Photo by Julien L on Unsplash

The best photography often conveys emotions, but how do you create emotional photography? How do you add feelings to your photos so you can move the viewer and ensure they connect with the piece?

When we take photos, our goal is to try to have the viewer emotional over what they see from your photo. A beautiful sunset sparks what emotion? A puppy sparks what emotion. And now we bring up this subject of how to take photos of emotions.

Typically, we use the human face to show emotions. Like the photo above, obviously shows LOVE.

First, let’s give you the basic list of emotions:

  • Anger: resentment, irritation, frustration;
  • Fear: apprehension, overwhelmed, threatened, scared;
  • Pain: sad, lonely, hurt, pity;
  • Joy: hopeful, elated, happy, excitement
  • Passion: enthusiasm, desire, zest;
  • Love: affection, tenderness, compassion, warmth;
  • Shame: embarrassment, humble, exposed;
  • Guilt: regretful, contrite, and remorseful


The emotional state of the photographer – that’s you! – has the largest impact on the emotional quality of your photos.

So whenever you head out with your camera, before you take a single shot, or even look for a shot, ask yourself: How am I feeling today? Then let that emotion guide your shooting, and channel it into your photos.

petaled flower on table inside dark room
Photo by Alan Cabello on

After all, it’s tough to infuse an image with an emotion that you aren’t feeling. If you’re over the moon with happiness, you’ll struggle to find sad or bleak compositions. And if you’re down in the dumps, creating awe-inspiring or uplifting images won’t be easy.

So start by identifying your emotions. Look for compositions that align with those feelings.

At the same time, it’s often worth rechecking your feelings periodically throughout your photoshoot. Depending on the view, the light, chance encounters, etc., emotions can change, and you don’t want to miss out on emotionally resonant shots because you’re searching for the wrong thing.

Photo by KE ATLAS on Unsplash


In wide, busy, expansive scenes, emotions often get lost. Yes, the emotion might be there, but the viewer will have a hard time noticing – the image may fall a bit flat, at least from an emotional point of view.

So if you’re looking to create emotional photography, consider simplifying the shot. Exclude elements from your frame. Choose a perspective that highlights a single area of interest, not the entire scene.

woman looking to her left
Photo by Rene Asmussen on

Use a telephoto lens if you do this, so you can focus in on just the subject and not have any distractions surrounding the subject.


A word of caution, however: Do not rush up with your lens, thrust it into a person’s field of view, and snap a shot, especially if they’re feeling emotional. Instead, be respectful. Whenever possible, ask permission, especially if you don’t know the person. (I often just raise my eyebrows while pointing at my camera, and it works great.)

A final piece of advice: Don’t encourage your subjects toward specific emotions. If they’re feeling sad, take a sad photo; if they’re feeling happy, take a happy photo; if they’re feeling tired, take a tired photo…You get the idea. Yes, it’s good to head into a scene with specific feelings in mind, but you must be adaptable, depending on the content of the scene.


Setting down your camera gives you time to observe the world. Just look around and see what pulls at your consciousness. Ask yourself: What interests me? What draws me? What do I want to capture? What matters to me about this scene?

These questions only take a minute or two, but they’ll help you identify new, emotionally resonant compositions, plus they might clarify your ideas about a scene and show you the way forward.

group of friends taking a group photo
Photo by Kindel Media on


Scenes look different on different days, and your feelings are different on different days, too.

Take advantage of that fact.

If you’re shooting a subject that you can return to, then do it. The street or beach or room or person will have a different feel on different days, especially if you’re photographing outdoors and the weather changes often.

Make sure you return to a location with an open mind. Don’t expect certain feelings, or you might be disappointed. Instead, clarify your emotions, then pretend you’re seeing the scene for the first time.

(Pro tip: Try changing up your approach each time you tackle the scene. Bring a different camera, use a different lens, shoot with a tripod, shoot a long exposure, etc. Anything to capture new emotional content!)

And who knows? If you return to the same scene/subject enough, you might even create a series, which can turn into a portfolio or an article or even a book.


Conveying emotion is a surefire way to create powerful images that connect with the viewer. Feelings will elevate your work and give it more punch.

This article is compliments of PETER WEST CAREY and he published this with Digital photography school.


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