Capturing Real Moments and Connecting with Your Subjects


When I watched Darren’s video the other day on the difference between great photographers and good ones, it really got me thinking. It’s very rare that you actually see a post anywhere online that teaches about capturing powerful moments or emotions in photography and really connecting with your subjects. Most posts are about technique, camera settings, and this sort of thing. There is nothing wrong with technical articles, I find them extremely helpful and most of the time that is what I write about, but I figured in light of Darren’s video I would try and give some insight into how I try and capture moments in my images that convey emotion and tell stories.

I think the main reason we write technical articles is because everything technical is black and white. Here’s how it goes: I know how to do something that others may not be aware of, so I write an article telling how to do it with concrete steps of how to achieve that specific technique. Pretty easy, yes?

Writing an article about creating a telling image or connecting with your subject is a completely different story. It’s difficult to put into words what all goes through a photographers head when a moment happens. I think Darren nailed it when he said that a great photographer is someone that has a natural ability to see moments and compositions, but also has the necessary skill set to execute the moment in whatever way he/she sees fit.

If you have a great eye for photography, but still shoot in automatic, your creative vision is being choked out because you have no say (except for composition) on how that image will turn out. On the flip side, if you are an incredibly technical photographer, but have no eye for it or you are awkward with people, you will have technically perfect images with absolutely no feeling or emotion to them. I’ve seen this all too often with portraiture. I see these photographers with elaborate studio sets with lighting and backdrops and soft boxes and beauty dishes and snoots and grids and you name it. They can describe in detail how they lit the scene and why they placed each light in each position. They can shape light as they see fit and are experts at exposure and white balance, but the end result is a dreadfully boring portrait that looks like something out of a high school yearbook. When you only have one half of the equation, you will be lacking as a photographer. It’s only when you develop both that you can become great. Some photographers are naturals at this, and can achieve greatness very soon in their careers. Others may spend decades pursuing it, and some their entire life.

Capturing Real Moments

So, how do you write an article on something as abstract as capturing a moment in a real and powerful way? Well, I don’t completely know how to answer that, but I will do my best here and hope you will let me know if it helped out.

1.) Let your clients have some creative freedom – For my portrait work, I always try and include a proper mix of candid moments and a bit of posing. I don’t spend much time posing really. I’ll have the person(s) I’m shooting stand/sit/lay down at a certain spot. I’ll tell them roughly what I’m looking for and let them fill in the blanks on their own. I may even significantly pose them, but then take pictures as the pose degrades into a more natural look.

2.) Don’t be afraid of making a fool out of yourself – Posing isn’t bad if it’s done right, and there’s nothing I hate more than an over posed portrait. At some point you have to release control and start working on making your subject comfortable enough to be themselves. This can be done by telling lame jokes, making a fool of yourself (I’m a natural at this), or just by having a good time with your subjects. The less ‘professional’ you make your shoot, the more natural of a mood you will get from your clients.

3.) Invest actual time into getting to know your client – I do everything I can to get actual face time in with any client before I get behind a camera. If it’s a wedding, I insist on meeting the bride and groom in person before the wedding. This can be done via an engagement session, coffee, or even skype. In fact, any client that I book I do my best to set up some time (even 5 minutes) before the shoot to get to know the person(s) I’m photographing.

If you are great with people, then photograph people. If you are not a people person (and there’s nothing wrong with that), then find something else to photograph!

I think the best thing to do here is to just throw up some examples of shots that I consider successful, and I’ll do my best to convey what went in to getting the shot.

Say hello to my nephew Caleb! I grabbed this shot of him last Easter over at my sister’s house. Like any toddler, he is a very messy eater, and these Easter cookies were calling his name. I spent a few minutes beforehand playing with him and getting him into a good mood. I tickled him, made silly faces, and when the time was right – gave him a cookie. I set him up on this swing and had his mom stand over my left shoulder and make some more silly faces at him. It took a few attempts to get a good shot, but eventually I came up with this one. I shot it with my 5D MkII and a 50mm 1.4 wide open, natural light.

This image is from a lifestyle shoot I did for Mike and Beth. Both of them are really great people, so I just had to wait for the right moments during the session. I had Mike place his arm on the brick wall and told him to try and make her laugh. Just before this shot, he tickled her side with his left hand and she batted it away out of the frame. This was shot with a 1Ds Mk III, also with a 50mm lens at f/4.

