Making Emotional Connections with my Camera in West Africa

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 1400, ƒ/1.4, 1/200

I really enjoy meeting people and find children around the world capture my attention the most. I think it is because of their curiosity and that when I smile I get a response.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G,  ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/200

Now my two favorite lenses to capture these emotional connections are the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G and the Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art. Since both of these are very fast lenses of wide open apertures of ƒ/1.4 and ƒ/1.8 then you can capture just the person and especially the eyes and let everything else go out of focus.

My mentor Don Rutledge is the one I heard most often referring to the power of the eyes. He said these with the “Windows to the Soul.”

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 8000, ƒ/4, 1/100

Now I have learned through the years that the angle from which you photograph a person can greatly impact what you are saying and in my opinion determine how much of an “emotional connection” you are able to make with the subject and the audience.

I blogged about the topic earlier. Here is that blog post.

While I commented in that blog post that seeing eye-to-eye isn’t always best, I do tend to look for this when I am trying to connect the audience to the subject as their equal.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G,  ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/320

Now getting eye level with a smile is always expressive, it isn’t the only face expression that connects with the audience.

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/400

Also it is important to mention that it is the eyes that do most of the smiling in those photos that are truly showing joy of seeing you.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G,  ISO 1100, ƒ/1.8, 1/200

Now while this little boy isn’t sure of me with that expression, the expression really does capture the innocence of the child. I can just see in the face the question of who are you and can I trust you?

Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/2000

The other thing that happens when people look at you without a big smile is there appears to be a silent dialogue going on with the audience. I think this type of an expression is quite abstract. It makes the audience want to fill in the dialogue.

Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 8000, ƒ/4, 1/500

To me a photographer’s demeanor helps to elicit responses from people. I know this because when I am in a cross cultural situation like this in Togo, West Africa I don’t speak their language. All I am doing is using body language and face expressions to get reactions to me from people.

I jus felt welcomed by these guys as they were driving closer to me down this dirt road.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G,  ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/200

How can’t the toughest person be melted by this little girls presence and expression?

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G,  ISO 1100, ƒ/1.8, 1/1000

Hey the smile will always get a great reaction, but remember your audience and you need more to your life than just one emotion. Learn to explore with your subject. Don’t be afraid of those uncomfortable expressions as well.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G,  ISO 4000, ƒ/1.8, 1/200

Often the beginning of the relationship with a subject may start like this before I am able to build the trust that lets me be able to get behind those off putting expressions.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G,  ISO 2800, ƒ/1.8, 1/200

I have one tip that should help you get better emotional connection photos. Be vulnerable with yourself and open with the subjects. Take your time and remember that you must first learn to serve your subject with your willingness to give rather than take.

The only way I know to express this is I think of this as giving a hug with your eyes. Just like you would do with a new born child, be expressive and show the excitement of being in their presence.

If you are patient, kind and a loving person to others then the odds of you capturing the “Decisive Moment” where there is an “Emotional Connection” is possible.

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G,  ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/500