How to capture Emotion and Feeling in your Photographs

How To Capture Emotion and Feeling in your Photographs by Steve Huff

So here I am on a sunny  morning wondering what the heck I am going to write about today. I feel like I am on a roll with the site. Traffic is up, my creativity is kicking back up into high gear, I am motivated, and I am looking forward to new and exciting things for the future. So…with all of this good stuff brewing, why is it that I have a hard time figuring out what to write about every day? Not sure, but one thing I do know…when I stop THINKING about it something usually comes to me!

I was going over some photos last night and the ones I were drawn to most were the ones in which some sort of emotion was captured in the photo. Im not a huge fan of posed photos, unless they are posed/candid at the same time. For my style of photography I prefer to capture “moments” just like many of the readers of this website do. Maybe why I love shooting Leica cameras so much. I feel they are kind of perfect for this type of photo. Sure a huge Nikon D3 could also capture emotion and a moment, but I do not want my wrist to kill me when I am out shooting for an hour on the street or just in every day use 🙂

Now I am not saying that a non-Leica can not capture emotion…not at all! I am even going to show examples here that were shot with the huge Canon 1DMKIV, which is an amazing camera. To me, any camera can capture that special moment, and capture the emotion. I just like Leicas for their size and I enjoy shooting a rangefinder. BUT I MUST ADMIT, That Canon MKIV was awesome to shoot a show with.

So how do we capture emotion in a photograph? Well, first we have to find a moment. Snapping a posed image of your cat or your kids will get you a nice photograph to frame, but if you try a little bit harder and take your time getting a more candid photograph then you may end up with something much more special. Onto some examples!

Here is an image I shot at a Seal concert. Sure, I took many shots of Seal and his band, but what about the audience? The audience is there to enjoy the show, to see their favorite performer, and they are part of the show as well! Some of my fave shots were taken of the crowd! This one I really like. I shot it with a Canon 1DMKIV and noticed all of these fans who were in awe of the man they were there to see. They were intense, they were having fun, and I wanted to capture it. A moment.

I sat there and waited until I found a moment I liked. I fired one shot, and one only. This was the result…

The woman on the left looking up excited to be there up so close, the person behind her clapping their hands, the man to the right taking video and his girlfriend to his right watching the performance. Then we have a guy about to take a drink but at the same time, never taking his eyes off of Seal. The man  to the right is just enjoying the show. There is so much going on in this photo, and its filled with a realness that packs it with emotion.

Another shot of the crowd but of one woman in particular who was absolutely LOVING the show. She was intense, never taking her eyes off of the stage. Singing every word, smiling, and just as happy as can be. I spotted her and watched her for a few minutes and snapped  the one image below isolating her face and smile from everything else. I did this by waiting for the moment and using a large aperture to make sure she was the main subject in this photo. I already had this envisioned in my head as my brain seems to tell my eyes to view things at F1 🙂 This was shot with a Leica M9 and Noctilux at f/0.95.

One more that I never published… Seal after 90-100 minutes of being on stage does a fist pump for the roaring crowd. At this moment he is enjoying the crowd as much as they enjoyed him. I wanted to capture the joy on his face and think I succeeded. Shot with the Canon 1DMKIV. Again, one shot and one shot only. Even with a DSLR I keep it on center spot focus, and single shot. I wait for the moments instead of hoping to get one out of every 100 shots I fire. That is the key…

Which leads me into a small rant about these rapid fire shooters who do that (rapid fire) with hopes they get a good shot. I was shooting a show once where the photographer next to me just kept firing away his Nikon D3 and he must have shot 3500 images that night, where I shot 150. I just cant imagine sitting there and going through 3000+ shots after an event. NO WAY! Again, for me, it is all about waiting for the moment. Keep your eye through the viewfinder, and WAIT FOR IT. Visualize, then, fire one shot. You may not nail every single one but your keeper rate will be high.

So lets move on to more everyday situations. When shooting a concert we have tons of opportunities to capture feeling and emotion in not only the performance but also the audience. When out and about with your camera, how do you capture those candid moments or avoid posed pictures that everyone seems to do so well?

Well, first of all, don’t worry about the rules all of the time. Think outside the box, and always have your camera with you. This is where it pays to have something small like an Olympus E-P2, or a Panasonic GF1 or even a Leica M9  or especially a Leica X1 (its so small and light and the IQ is fantastic). With these cameras, you can easily concentrate on capturing “moments in time” instead of just the same old posed images.


