that good stuff, the universal emotional truths that we all recognise and that connect us all.
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