How To Pose and Direct a Photoshoot To Draw Out Emotion

With 10 years of professional photography under my belt, I can confidently say directing models with ease is one of the most important aspects of the job. Yet, it is a skill that so many photographers struggle with. It’s one of those things that seems so simple, but in the actual moment, can be incredibly challenging. 

Have you ever arrived at a photoshoot with a clear vision of the poses and expressions you wanted to capture, only to find yourself freezing up and falling short? Believe me, I’ve definitely been there. In the early stages of my photography career, it happened more times than I'd care to admit. While the creative vision was there, executing it effectively proved to be a big challenge. I knew I could do better.

Portrait photography has always been my biggest passion. There is just something so powerful about the way you can connect with a subject through the camera lens. For me, portrait photography is not just about capturing a pretty face; it's about capturing the essence of a person. The subtle facial expressions, body language, and captivating eye contact can convey a depth of emotion that resonates deeply with viewers. When done well, a portrait has the ability to evoke powerful emotions and captivate the viewer's attention. You can stare at a good portrait for quite some time, analyzing what the subject is feeling as well as what the photographer was trying to say. On the other hand, a poorly executed portrait can feel lifeless and lack impact.

I wanted my photos to make people feel something when they looked at them. Over time, I realized that the best way to get a model to be emotionally vulnerable and elicit authentic emotions is to make them feel as comfortable as possible during the shoot. So,  I developed some simple and effective techniques to instantly establish a rapport with my models. These are tips that every portrait photographer can implement whether you are shooting headshots, engagements, or even boudoir. 

Image courtesy of Jada and David Parrish |

These tips have completely transformed my portrait photography in a noticeable way. It’s become a normal occurrence for models to leave my shoots saying it was the most fun photoshoot they have ever done. What's even better is that these tips are deceptively simple, but their impact is profound. I initially applied these very same tips to my wedding, boudoir, and engagement shoots, but now, as my focus has shifted towards conceptual portrait photography, eliciting genuine emotion has become absolutely crucial to the success of my photographs.

Now, during a portrait shoot, I can play through the full spectrum of human emotions with ease and make my models feel comfortable and have fun along the way.

Check out the video to get all the tips! And if you have any other tips that you think are helpful, leave them in the comments so we can all learn and grow together. 

Jada Parrish's picture

Jada is a photographer and director specializing in conceptual portraits. Her work is known for its bold, colorful, and surreal style. Her creative style of portraiture lends itself nicely to work in both fashion and the music industry. She is one half of the creative duo Jada + David.

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