How to capture emotion in your photos

I’m not a professional photographer, but I do enjoy capturing my life with photographs. One of my favourite things to capture are my friends and family, preferably candid shots that show their true selves rather than something that’s posed and unnatural. Capturing emotion in photos is really hard though! People tend to tense up, plaster a fake smile on their face and stand their either awkwardly, or in a model kind of pose.

Luckily, there are a few different things you can do to help your peeps relax, so you can capture emotion in photographs.



One thing I’ve noticed time and time again is that when a camera comes out, everyone goes into hiding, or they start acting weird and uncomfortable. The truth is, most people hate getting their picture taken, which is a shame. But if you want to capture your friends’ and family members’ true emotions you’re going to have to be patient.

The first few photos you take will probably look forced or awkward. So be patient. After a while everyone will begin to relax and you will be able to capture emotion with ease.

Talk and Ask Questions


People are generally uncomfortable when they’re in front of a camera (not everyone, but most). That’s why it’s so important to make them feel comfortable and relaxed when you’re trying to capture genuine  emotion in your photographs.

Whenever you’re trying to take a picture of someone make sure to talk to them. Talk, talk, talk and ask questions. Make sure to keep the tone of the conversation lined up with the kinds of photos you’re taking. If you want to capture a serious emotion, keep the conversation serious. Or if it’s a fun photo shoot, keep the conversation fun. Etc. etc.

Be Silly


Depending on the kinds of emotions you want to capture, you might have to get a little silly. When I worked in a portrait studio I felt like such a dork whenever I was trying to get people to smile, but once I got over myself and embraced being silly I had a much better time and so did everyone else. A genuine laugh is so much nicer looking than a forced smile, so even if you had to be kind of silly to make them laugh, it will be worth it!

Click Away


Sometimes it helps to wait for the perfect moment. If people hear your camera clicking away they might notice you and tense up. However, there are times when you shouldn’t wait for the perfect moment but instead just click away. Most of my favourite photos were captured by taking a zillion pictures.

Digital cameras and iPhones can typically hold thousands of photos, so you have the opportunity to take as many pictures as it takes to capture their true emotion. I find the best times to click away are at big events, where people won’t notice you right away. Or if you’re trying to take pictures of kids or animals. They usually won’t notice or care, and they’re fast so you have to take a lot of photos before you can capture them.

In-Between Moments


Some of the best emotions are captured in-between moments. Always have your camera ready, especially in-between poses. One thing I’ve noticed with my friends, is that soon as they think I’m about to put my camera down they relax, and that’s when I quickly capture them! HA!

Do you enjoy taking photos of people? What are some tricks and tips you use to capture emotion in photographs?

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  1. I love taking pictures of other people! Like you mentioned, I talk and laugh with them and just start clicking away. The “in between” moments are usually my favorite.

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Yes! Talking and laughing with people while taking pictures is the best, and I agree, so are the in-between moments 🙂

  2. This is so great because the best pictures are always the ones that you can see their personality shine through. I started to smile at the first picture that you had here and could imagine how much fun it was to photograph. I love these tips!

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Exactly! And thank you so much! Photographing my daughter is always fun, because I know how to make her laugh haha!

  3. I love the in-between moments. It’s when you get their most natural expressions 🙂

  4. I agree, I love candid shots better – not just “sit there and stare” pictures. I absolutely love your header photo – it’s so great and she’s so cute! Thanks for this article – I am a newbie photographer so this’ll come in handy.

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Thank you so much! Candid shots are definitely the best! So happy to hear you found my post helpful!

  5. I tend to give up as soon as I see my friends tense up and just resign myself to not getting a candid. But these are great tips. My dad is a photographer and always uses these tricks. His candids of me are some of the best captures of the real me.

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Yeah, it totally takes patience with friends who tense up. Liquor helps, too, haha jk (although it does). That’s awesome that your dad is a photographer and has captured lots of nice photos of you! I need more photos of me lol

  6. I’m trying my hardest to take better pictures. You did an amazing job capturing the pictures on this post! My favorite is, “In Between Moments.” 🙂

  7. These are wonderful suggestions! I love capturing joy and happiness in my photos and I find making the subject laugh works every single time! 🙂

  8. Cole Nemeth Reply

    Yes! Those are the best emotions to capture, and you’re right, making them laugh will work every time!

  9. With kids, my best approach is usually the interrupting cow joke.
    Knock Knock
    Who’s there
    Interrupting Cow
    Interrupting co….

    (This also works with interrupting dinosaurs and all other assorted critters depending on the kid)

    When they are young, they can’t help laughing at it. When they are a little older, they get this really cute eye-roll / smirk / laugh even though they think they are too old for such silliness.

    With adults, I lie. I tell them I am just messing with my camera settings, trying to get the light right or whatever and these aren’t the real photos. They ignore me and relax, meanwhile I am shooting away and getting great shots.

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      That’s such a cute way to photograph kids! I’ll have to keep that one in mind! In the photo studio my manager used to do silly things to get the adults to laugh, just as if they were kids, and it always worked ha ha. But I really do like your trick of pretending to mess with the camera settings!

  10. Are all of the pictures by you? They’re great! Especially the ones of children, children can be so hard to photograph!

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Yep! I took all of these, and thank you! Children are difficult to capture for sure.

  11. Isobel Morrell (@Coldhamcalling) Reply

    What lovely photographs! You’ve captured the moods of the models so beautifully! Afraid, I’m very much of the “hold it up, and click” variety of photographer!

    • Cole Nemeth Reply

      Thank you! Clicking away is a great way to capture emotions!

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