Week 2 Taking Better Pictures – People Pics with Emotion

Thanks to all of you that joined in my ‘smirkshop’ (smile and work) last week on composition and shared your photos! This week I want to talk about one of my favourite subjects in portraiture and that is creating a connection and emotion between you and your subjects.

Though portraiture looks easy sometimes creating a connection with your subject isn’t easy at all. Many people have a cronic fear of being in front of the camera. I have worked with models and loads of people off the street and the great images come from those that have ‘let go’, the ones that have no fear, that are willing to play, to make an idiot of themselves and ‘to dance as though no-one is watching’.

Emotion doesn’t come just from the eyes and the face, our bodies are a vital part of the emotional story. The way we place our hands, our heads, the ‘shape we create with our body’, how we sit and the movement of our body tells its own story. If your body is tense, the camera sees it.

I am a fan of all emotion, it can be happiness, joy, frustration, questioning, fear, what is important is that in an image their is real ‘connection’ and this comes through in the photo. Our job as a photographer is to create this connection, it isn’t enough to have a pretty photo with nice light and nice composition and a dead subject! Sorry gang, this is the truth.

So if you subject is paralysed with fear or doesn’t know how to pose (who does) then you dear photographer need to charm them, to put them at ease, make the experience fun and have a secret booty of poses that will make anyone look good.

Here’s what I do:

1. I always talk with my subjects, have a coffee with them before getting out the camera. I try to get to know what their passions are, if they dance or are into cars. Whatever it is so we can relate.

2. I give them roles to play (someone in a film or someone they can relate to ) and often a prop.

3. I get them moving (nothing like trying to concentrate on where to put your foot) to take their minds off me.

4. I have an archive of great poses on my Iphone, so if I am stumped I check for inspiration.

5. I say dumb stuff that makes them laugh.

6. I speak in different voices, if I want the shot to be calm or full of energy.

7. I never tell them they look silly.

8. I love when they suggest something, you never know what might happen.

9. I remind them they are not at the dentist!! This is only photography.

10. I have fun and even if it is all going pear-shaped never lose my cool!

All images copyright Carla Coulson Chasing a Dream



Check out my Portrait Lightroom Presets here.

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Trudy Florence
10 years ago

Oh I was reading along loving this post like crazy until I came along this reference! Thank you for featuring me amongst such amazing photographers. You have completely made my day on this cold blustery day in Holland! I will definitely write your tips down and try with my beautiful best friends for models when we are in Paris again next week! xxxx

Paris Rendez-vous
10 years ago

Great tips Carla…and all the portraits are bee-you-tee-ful!

10 years ago

Great post!

Peggy Braswell
10 years ago

you are soooo talented!!!!! xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

10 years ago

Oh you hit the nail on the head with me! I think the reason I like street photography so much is that I don’t have to worry about posing anyone. Occasionally I am asked to do a portrait session and it strikes fear in my heart. I wish I had a bunch of NATURAL looking poses in my back pocket for such times. I love your tutorials C.

This is Belgium
10 years ago

again, I agree with my friend Virginia on every little point she mentions here bc same goes for me

Mary Jo
10 years ago

I loved every word of this Carla–it’s so much like directing. And can you believe they never broke it down like this in a single class I took in graduate film school? But we had these wonderful opportunities to hear major directors talk and ask questions and your advice fits right in with what 2 of my favs, William Friedkin said the same thing about getting to know his actors and Martin Scorcese had all these stories about getting his actors to do different things. I love the idea of applying it to photography. Can’t wait to check out your links! Happy weekend to you!

xo Mary Jo

Debra Kolkka
10 years ago

I have the boy in the car…thank you! Thank you also for the reference to our blog. I am now in cold, wet Helsinki on my way home to Brisbane. I am hoping for a fine day tomorrow in this gorgeous city.

t. becque
10 years ago

Good tips Carla, and beautiful portraits to prove your point! I think this is the way to go for me as it’s just too hot to go outside and photograph now-a-days.

10 years ago

Carla, you never cease to inspire me. x