15 Easy Ways To Capture Expressions In Photography

Photo by Clarisse Meyer

When it comes to capturing the perfect photo, there’s more work that goes into shooting than many perceive. Beyond the camera, with its many settings and lenses, and the subject – there’s authenticity and emotion. These are two critical characteristics that should describe any image, whether lifestyle or portrait. So what is the best way to capture expressions photography either on set or in a studio?

Believe it or not, minus the skill, caliber, and education that goes into the fundamentals of photography and shooting incredible content, it’s always important to remember there is a person behind the camera looking for communication and guidance. One can also say – this means being a people person and adding a little chat session into your next shoot. But not to fear, below we’ve broken down fifteen of the easiest ways you can connect with your image’s subject and create incredible expressions photography that exudes life and personality.  

Before The Shoot

Prior to an upcoming shoot, there may be a myriad of bullet points written on our checklists to work through. When it comes time to mark off personal to-dos (like packing equipment or setting up permits), those points are addressed and seem somewhat obvious to handle. This should also be the mindset when it comes to client relationships and setting up a list of expectations for both the photographer and the subject (as a unit). List items to complete before the shoot can range, they can be anything from: getting to know one another, talking about where to shoot, and even what to wear or pack. This is particularly important if your client is new to being on camera, for example: engagement or wedding photos.

There may be a level of discomfort the day of the shoot if no familiarity has been set and expectations are not set or addressed with your client. Additionally to newbies, there must also be pre-production or set list of to-dos when working with brands and upcoming campaign imagery. As there is usually a set of tones a brand is looking to hit, especially when it comes to expressions photography, it’s best to cover all basis before heading into shoot day.  

  1. Setting The Location

Besides having locations squared away before the shoot regarding specialized and licensed permits, it’s crucial to communicate location and possible settings with your subjects before arriving the day of. Not only will it make sure your clients get there on time, but it will allow their mindsets to adapt to the environment. For example, if shooting a couple’s engagement photos in the city and they happen to be from the suburbs, it may take them a while to acclimate to any atmosphere changes ( pedestrians watching as they walk by, sounds of sirens, or constant chaos/commotion).

Many photographers enjoy collaborating with their clients (whether personal or brand) when it comes to setting up locations and going through personal preferences. Capturing expressions photography is known to be more comfortable if the subject feels comfortable and at ease throughout the shoot. If you’re having the shoot in a neighboring or personal studio, have the clients show up beforehand for a meet and greet, that way they’ll be more comfortable with the location their shooting in and not get anxious the day of.  

  1. Understanding The Reason For Shooting

Is a new and trendy product coming out? Is a company looking for a rebrand? Or are two love birds officially tying the knot and looking for someone to capture their special moments? No matter the occasion or the occurrence, every subject and client should be perceived as completely different when embarking on a photo shoot. There may be many reasons why someone (or something) wants to be in front of the camera, and it’s the job of the photographer to understand the ‘why’ before shooting.

In order to have your photo read authentically and create iconic expressions photography with every press of the shutter, a conversation about the objective and reason for the shooting is necessary. Whether talking with an agency (sometimes a brand) or an individual, there is a list of questions one should ask. Some include:

  • Why did you decide to schedule this particular shoot?
  • Where will the content be shown?
  • What message are you trying to convey?
  • How are you piercing the overall tone of the shoot?
  1. The Wardrobe

Photo by Clarisse Meyer

Just like many prepare their outfits for a job interview or a first date, a photo shoot shouldn’t be treated any differently. Besides coordinating with potential photography backdrops and not overpowering the shot, clothes and wardrobe can have a huge effect on demonstrating personality and accentuating expressions photography. Before shoot day, have a discussion regarding wardrobe with either the client or the assigned stylist. Talk about how to align your creative vision through the use of wardrobe and potentially props or accessories. From streetwear to formal, many different styles can speak to varying directions and tones throughout the imagery.

First and foremost, it’s important that the model feels both confident and comfortable on camera. If there’s any hesitation or insecurity, it will show and hinder a majority of the shots. Options is key when it comes to set wardrobe, altering outfits can ignite or inspire different aspects of expressions photography and give photographers more ability to play around.

While not necessarily pertaining to wardrobe and outfit choices, there is also something to be said about discussing hair and makeup before shooting. Whether a stylist will be on set or the model/s are coming fully ready to shoot – just like clothing hair and makeup can have huge effects on the final outcome if the tone clashes or there is any sense of discomfort on set.

  1. Who Is Your Subject

We’ve discussed why you’re shooting your subject, but not who he or she is – which is next on our list. Knowing the fundamentals of the person on the other end of your camera is crucial, especially if looking to capture character and expressions photography. Is your model a regular who has the poses and the lingo down? Or is this someone’s first time shooting in front of a professional camera? Understanding your subject is the first step, which is followed by getting to know your client.

