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How to get better expression in your photography

This is the follow-up post to Expression Trumps All Else

Expression is really just emotion shining through.  Most people can’t fake emotion, and more than likely, your clients are ‘most people.’  So it’s our job, as professional photographers, to find, extract and capture the feelings that they are often too nervous to share.

Over the years, I have come to realize that I am drawn to expression over all else – and my clients are, too.  I have learned how to explain what I saw and why I captured it as I did so that my clients can see what I see – but even without all of that?  They know what they feel. 

Here are my 3 tips to bring out more emotion in your subjects…

1. Don’t Rush The Moment.  I have found that it is often a half a second after I have pushed the shutter down that the real emotion comes through.  Realizing this, I have been able to train myself to have my shutter half-way down with my focal point locked in… and then I wait.  I wait for the emotion to shine through

I like to quick-fire several shots for a storyboard that I can use on the blog or as a ‘thank you’ gift, but I always end with the expression shot: the one that makes you feel something.


2. Be A Comedian.  It’s our job to extract the emotion.  Have you ever had a client tell you, “This is going to be hard work for you!” because they are terrible at being photographed?  Of course you have; we all have!  This is your client practically begging you to help save them from their awkward expressions.

This adorable couple apologized multiple times in advance for how ‘un-photogenic’ they are.  Do they look like they are having any trouble in front of the camera?  Definitely not!  In fact, this is one of my favorite maternity sessions I’ve ever shot.  After only a few moments, I figured out what the problems were.  The first was that he blinked a lot; with some minor adjustments I fixed that.  The second was just an overall sense of unease with all the attention (and the lens) directed at them.  Also not a problem.  I just turned the focus to me.

Often, self-deprecation works wonders for  bringing out great smiles!  That’s right, they are not laughing with me… They are full-on laughing at me!  And I’m happy to sacrifice my pride for the shot!

3. Ask Thought-Provoking Questions.  I will often ask my clients questions that will evoke the emotion that I am looking for.  Lots of times, I’m not even privy to the answers, because I have them whisper it to each other.  When their mindset changes from “There is a camera in front of me…” to “Oh, my goodness, I love you!” it becomes much easier to get that love ‘n feeling that we so hope to document.  I use this techniques for love birds, new parents, siblings, old parents – really it can be adapted for any situation!



  1. This is fabulous advice! Thanks for sharing! I especially adore the shots of the expecting couple. Love their faces!

  2. Sophie says:

    Love the whispering idea. So cute!!!

    • It’s really fun… You get a pretty good idea what they must have said. For example, the way she laughed I knew he told her that his favorite thing happened to be a body part. LOL

  3. Great Ideas!
    I’ve always just waited for the right moment, when the smile relaxes or a couple is looking at eachother and decide to just kiss!
    For young children, I ask them if they have a boyfriend/girlfriend, about princesses or bugs, and if they’re ticklish… I get lots of shots of them talking but they’ll at least look at me and talk to me, and smile when i talk about how Cinderella dances, or what if i tickle them right now! 🙂 and I normally always take them away from Mom & Dad, if they’re around 2 or older. They can be themself, and not looking at sister/brother/mom telling them to behave!
    For my couples, I tell them I have 2 rules: #1 always be touching or kissing. #2 talk to eachother, not to me! Never fails, I get great shots just from them either following the rule, or realizing they broke a rule and joke around about my silly rules!

  4. Terri says:

    Leah, great advice and tips. You left me soooo curious though about how you fixed the problem of the young man who blinked a lot. What did you do to help correct that?

    • I have them both close their eyes…. And I count 1, 2, 3 – open (and have them ready to look right into the lens) and that fixes it. Of course a few still sneak in but for the most part I can keep it in check after that! The trick is making sure you notice it in your view finder and NOT when you get home and are looking on your giant monitor. That is the worst! 😉

  5. Erin says:

    Thanks so much for your post! I’m pretty new to photography, and trying to learn everyng I can about making photo sessions more relaxed. I appreciate your tips!

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