Here’s a great example of getting to a session and meeting all of your subjects for the first time. Teenagers can be difficult to shoot sometimes, but it’s all about getting them to act naturally as they would any other day, or getting them to do exciting things that they normally wouldn’t. For starters, I convinced the entire family to jump a fence onto private property to go shoot by a pond that was about 25 yards from the fence line (please no comments about how I shouldn’t have jumped the fence, it was harmless and we knew who the owners were). The brother was the oldest, so I had him get behind his two sisters and put his arms around them. I then told him to go ahead and choke them and get it over with. That made everyone laugh and the youngest sister grabbed his arm right away and looked away. I loved this shot as soon as I saw it, and was excited to show it to the client.

Now this was a fun wedding! Daniel and Lauren got married last summer in Cancun, Mexico and it was an absolute blast. Getting your subjects comfortable around you isn’t always something you do in an instant. Sometimes, it’s a process, and once your subjects know they can be themselves around you, great shots are going to present themselves. Daniel and Lauren were so excited to get married, I simply told them to show me how excited they were, and this is what happend.


I hope these images and commentaries have given you some good ideas to go out and try in your own work. If you want to know a secret, I’m not the most social person out there. When I’m shooting a wedding or meeting clients for the first time to do a session, I’m constantly forcing myself out of my comfort zone to get good shots and connect with my clients. It’s not something that comes natural to me, I’ve had to constantly work on it and hone my techniques through trial and error.

If you have tips to share that have worked for you, please share them below, we want to hear from you!

Follow me on Twitter if you don’t already (@jamesdbrandon), I’m always looking for other photogs to connect with!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

James Brandon is a landscape photographer and educator residing in Dallas, Texas. Join 20,000+ photographers and get access to his free video tutorial library at his website. James also has an online store full of video courses, ebooks, presets and more. Use the coupon code "DPS25" for an exclusive discount!

  • the wedding photo is a prime example of one of my problems.
    stand in the shade and face looks underexposed.
    stand in the sun and it’s overexposed.
    i wonder what are your opinion on this

  • Kristina

    This article is excellent. I love the real examples you gave. I’m not very social, but definitely willing to get out of my comfort zone for some good shots. Plus I do get manic, so I know I can be pleasant sometimes. I’ll definitely try this out when I do portraits. The trouble is, what do you do if you’re not a quick thinker?

  • Great article, as a young & upcoming photographer I myself sometimes find it difficult to
    convey true emotion within my images. I will surely take these tips into consideration.

  • Really nice article. Here is a real moment captured at a wedding shoot last July: [eimg link=’’ title=’Alex and Kirsty’s Wedding-Bride & Groom High Five-2MG_0104′ url=’’] May the good light be yours! Scott.

  • Derek Lowry

    Excellent article. I really liked the examples. I will keep these tips in mind from now on…..

  • Krista

    I really enjoyed this article! It is great to see a photo and to hear what went in to getting the shot. I myself am not the most social person but am willing to go out of my comfort zone, and find it encouraging to hear I am not alone.

  • Great article! I liked that you talked about what you did in different pictures. It shows each circumstance is going to be different and every person is different.

  • Does this photo fall into what you were talking about/describing? I had a GREAT session with this couple!! You could tell how happy they truly were!!

    I totally agree with you–getting to know your clients & having them comfortable around me (the photographer) & you (the photographer) being comfortable & your self around them (Your clients)!!

    Here’s my Pinterest link:

    Here’s my Facebook link:

    Feedback & constructive criticism is very much welcome!!

    Also any visitors, likes, repins, shares, etc…. Are all very much appreciated!!

Some Older Comments

  • Krista March 3, 2011 02:19 pm

    I really enjoyed this article! It is great to see a photo and to hear what went in to getting the shot. I myself am not the most social person but am willing to go out of my comfort zone, and find it encouraging to hear I am not alone.

  • Derek Lowry March 2, 2011 05:21 am

    Excellent article. I really liked the examples. I will keep these tips in mind from now on.....

  • Scott A. McNealy March 2, 2011 02:54 am

    Really nice article. Here is a real moment captured at a wedding shoot last July: [eimg link='' title='Alex and Kirsty's Wedding-Bride & Groom High Five-2MG_0104' url=''] May the good light be yours! Scott.