As someone who is bold and outgoing will respond to direction very differently than someone, who is shy and timid. Both communication and connection jive on the relationship a photographer has made with his/her model, and to make that association work, comprehending and assimilating to your subject is key.

Below we’ve provided a couple of sample questions to ask your subject before shooting:

  • How often have you posed in front of the camera?
  • If a newbie or first timer – Are there any hesitations you may have about being shot on camera?
  • If a regular – Why style of photography are you most comfortable with shooting (i.e. lifestyle, portrait, artistic)?
  • Would you like feedback during your shoot?
  • What style of communication fits you best, direct or conversational?

  1. Meet Beforehand

This may go without saying but meet your client or subject beforehand. While many of us are still convinced we know someone by simply following their Instagram handle or texting over the phone, there’s a huge difference between chatting with someone at a friend’s party and being (relatively) intimate and engaged with someone (for an hour or so) during a photo shoot. There’s a reason many of us have great photos when our friends or loved ones take a couple of dozen shots of us on vacation – it’s because the subject is comfortable.

So while talking about logistics, or while signing paperwork, meet up at a coffee shop or personal studio before and create that friendly demeanor. No, you don’t have to be best friends, but you do want to create amazing content full expressions photography. A major way to secure this type of work style and behavior is to meet beforehand and establish that comfort.

  1. Share Your Creativity

Photo by Clarisse Meyer

Some individuals are left-brained, and some are right – those who are right-brained, tend to be the brilliant artist and photographers we all come to know and love. As photographers (biologically) see the world very different than many of us, it’s important to share or express your thoughts and opinions on subject matters when it comes to shooting content. A client may have an idea of what they’re trying to capture, but you are the creative and have a vision too. Many creatives, including photographers, are afraid to speak up as they don’t want to offend or hurt their client’s relationship standing. But! Without being derogatory or pushy, share your insights.

Creative brains work magnificently and beautifully, they often think of things many other people can’t. More often than not, photographers will be surprised by the positive reinforcement and acceptance they receive for their ideas – so don’t be afraid to speak up. Your clients may even thank you for the perspective. This is imperative for your subject to have a creative bond with you if expecting to capture expressions photography. They’re genuine interest and belief in the shoot will go far in their gestures and subtle facial and physical details.

Warming Up

The first five minutes behind the camera can be nerve-racking. A model or a newbie can have that instant awkward feeling, get caught up in the action, and freeze up. That’s why it’s imperative to set up several warming up techniques when on set. It’s not a reflection on how they are as a subject, nor you as a photographer. It’s human nature to feel vulnerable when having to reveal your personality through your body, especially when trying to shoot expressions photography. Creating that instant chemistry on (and behind the camera) can lead to beautiful content, but a fun and healthy working environment.

  1. Open Dialogue

Just as you would have small talk with your doctor before a check-up, or open a morning meeting with common generalities, a day on set is no different. In fact, being on set should feel like you’re running into an old friend by the way the conversation is flowing. Did the person in front of your camera have a good morning?

Do they have plans after the shoot? These common, yet caring questions show that you’re not just a blank slate behind a lens, but a kind and interesting human being. This will also help free up any nerves happening on the other end – the sound of our own voice tends to soothe us, so by having our subjects talk aloud it will have a naturally calming effect. And the calmer they are, the easier it will be to show emotion and deliver expressions photography.

  1. Test Shots

Yes, some of these shots are for you to get the lighting just right and the shutter speed set, this is also for your model/s. Just like they say, “dance as if no one is watching,” it’s quite definitive that someone who dances in private is much more willing to dance in a club or at a wedding. Reason for the comparison? Practice makes perfect.

During these test shots, your subject will be under the notion that these photos don’t count, and will build their confidence and esteem behind the camera during this first couple of shots. Keep drawing out the test shots until you feel like your subject is being assimilated into the current environment and is ready to capture expressions photography as show it all on camera.

  1. Setting Expectations

Photo by Clarisse Meyer

Being upfront at the beginning of a shoot is a huge way to create both a professional and comfortable environment. If the shoot started later, or the weather looks like it’s going to turn, don’t be afraid to communicate any potential mishaps, scheduling, and workflow with both your subject and client (kudos if they’re the same person). Part of the art when it comes to expressions photography is getting the honest and true core from a person’s character and personality.

By being upfront and setting expectations, you’re creating that sense of honesty and trust between you and your subject which will work itself out over the length of the shoot. The flip side to that situation, if you set unrealistic expectations or become closed off to your model/subject, you’re going to miss out on any chance to straighten out any mishaps or corrections in an authentic way.

