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Creating emotion in photos, how to evoke emotion in a portrait, is a skill that can serve us well when photographing portraits for fun or profit. How does one actually do that?
There are many methods of how to create emotion in photos, we’re going to discuss portrait photography techniques. We’ll show you four methods that are simple and effective ways to capture emotional portraits.
Low-Key and High-Key
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Some of the most effective ways to create emotion in photos of people is to adjust for either a high or a low-key effect. While this is partly a lighting effect, it is also an effect of exposure values and lighting ratios.
Lighting ratios help us control and capture contrast. Think of a high-key photo and we might automatically assume bright lighting. While the light plays a huge part, it’s actually the low contrast that really makes the difference.
Conversely with low-key portraits. We may initially assume low-key means dark, but it’s more about the high contrast that gives a low-key portrait emotional content. A low-key portrait may have brighter parts in the image, highlights, but they are in stark contrast to the darker areas, the shadows.
A low-key portrait can convey several emotions, depending on other elements of our crafting of the image. It can show melancholy, sadness, strife, but it can also convey power, strength, or intensity.
A high-key portrait might portray emotions such as wistfulness, peace, or happiness. A high-key portrait can also have an air of romance to it. Interestingly, romance can also be suggested by low-key portraits.
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Whether using high-key, low-key, or some other lighting and exposure techniques, the emotion in photos can be changed, altered, or adjusted by the posing of the portrait subject.
Leaning into a pose has a different feel than leaning back, looking off the one side or the other can add or subtract emotional content. Having the subject make direct eye contact can show different emotions, sometimes the difference will be in the lighting, such as highlighting the eyes or giving a catchlight.
A lot can go into a pose. It’s more than just the head position or facial expression, it also involves the position of the arms, shoulders, hips. A simple difference such as facing towards or away from the camera can radically alter the captured emotion in photos of people.
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A great method for emphasizing the emotion in photos that you created with the previous tips is to zero in on the person, perhaps even filling the frame with just their face or their head and shoulders.
Interest can be created or heightened this way, it also works for adding tension or power. The emotions can be positive, negative, or ambivalent.
Depending on your lens choice, you can also use forced perspective to add in some apparent distortion which can alter the perceived state of the emotions.
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Going the other way, including the surroundings can change the feelings involved. Environmental portraits can be emotional portraits in that they involve the person in relation to their surroundings.
Being intensely involved in their work or a hobby may be highlighted by choosing an environmental portrait setting. Caring for pets, their family, or even the environment can be shown as well.
Portrait Photography Gear
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Some of these methods of how to evoke emotion in a portrait can be enhanced or made easier by making good use of the portrait photography gear we already have in our equipment bags.
Portable lighting gear, such as battery powered LED lights can be used as the eye light in the low-key tip mentioned earlier. Some of these lights allow for changing colors which can control the perceptions of the emotions.
For shooting environmental portraits, these lights can be placed strategically by using our small OctoPad tripod and light stand alternatives. These low profile mounts can be used to put a small light exactly where we need it for emotional portraits. An OctoPad is so low profile, it can actually be within the scene, positioning the portable light exactly where we want.
Lens filters of various types can be used to add or enhance emotion in photos. We can use ND and GND filters in our setting up for high-key and low-key effects, color filters can radically change the emotion in photos.
Other filters such as soft focus filters or certain special effects are an excellent
Idea for how to create emotion in photos. Combine filters with well-placed lights, exposure techniques, lens choice, and subject posing for a full range of possibilities as emotional portraits.