  • Rhett McCarthy March 1, 2011 01:37 pm

    Great article, as a young & upcoming photographer I myself sometimes find it difficult to
    convey true emotion within my images. I will surely take these tips into consideration.

  • Kristina March 1, 2011 07:20 am

    This article is excellent. I love the real examples you gave. I'm not very social, but definitely willing to get out of my comfort zone for some good shots. Plus I do get manic, so I know I can be pleasant sometimes. I'll definitely try this out when I do portraits. The trouble is, what do you do if you're not a quick thinker?

  • Singapore Wedding Photography February 27, 2011 06:04 pm

    the wedding photo is a prime example of one of my problems.
    stand in the shade and face looks underexposed.
    stand in the sun and it's overexposed.
    i wonder what are your opinion on this

  • Andrés February 26, 2011 10:56 am

    I spend some free time as a photographer of a foundation, since then I have been into different situations where I have to combine those two aspects, technique and emotions. I think I achieved those two themes with this picture,

    I'll be glad to hear your comments.


  • Emmanuelle February 26, 2011 06:01 am

    Great ideas. Would love to hear your opinion on my portraiture on my website and whether you think I connect with my clients too. What needs to be improved? Would love a few tips by email if you have time. Thanx.

  • Tammy February 26, 2011 05:15 am

    Great article! I love hearing what other photographers go through to get the shots! I do the things you mentioned here but wondered how others worked. On getting to know your clients.... I live in a rural area and find I have a lot of repeat customers. That makes it so much easier! I know them, they know me.

    Thanks for the info. Love hearing it.

  • Susan February 26, 2011 03:46 am

    I agree... get to know your clients, interact, laugh, joke, so they can "let their
    hair down". You'll get unexpected, of kind shots.
    Can't attach a photo here, but on my website you can see
    at "Candid Clicks" page, and throughout the website.
    I love candid and natural.... but posed are also necessities.

  • Paul February 25, 2011 10:48 pm

    I like this article a lot, you could also maybe add just one more tip..... don't faff around with the camera or you'll loose that contact you've worked hard to create!

  • Louise Denton February 25, 2011 02:49 pm

    Great article.
    Very helpful - obviously can't be a complete guide, but definitely enough to be thought provoking and getting me thinking outside the box.
    I have some friends who have asked me to do some of their wedding photography, but I have never done portraits before, so your article has been particularly helpful with getting me to think about it!
    I'm going to write down some ideas of shots and take a list with me to the wedding - I know it sounds goofy, but it's articles like this that give me the ideas and then I forget what they are!
    Thank you.

  • Vicky February 25, 2011 12:18 pm

    Great words James...!!!

    Love to hear more...!!!

    Very helpful and neatly composed..!!![

  • Sharon Buckley February 25, 2011 11:38 am

    Something that I have used in a people posed shot is Taking the posed picture. Then telling them to pretend that they know each other. Makes some genuine great pictures. The first one is stiff...The second is so relaxed and real!
    I am always learning things from this site! Thanks lots!!!

  • Qais February 25, 2011 10:00 am

    Another great article James! this fits perfectly with the technique I use and thousands of pro and amatuer photographers still do it. It's when you ask your subject/s to say CHEESE before taking a pic!!. Really? why would you want someone to give you a fake smile if you can achieve it naturally?. To get my subjects smile or laugh I tell them a silly joke like James mentioned (person with highest/biggest smile/jump gets a lolipop etc).

    The only obvious time I wouldn't suggest these techniques is when you doing a glamour, fashion etc.

  • jeff February 25, 2011 09:31 am

    Question for you - Has anyone noticed a difference between shooting candids with a dSLR or a P&S/M43 camera?

    I'm wondering if it's easier for subjects to get used to you if they can see your face vs. being behind a viewfinder. Someone planted this seed in my head and was curious what experiences, if any, any of you have had.

  • Norm Levin February 25, 2011 08:00 am

    This is a topic near and dear to my heart. In my portrait work, I've learned that the best images of people are not posed. Yet, they are planned, though. I take great care to find the location, time of day and setting for my subjects. Once there, I encourage them to interact with each other, paying less attention to me. Recently I photographed a young engaged couple, whose wedding I'll be shooting later this year. At first they were uncomfortable in front of the camera. After some gentle shots, we moved around our location to a more secluded one where I was able to get some wonderfully sweet, intimate moments.