Dont be afraid to get off angles, cut off heads, mis focus a bit. Sometimes images like these can be very thought provoking and mysterious. Take your shots when your subject is relaxed and may not even be aware you are photographing them.

Also, there are times when you can take a posed shot and turn it into a shot full of emotion. Here is one I shot about 10 months ago or so and my son was with his friend and I asked them to try on these 3D glasses that came with some horror DVD. The first few shots they sat there and smiled. I didnt want that, I wanted a natural reaction! So I started telling jokes and acting goofy. They loosened up and started laughing and having fun. I then got these two shots..

Another one where my son was posing so I put my camera down to my side, he thought I was done and he made this oddball face. This wasn’t posed but he didn’t even know I lifted the camera up to snap! This is more of a goofy moment but still, it is a real moment and not a faked one 🙂

My nephew John was on the phone in a deep discussion with his Father and had no idea I was taking his picture. Shot with an M9 and 50 Lux in low light at high ISO but it still works. He was worried about something and it shows in his face. It’s one of those serious moments which can also be quite interesting.

again, the key..have your camera, wait for it, and dont let your subject know! Raise the camera when you see the moment coming or it is there. My son…he is so used to me taking his pictures that he usually makes a mean face or raises his hand now but here, he had no idea I was going to take the pic! I was using a Sony NEX5 and had it down where I could see the LCD and since it was away from my face, he was just talking and laughing about something else. I snapped and caught his happiness at that moment 🙂

So the next time you are out shooting or just hanging around the house looking for something to take pictures of remember to wait for the moment. Snapping blindly will lead to dull photos. When it comes to people photographs, take your time and watch your surroundings. Keep an eye out at all times. Walk the streets and be on the lookout! You will usually come away with some great moments and memories.

I will leave you with a few more shots…


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  1. Women are better photographers than men as a whole because women worry about their pictures, and not about their cameras. Men spend lifetimes researching and talking about cameras, which does nothing to advance their photography. There are so many farms that can help you to develop your photo for perfect shape, size, color, remove, retouch, restoration etc. So what are you thinking about your professional develop? This is also not very costly!

    To capture great emotional pictures, use whatever you have, and yes, that especially means your cell phone camera, and enjoy. Stop and ask other accomplished photographers and artists. Try to do something as better, discover something new and always be confident with your own work. If you need some edit or anything else like that which you cannot develop, get help from some professionals who can support you to make more beautiful of your picture.

  2. I usually ask myself the same question as in the first sentence, only in terms of my depression. I have been depressed for some time now and I’m still unsure on how to document it. If you have any suggestions just email me. I’m probably not leaving my desk tonight as usual so I’ll check it periodically; if that makes the message (if there is one) come any faster.

  3. I love this article!! Well said, like the street-shooting-style used on your family. This is engrained in my mind now, great articulation of ideas.

  4. A bit late with comments on this fine article, but I agree with all said. I have always said reality goes out the window once a camera appears, and the target begins the requisite ‘gurning’ at the lens, which I hate.
    So, I use stealth…

  5. Another thought provoking article, I have found myself making you a daily read. Your hard work is most appreciated. I have no idea why, but when I looked at the photograph, “seal12”, Thorsten Overgaard popped into my head. The subtle blend of cool and warm tones is beautiful!

  6. Love your pics and site. Very nice.. Took a few streetshots during a short holiday in Italy:



  7. I like your site enough to put in a link to it.The more traffic you get the better.I miss my M3 sometimes but I had to let it go back in 1970 and I cry when I see what you can get for them now from a collector.

  8. Dear Steve, this is one of the best articles on photography I’ve ever read. Thanks! We don’t have BH Photo here in the UK – is it possible for your Amazon links to link to country-specific Amazon rather than All the best, Charles

  9. having shot more shows than i care to admit there’s a happy medium between making a few photos (e.g., jim marshall) and the machine gun guys.

    i tend to do it in bursts. 3-4 frames at a time. i do that even when i shoot film.

    if you came back to an editor/client in the real world with 150 photographs, i think they’d be “not so happy.” on the other side … if you came back with 3500 photos after the standard 1-3 songs … there’d be an editor who would be really pissed off.

    i know a guy who can seriously fill up 32gb of photos in only a few songs. he’s also one of the biggest music guys on the planet who tours with u2 and um … big ones that i don’t listen to. he was one of the original partners in the biggest entertainment stock agency ever known recented sold to getty. i’ve been next to him when someone said “you shoot too much.”

    he laughed at them.

    and he laughs straight to the bank.

    it’s pretty much whatever suits your style. i’d rather be in the middle and be able to give the mags/clients more than less to look at. clients/mags appreciate it.

    only the jim marshall’s of the world could hand a client 30 frames and say “here ya’ go.”

    nice stuff!

