3 Tips for Capturing Emotion in Photos

Raise your hand if you have ever taken a photo that lacked interest? Yes, it may have been pretty. Yes, it may have been technically sound. But did it hold your attention? Did it tell a story?

I have found that the photos that stand out most to me are about so much more than a perfect smile; they are about who the subject is right in that moment. If it is a child, I’m more excited to capture who they are at this stage: their curiosity, their shyness, their ability to ham it up for the camera. The “perfect smile” does not intrest me. In my years of taking photos my style has really evolved. I have moved away from standard poses, props, and stiff photographs. I have really tried to focus on the in-between moments. The moments that a mother will cherish. If I can make a mom cry, I consider that #winning haha. No for reals, I feel there is no greater compliment than capturing an image that is so beautiful and so real that it brings someone to tears.

I tell many clients that although these photos are for you as the parent, they are just as much for your children, as they are the legacy that’s going to be left behind. I always think about that scene from the movie “Beaches”, where Hilary is digging through an old box of photos trying to remember what her mothers hands looked like. One day, photos will be all that’s left, and I want to ensure that each client has photos that tell their story.

So how do you ensure that you are able to capture that kind of emotion in your photos? People are very hard to read and already feel awkward enough in front of the camera without us asking them to get all mushy with a complete stranger, right? So let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start)…

  1. Make sure your clients know your photography style BEFORE they book a session.

    This may seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many photographers advertise one type of photography, then get disappointed when people show up and just look at the camera dumbfounded. You will notice that neither my social media nor my website show any photos of people looking at the camera; I only post photos that display connection and emotion. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely take some posed “christmas card” photos during my sessions, because we all know grandma will want a copy, however I only post what I want to attract. I don’t want to attract clients who come expecting to sit and smile. My ideal client is going to be wanting emotional photos, and therefor will come to their session prepared to open up.

  2. Educate your client on what to expect and help them prepare their families accordingly.

    Once you book a session, it is so important to educate your clients on what to expect during their session. As mentioned, many people are not comfortable being that vulnerable in front of the camera, and even though they WANT intimate photos with their family, they don’t know how to get them. I give every client a welcome guide that gives a detailed breakdown of how each session will unfold. I give them tips on how to prep their husbands and children so everyone feels at ease and are not shocked when I ask them to get close. I also provide them with styling tips and am constantly reassuring them that there is nothing to fear. I think many people default to a pose-and-smile type photo session because they honestly just don’t know how to do anything else. As a photographer, it is our job to guide, to reassure, and to set the tone of the sessions. Most of what unfolds during the session is all due to what happened before the session. Do yourself and your clients a favor and give them the tools they need to help get the photos they want.

  3. Set the Tone. Be Silly. Keep Talking.

    It’s time for the session. You have a dad who does not want to be there, kids who want to act up and a mom who feels self concise and is also worried that you think her family is a circus. BREATH. It is our job as the photographer to set the tone of the shoot. Remind the family of what to expect during their shoot. Get down on the kids level and try to connect. Be silly with them, compliment their clothes, ask them about their favorite tv show. I always reassure the dads that I will be fast and that I won’t make him do anything he is not comfortable with. I explain to the family that I don’t want them to look at me, rather at each other. They can choose to smile, or to close their eyes and soak it all in. I will give them prompts and I will guide them as needed, but most of all, I just want them to love on each other. I encourage them to ALWAYS be touching someone in the family (connection is key), and then I just bunch them up and let them go. Sometimes they laugh because they feel so awkward at first, and hey, those make great photos. But no matter what, I keep talking. I encourage and tell them how great they are doing. I crack jokes with the kids (mainly fart jokes…P.U.) lol. I let dad know that he is amazing and how great the photos are turning out. If kids act out, I reassure the parents that its normal, not to get frazzled, and just to hug and love on their kids. Just keep talking and keep snapping photos, you will be surprised at what you get.


The more you do it, the more you will get comforatable with doing it. I have clients come back to me crying because they are so in love with their galleries. Many tell me that they didn’t even realize I was taking photos during that break (when everyone let down their guard). Those in-between moments are some of my absolute favorite and quickly become that photo that a mom didn’t even know she needed in her life.

So, take a look at what you are advertising so you attract the right clients. Educate the clients that do want what you have to offer. And set the tone while you are shooting. I promise you will be able to draw out that emotion and start building a portfolio that makes your heart sing and is full of captivating, emotive images.

- Beth.