    I don't consider myself a "people person". However, I do bring a passion to my photography, strive for a true connection with my subjects and a desire to create images of themselves that portray their inner emotions.

    [eimg url='' title='15851257_hzX9J#1188610030_N99GK']

  • Catherine Cattanach February 25, 2011 07:07 am

    I like your "go ahead and choke them and get it over with" idea, and James McFarlane's "this is the one where you attack each other". Something here is obviously appealing to my darker side :-)
    I might be a bit of a pedant but I keep a list of lines like these, and quickly scan them before shoots, so that I've got a range of ideas to pull out of the bag if they seem appropriate given the atmosphere. I'm just wondering whether you might consider writing an article on these one-liners that are effective in generating natural smiles and laughs, and then in the comments section people can contribute what works for them?

  • Trep Ford February 25, 2011 07:05 am

    If photography is your "thing" (or one of them) and you find people a bit challenging (or a lot challenging), then you may actually find that photography can provide a bridge for carrying some of your comfort behind the lens into your interactions with people. Take my case as an example.

    Getting my start when I was about 13, I was always very comfortable as an adult being behind the camera, taking pictures of landscapes, architecture, aviation, historical and travel subjects. As someone said "things that don't move" didn't intimidate me at all. By the time I reached my 30's, I was very comfortable being a photographer, but NOT so comfortable with people, especially women. And the more attractive the woman, the more uncomfortable I was. One might assume, based on these facts, that working with models would have been a bad idea for me. Wrong.

    I took my comfort as a photographer, focused my courage, and started gradually working with very attractive women I met as my models. Eventually, I started working with professional models. It took time, a lot of willingness to make mistakes and, as the article says, to make a fool of myself ... but some amazing things happened as a result of my adventures shooting with my most dreaded subjects:

    1) With lots of practice and lots of mistakes, I turned my general knowledge of photography into expertise in photographing models.
    2) I discovered that of all the subjects I shoot, women inspired me more than any other form of photography.
    3) Inspired as I am by models as subjects, I learned in far greater depth about photography than I'd ever learned up to that point. Passion for what you do accelerates learning.

    But that's not all.

    4) Working with models on a regular basis, I overcame my fear of attractive women by gradually experiencing them more and more as people and less and less as "icons of beauty", as I'd always seen them before. After a few years, I realized, there was nothing to be afraid of or uncomfortable about. Models are just people who happen to be physically appealing.
    5) About 5 years after I started working with models, I was taking photographs at a local festival and was drawn to taking a shot of one of the festival vendors ... a shot I most likely never would have had the courage to set up in my "pre-model" days. The shot lead to a conversation which lead to an email which lead to more emails. We discovered a mutual love of photography, writing and many other things, and eventually got married.

    So don't let your fear of or discomfort with shooting people necessarily prevent you from exploring those "moving targets" that make your stomach go all wiggly inside. Overcoming such fears can be a very good thing, and photography can help. Trust your instincts. If it sounds like it might be fun ... go for it. :)

  • Sebastian February 25, 2011 06:13 am

    In some point, the comments lost the point of the post, though. I agree with James replying to Rob, when he said that all he felt as a distraction in the pictures is all he loved when he took them. I agree with him too about the fact we are all different kinds of photographers and that is what would make you stand out from the rest.
    The post was about capturing real moments and connecting with your subjects. I'm one of those who would smash his head against the wall when shooting people, because I really need to improve in my communication, even in real life though, but I feel very attracted about shooting people too, capturing gestures, reactions, moments. Getting to capture real moments might be very difficult or you would have a lot of skills and a bit of luck, cause to capture a real moment you gotta be there at the right time, in the right place and be quick enough to get your composition and settings right to match the opportunity. For the rest of the pictures, you as a photographer can make it happen and your vision of the image will definitely affect the result, because you are creating them. Obviously is easier to shoot a flower than people, and knowing about flowers can make it even easier, but you can't just look in their agenda and pick the moment of the day when their are more photogenic. You gotta make it happen, interacting with your subjects, leading them in the best possible way to be themselves and this time you have made it on time to capture that moment.
    Great post James, there's not a lot of post about photography regarding others than technical stuff because you have to deal with your own feelings about being a photographer and not everyone likes others styles. Usually this kind of post are way more complicated to write because need way more explanation. Techniques are shorter and step by step.
    Good luck!!