  10. Hey Steve,

    Great article and I am glad things are getting better for you and you are starting to get your motivation back.

    Just wanted to comment on that picture with the blonde girl and her mum next to it….as we say in the UK…I think she’s “having you” haha.

    keep up the good work!!


  11. Pps: I never use continuous shooting on the D700. Well, actually once; at the starting time trial of the Giro d’Italia in Amsterdam this spring. Fitting circumstances, but the “hit and miss” approach didn’t really work. Manual pre-focusing (Zeiss 85) is a handicap and maybe I’m no sports photographer… LoL! 🙂

  12. Steve, you’re correct to speak about the D3 shooter and his rapid fire shooter…*to a degree*. In this instance, I, along with a lot of your readers here have been following your drama (yes, drama) of the situations with your family. In the mix of things, to take your mind off the stress, your famous friend invited you to tour with him on his concert and take photos with any camera that you wanted…even borrow his!

    I’d imagine that the previous D3 shooter you mentioned was probably working on a commission–perhaps you both were at the time. But I would bargain that this instance on the Europe tour, you were in a “friendship” role looking for “emotional, heart-filled, heart-capturing” shots for your personal portfolio, where the person on a payroll was actually working on a job. And everyone may be relaxed and chill about the entire thing, however, at the end of the day, if they are not producing in a satisfactory manner, they will not be there much longer to tour.

    • Hey!

      Thanks for the response. Just want to chime in and say that even if I was on a paid job, shooting a show, I would not use any type of motor drive for attempting to get shots. I shot a few shows in Europe, and yes, Seal, as a friend, invited me to do so. BUT, that did not take away from me wanting to find both wonderful shots of the performances, but also crowd shots which can be equally as wonderful. Now, if this were a paid job, sure, I would not concentrate os much on the crowd but still would grab a few shots. But no firing away at 7-10FPS for me. Just not my style.

      In any case, lots of good came from that trip. It helped my healing a bit, it boosted my creativity, and many of the photos are making their way to something very special..soon! Actually, two things that are pretty cool. So I am happy 🙂

      Thanks for the comment!

  13. Thanks Steve, great article, love it.

    Of course it’s possible with any camera (some posters prompted this additional remark); please don’t think the only way to get shots like this is to fork out M money. Any camera, sensibly used (as Steve does) will do it. Look at photography’s history.

  14. Yes, timing is everything. Than old saying that “Less is more” can be worked in this theme. I will probably never own a Leica, due to the financial thing, but lessons here are sunk in to this head (if you know what I mean) to help me along my craft. Great job, and wonderful subject. I would like to see some of this emotion in the NY shoot coming up…. cheers all

    • You may want to try an M3 and an old 50 Summicron DR – I will bet you you can get a “non-collector” user for less than a thousand bucks and sell it for the same or more years from now – or the next day 🙂


  15. Pss.

    I really can’t help it – something is wrong with me it’s like a disease.

    You really really think a motor drive could nail this?

    [img] 491.jpg[/img]

  16. Very inspirational photos! Really great captures. And good advice I guess, but so hard to do. 🙂 I often find that when I wait, the moment is lost. I guess because it is often the case that I also want to participate in the moments, so I don’t walk around with the camera on & ready the whole time being only an observer.

  17. Ps. I just can’t help it, I cannot shut up. Forgive me…

    Even when I did “posed”, actually not really posed – more directed stuff way back a lifetime ago shooting commercial fashion THE shot was completely based on the FACE and the nuance it held. Great models happen to be great actors – regular people not so much. Just wanted to point out that this is important even in commercial shooting for some genres but I guess you mean “normal” people when you referenced “posed”.

    Sorry – I really can’t shut up.


  18. Steve,

    What else can you say – I agree 100%. Well then again it’s me so I have to say something so let me add to your motor-drive sentiments.

    Yes motor-drive/high frame rates have their uses but for me one of them is NOT faces of people. Even at 8FPS you end up with MAYBE the shot you wanted, more likely you end up with the shat before you wanted and the shot after you wanted. Faces are amazing things they change so fast the only way you can be sure you got it is to take it NOW with a camera that has NO lag… hmmm sounds like Leica M territory. Ooops sorry to bring that L word up again.


  19. excellent lesson !
    I think that’s your addiction to the Leicas had some influence on your behaviour when taking pictures
    I am addicted to your blog and your photography , that’s why it was a pleasure to give a donation to you from … France

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