During The Shoot

Now that you’ve set up an outstanding relationship with your model/subject it’s the photographer’s responsibility to keep this relationship strong throughout the length of the shoot to ensure the best expressions photography is demonstrated. Unfortunately, the work in the upfront is not enough buffer to keep this rapport alive the entire time. There are a handful of communication tasks and general management tips to use along the way.

Each developing further comfort and a stronger relationship between the photographer and the model as they’re demonstrated. While there is no scientific formula when it comes to the creative field and mastering artistry, there is a relative work style that helps better human connectivity – and that my friends is an aspect of photography that can promote the building of excellent content.

  1. Capture Candids

We love flashing those pearly whites any chance we get, but there are times those images aren’t the ones we post on our social platforms or framed on our mantelpieces. The true special moments, the images that project expressions photography, are candids. They’re the silly laughing photos, or the look to the side gifs. As a constantly moving society, candid demonstrate the person we are twenty-four seven, versus the posed (sometimes seen as pretending) photos.

While capturing both are crucial to developing an amazing portfolio piece, or lookbook for an event, there’s something truly incredible about candids that should not be taken for granted. Everyone loves candids, but shooting ‘cute’ or ‘fitting’ candids can be harder than it appears. To tell someone to laugh or smirk is just as posed as a smile may seem. The way to capture candids is to bring true emotion into the shoot. Take a candid laughing picture? You’re going to have to tell a joke. Capturing a photo while smirking? It’s the job of photography to bring in some cheeky or witty conversation.

  1. Know Your Poses

Unfortunately, there’s no universal menu of modeling poses to hash out at the beginning of every shoot (and now that we say this,  a posing menu needs to get underway ASAP). Each person’s attitude and body are different, so posing each client the same will get really awkward and boring very quickly. This is where knowing a range of flattering body poses and placement will come in handy.

Especially when it comes to lifestyle photography. One aspect that can genuinely kill expressions photography is the awkward head tilt of a non-complying model. Body poses must work and fit each subject differently and spark both creative and expressive energy while also being flattering.  

  1. Forget The Cheese

Photo by Clarisse Meyer

For the love of all things artsy and creative, avoid the phrase ‘say cheese’ or any variation of the sort. There’s nothing worse than a forced and grimacing grin. Smiles should feel and be authentic when shot on camera. If deciding to go the smile route, the setting and situation should call for enlightened happiness with no utter of the phrase that haunts every childhood picture day.

Additionally, why not try for piecing soft smiles and quirky smirks. There is a wide variety of facial movements and expressive behavior when it comes to shooting expressions photography. It’s up to photographers to explore the talent and see what movements you’ll be able to capture. By pushing your subject to try new avenues and give off certain elemental looks when comfortable can prove beneficial to the final end look.

  1. Give Feedback

Speaking of dialogue with your talent, it’s okay to give feedback. You won’t be stepping on toes or hurting a potential client relationship you’ll be doing an excellent job directing and may be thanked more so. By letting your client/subject know how they’re doing, you’re giving off a status report (of sorts) that can help guide the remainder of the shoot in a positive way.

While yes, don’t be unsettling or rude (as that will for sure create unwanted tension), do be direct and complimentary. If there’s something you see your subject doing that works for them on camera – tell them! Whether their eyes, their smile, etc, it’s ideal to showcase in expressions photography, what part of them captures best of camera.

  1. Give Them A Story

Every avenue of artistic direction is telling it’s own story. To the naked and uncreative eye, it’s hard to spot – but that’s why it’s up to the photographer to relate to the audience (which in this case in the client or talent) and describe the story. Why was this particular backdrop chosen, why did you decide to go with a certain lense – everything a photographer chooses to do, has meaning and is significant. So why not talk about it.

By openly conversing about the shoot’s story, it will create a level of respect for your work and your process by those on set. Plus, when the direction is understood completely, it may allow for the talent to incorporate levels of adapting to create the most desirable end look.

  1. Pay Attention To Subtle Clues and Details

Photo by Clarisse Meyer

Often times, our talent (especially if new to the photography scene) will not say what they’re thinking of how they’re feeling in order to create a smoother photo session for everyone on set. While they believe it’s in studio/crew’s best interest to keep quiet, it could be unknowingly messing with your expressions photography session.

Pay attention to the subtle clues and details to make sure nothing is occurring behind closed doors. For example, your talent looks uncomfortable and has been making small movements within the last twenty minutes; you also noticed five empty bottles of water beside the set – call for a bathroom break. The fear of disturbing the shooting flow and running into overtime costs is enough to make anyone think they can hold it.