  • Dave C February 25, 2011 05:22 am

    Great subject thank you
    I am going to be doing my first wedding soon so it was nice to read about capturing natural images.

    I love to photograph anything and I feel that with anything the more I read and practice the better I will become

    Again thank you for this article and All the other members that bring constructive help and advice to us all

  • Micki February 25, 2011 04:47 am

    Ah, Test yourself, I dare you. Take a look at some old family photos. Which ones do you like the most. Which ones give you fond memories. I bet it isn't the strictly posed ones that have a a perfect background and a perfect smile. Don't get me wrong, those are great too. But the ones we hold close to our hearts are the natural life, natural smile, look a me, this is me type picture.

  • Micki February 25, 2011 04:33 am

    Great article. I love shooting people, especially the little ones. The best shots are those that are captured naturally and when you connect with their souls.

  • David L February 25, 2011 04:19 am

    I agree with amny of the otheres. connecting with your subjects or feeling what they feel is a big advantage to capturing emotion in photographs. I have several photos from the Great LAkes National Cemetary - Wreath Laying Ceremony on my website. If you are interested in seeing emotion in pictures, take a look at them. (

  • rio h. February 25, 2011 04:15 am

    great article! i love tip #2... i can be awkward with people as well, but when it comes to photographing, i know i have to drop that and relating to my subjects always breaks the ice. everyone ends up being natural and relaxed. and yes!! i agree that the subjects should be directed to an extent and then have them "fill in the blanks." it has worked for me so far!

  • sumit February 25, 2011 03:58 am

    Loved it. When taking pictures of people I find it helps to keep talking. I've always done so for my friends (being a newbie can't risk the brickbats from a stranger), not that I get brilliant shots, but sometimes I do get some decent shots. And what I believe helps is the interaction, and sometimes with a group just blend in and be the fly on the wall. They have technical flaws, but the moment well captured.

    With architecture or city shots, I find it is important to be clear about what I want to emphasize upon. That could be a lead to another article of yours.

  • DenverJay February 25, 2011 03:53 am

    >>Mei Teng Says:
    >>I have to admit I am not a people person. I am more of an introvert. But I love photography and would like to >>improve on photographing people. Any tips for me?

    Try this:
    Re-read this article and then a couple more like it.
    Get all of your gear in order, and then tell yourself that you are going to be an actor for the next two hours.
    Your roll as an actor will be to play a goofy photographer who interacts great with people and uses some of the tips that you learned in the articles.
    Now shoot pictures of your friends or some strangers in the park for 2 hours while you play the roll of a gregarious photographer.
    When the two hours is up, put your camera away and go home.
    Sit down alone in front of your computer and start working on your images while you unwind from the stress of working with people for two hours.

    I bet you'll like your shots. Good luck!

  • Antony Pratap February 24, 2011 04:19 pm

    Awesome! I'm going to try out these steps with the next client.

  • Mweekly February 24, 2011 02:54 pm

    Great tips! Thank you. I'm going to try and set up a photoshoot next week with a family with a 1 year old baby, so this is great.

  • Patti James February 24, 2011 02:30 pm

    i enjoyed this article. I am new to photography but have a Huge love for it! I saynew but I have been a picture taker my whole life!!! I am trying to get very serious about my pictures. Seriously Fun! This was very informational for me.

  • Sunrise Studios February 23, 2011 05:49 am

    Thanks for mentioning you are not a very social person by nature, to me that makes all the differance between this article being good and great. I am not a "people person" either, but I still love photographing people more than any other subject. It takes work, but the results are more than worth the effort.

  • Steph February 23, 2011 04:09 am

    Great post James.
    Reading your post at work, I actually copy paste the text in an email so it doesn't have the pictures (If someone peaks at my screen, it's safe ;-) ) so I happen to see the pictures later on.
    I love what you wrote but was a bit disappointed when I saw the pix. I was imagining something else. I did notice, like Rob, the shadow and the girl looking away. Don't get me wrong, I think these picture are good and probably loved by your clients and I would rather see that type of picture than a technically perfect picture with no emotions.
    On the other end, I find it difficult to argue that if that girl happened to look at the camera like the 2 other people from the picture and if that shadow was not that visible, both pictures would have been better. Going from "Wow, Great shot" to "Wow, great shot, even a self-proclaimed photography savvy guy like me can't find anything wrong with it" ;).

    Enough with being picky, let's try now to make something out of it.

    Is that a technical deficiency or a social one? That the question that popped in my mind.
    They are related I'd say. Like you said, getting your subject comfortable, relaxed and all is key to get emotions out (And you nailed them!) but it should only be tried (when time permitting) once the setup has been validated. ( ... Which is counter-productive, as monkeying around the lights definitely makes subjects uncomfortable ... Gotta strike a balance here)
    That were social skills come in handy ... Great social skills, because lack of time can then be compensated by better social skills to re-create that emotional opportunity.

    I'd be curious to know if you had in these series of shots, one where everybody was looking at the camera (or nobody was) and that conveyed the same warm feelings of a brother loving and caring for his sisters.

  • Mei Teng February 23, 2011 01:44 am

    I have to admit I am not a people person. I am more of an introvert. But I love photography and would like to improve on photographing people. Any tips for me?

  • Sally February 22, 2011 09:09 pm

    That's what I often do. =)
    I'm not a people person but whenever I hold a camera, I can naturally connect to them. I can make them go beyond their natural poses and get great results. I like candid too. I'm known by my friend to be good in taking candids. I'm a quiet and shy person but such a keen observer. I can even capture their most embarrassing looks in split second. I'm also known as the "paparazzi".

  • Brandon February 22, 2011 08:39 pm

    Good article, It's nice to see a non technical article, it was pretty inspiring.
    @Mandeno Moments, cute pictures, im sure their parents wll love em

  • DavidCHR February 22, 2011 08:00 pm

    Graciousness: you've missed my point. I haven't said that being an expert in a subject will magically make one a great photographer. What I'm saying is that if you take two accomplished photographers and one is a subject matter expert and the other is not, the former will be the one capable of capturing the moment and getting the great shot more easily and more often than the latter.
    Think of Ansel Adams. He was not just some photographer who decided to go out and shoot nature. He was an environmentalist; a conservationist who was fully aware of his surroundings. If George Hurrell (one of the great Hollywood portrait photographers of the 1930s) had gone out with Ansel to shoot landscapes, who do you think would get the "great" shots. And if Adams were to shoot with Hurrell in his studio?
    Again... you don't have to be an expert to be a very good and successful photographer, but it is essential if you want to stand out above the rest.
    (OK, I won't flog this topic any more...)

  • Mandeno Moments February 22, 2011 12:33 pm

    I have series of eight shots starting at

    I found the two pint-sized cousins sitting in a place that had a plain background and nice soft side light. Someone tried to get them to look at the camera, then I got eight candid shots as they interacted with each other. These eight shots portray their relationship very well.

    The method is simple: observe and shoot. Keep the camera up to your eye at all times. It's a form of reportage, sometimes called candid portraiture.

    Usually photographing two two-year-olds is like herding cats, but they were quite content to sit there and get on with their own thing.

    There's another shot at

    This girl was enjoying herself hamming for the camera so I let her get on with it and gave a minimum of directions. Stopping now and then and showing her the photos on the screen kept her involved and motivated.

  • James McFarlane February 22, 2011 12:19 pm

    In regards to asking the older brother to choke his sisters, I have done the same thing multiple times. I've told a large group "OK, this is the one where you just attack each other!" and not only have the zoom shots of pairs in that pose been priceless, but the poses following that direction have had much better smiles, and significantly more genuine arrangements.

  • Garry Fenton February 22, 2011 12:00 pm

    see above link, case closed with any luck

  • Graciousness February 22, 2011 09:30 am

    I don't agree with davidchr's assessment that one has to be an expertise on their subjects, either.

    Just because you are a people person doesn't mean that you are an expert with and about people. It means that you are comfortable and very keen on getting the best and most wonderful images of and out of people. If you are not a people person, this will show on the photos you take. You can take great technical shots, maybe, but yes, it will lack emotions. I find that most of the time, they are not able to take candid shots of people as they do not see the opportunity before them and fail to see the great moments when presented before them.

    If you take photos of flowers, do you really believe that you have to be an expertise on this subject? Seriously? Do you really believe that you have to know every species, the seasons and geographical locations of where they grow and, etc, to take great shots? Flowers may have life but in a sense, they are inanimate. They do not possess the emotions humans and animals have. The best that you can take get out of flowers are in macro shots, or in the natural surroundings, or in still life. It only takes a good technician to do this and composition, probably, is what will bring out the difference between good flower shots and great flower shots.

    Technical photographers can take great landscape photos because they are the ones that can bring out the most of the light, colours, textures and compositions from the surrounding. They only expertise they need is their own craft to capture and enhance the scene before them and put them on image.

    Scientists and psychologists, if given cameras, may not necessarily make the best photographers if given the task of taking photos of their own subject matters. It may help, but they have to have the passion for photography to be able to execute the task well and the eye to see the moments of photographic opportunities when presented before them.

    A great photographer will not only be able to recognise great photographic moments with people, places and events, but will create them when necessary.

  • DavidCHR February 22, 2011 06:47 am

    "I can go out and get a great image of a flower if I need to, but I will be the first to say I don’t know anything about flowers. The reason I feel confident in that statement is because I know my camera and how to create the image I see in my mind, and I also know I can frame the subject in a way that is intriguing and makes sense to the viewer."

    I'm sorry to flog the dead or dying horse here, but doesn't this statement goe against the very point of this issue? You've just said that you can get a "great" image based on technical skill alone (knowledge of the camera and knowledge of composition). Are you sure it will be "great" and not simply "very good"? Would an expert in flowers (perhaps the 'easy way out' subject in this particular debate, but anyway...), with the same technical knowledge as you, be able to give his shot that "little extra something" that yours was lacking? That, I think, is the crux of the matter: there are many "good" and "very good" photos out there -technically perfect and very pleasing to the eye-, and then there are "great" shots... the ones you remember for a long time after viewing them. I stand by the statement that expertise, though not the sole ingredient of a great photograph, is what tips the scale between "very good" and "great".

    Just my $0.02...

  • Tiny February 22, 2011 06:29 am

    Great article James. I specially like the part where you admit that you are not a social person and you get out of your comfort zone to get the work done. Thats exactly my story. I am not a very social or people person. But I like to shoot people. So I need to get out of my comfort zone and do whatever is necessary to get the shot I wanted.

    IMO, people should do what they love to do. If you love to shoot flowers but don't know anything about them, then learn about them and then shoot it. You don't have to abandon shooting flowers just because you don't know anything about them. Just my 2 cents.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer February 22, 2011 06:18 am

    To me it seems obvious the best thing about photography is the ability to capture (freeze) real moments, which is why I present my photography style as specializing in candid style. For this guy's 40th birthday, his kids were totally themselves:

    They were happy with the photographs. I figure if that want rigid perfectionism, they would go to the Sears Portrait Studio. If they have hired me, they must want a photo of a certain quality still of course, but imperfections are what will make the photo perfect to them.

  • James Brandon February 22, 2011 06:05 am

    Mihai - Great idea for an article, I'll keep that in mind!

    Leo - Lol, good luck man!

    Misti - Thanks for the kind words! Getting off of auto seems like a bit of a challenge, but it really isn't! There are plenty of articles on this site that will help you out. I suggest starting with Aperture Priority mode (Av on Canon, Ap on Nikon).

    David - Good point, but I'm not sure I fully agree. I can go out and get a great image of a flower if I need to, but I will be the first to say I don't know anything about flowers. The reason I feel confident in that statement is because I know my camera and how to create the image I see in my mind, and I also know I can frame the subject in a way that is intriguing and makes sense to the viewer. Knowledge of your subject will certainly help in some situations, but I certainly wouldn't say it all boils down to that.

  • James Brandon February 22, 2011 05:57 am

    Thanks for the critique of my images Rob, always appreciated ;-). Most of the things you don't like about the images are things that I love about them. We're all different though, different strokes for different folks I guess.

    I tried having a look at your website but it kept freezing up on my and I eventually gave up. From what I could see it looks like we simply have different styles. Most of the images on your site are posed shots of the people smiling at the camera. This isn't bad or good, it's just not my style, which means my images are obviously not your style.

    Sorry my images distracted you :-)

  • Rob Schulz February 22, 2011 05:30 am

    Great article but I wonder why so many photographers who write articles for this site post pictures that dont show their talents or really work against what they are trying to show. For example, the body language is a bit uncomfortable in the second picture. He is leaning in too much and the way she is leaning back with her left hand in a stop position is odd. The first thing I thought when I saw it was she wanted him to stay away. The third picture has one of the girls looking at an off camera object and kind of throws this image out of balance. The third image is fine but the background shadows are killing me.

    I was so distracted by the images I had a hard time focusing on the article!

  • Leo Mangubat February 22, 2011 04:55 am

    Yeah! yeah! so you're right. This is my weakness. I have been too technical with my photos.

    But.......Thanks for reminding me I have to work on this still!

    The truth hurts.... but the truth can set you free! hahaha! This is something very true to me! ouch!!!!!

    Thank you James. I may still need more of this! hahaha!

  • Misti Anslin Delaney February 22, 2011 04:01 am

    Thank you, James, for a wonderful article.

    You're so right that most of the articles written about photography seem to be about the highly technical aspects of the craft with very few articles that draw out the more human elements. You've done an excellent job at starting the correction on that tack. As a hobby photographer/Mom who has played with cameras for years without ever getting off "auto" I need the technical articles...but I like your article about the human side of portraiture much better.

  • Brenda February 22, 2011 03:11 am


    Thank you for the great article. I am also a new photographer and find that I struggle taking photos of anything that moves, both from a technical perspective and a creative one.

    What really spoke to me was the following:

    "If you are not a people person (and there’s nothing wrong with that), then find something else to photograph!"

    I am drawn to "other things" but sometimes feel that I need to be able to take great shots of everything.

    Thanks for the reminder that we all have images that speak to us.

  • Raymond February 22, 2011 03:06 am

    Thanks for the insightful article :) Reading these sort of articles just make me want to go out and shoot something!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 22, 2011 02:59 am


    What started as a routine calendar shoot turned into something totally surprising as these two Gentlemen showed up in these Chippendale's costumes. They were just so much fun to shoot, all spontaneous suggestions and certainly "In the Moment" captures!

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art


  • DavidCHR February 22, 2011 02:47 am

    This is a fine article and the examples are interesting, but it really could have been reduced greatly. In fact, the whole article boils down to this: "If you are great with people, then photograph people. If you are not a people person (and there’s nothing wrong with that), then find something else to photograph!"

    You cannot be a great wedding photographer unless you've attended countless weddings (without the camera) and observed the people, how they act, react and interact, the emotional patterns you can expect to find and the moments at which the "unexpected" could be expected to occur. You need to know people and be comfortable working with them.

    If you're a sports photographer, you need to know the sport better than you know your camera. You need to be able to look at the player and know by experience that he's about to pass the ball and to whom... or that, based on his actions through the previous lap, the racecar driver is likely to attempt a risky move on the next pass.

    You like to photograph flowers? Know when each species is at its best; what time of day gives you the most dramatic flower "pose".

    The list is endless... and that's why no one dares to "write the book" on capturing the moment: there is no single "moment" that you can teach.

    In short, capturing the moment has less to do with photography and loads more to do with being a subject matter expert. After spending years learning about your subject, it's a relatively quick and easy process to learn the techniques required to capture it at its best.

  • Rich Copley February 22, 2011 02:18 am

    This is great insight, and I will definitely have this post in mind on some upcoming portrait sessions. A big thing I take away from it is that I often spend a lot of time trying to freeze people into an idealized position, but that can be a recipe for cold photos. The challenge is to create more natural moments. Thanks.

  • Andreas - 16th Ave February 22, 2011 02:06 am

    I am not a very experienced photographer, but oh my gosh was this article phrased absolutely perfect or what?!!

    This article was awesome and really got me thinking. I can't wait to go capture that perfect moment with a mixture of technique and connection with the subject!

  • Mihai February 22, 2011 02:05 am

    Great article, really! I'm congratulating myself for finding this blog every time I open it :) Great teachers, great atmosphere, great lessons. Thumbs up for today's as well.
    I have a request (if that's possible) for you to have in mind for a future article: the same theme, but regarding something other than shooting (photographing :P ) people. I am new to photography and I find myself drown to places where people are not met. I'm not bad with people. I'm very sociable, but the photos call me elsewhere.
    Best Regards!

  • ScottC February 22, 2011 01:32 am

    A great article and serious effort to explain something that is literally inexplicable.

    Never underestimate the candids, that's where the most natural connections are made.

    Fasching in Germany:

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