When you think of human expression, to which part of the subject are you drawn? Most people are drawn to the face, specifically the eyes and – to a slightly lesser extent – the mouth. It is in the face that we pick up the most obvious emotional cues – sadness, happiness, anger, boredom, contentment, frustration, intensity. As students of human emotion know, however, true feelings are often conveyed by body language beyond the face. Studying body language can be very helpful not only in broadening the way that you shoot, but in being more effective in your photographic storytelling, establishing mood, and heightening your own awareness of the way the moments you capture are likely to be perceived (even subconsciously) by your clients and/or audience. You can use this knowledge to direct your subjects or simply to aid in your observations and know when a moment is just right to illustrate your story or vision.
*image by Genesis ‘kaismom’
This month, focus on what the body alone can convey. How can you capture joy without seeing a smile, sadness without including the tears, uncertainty without the furrowed brow? Here are some examples of classic body language cues:
Anger/Aggression: Rigid body, clenched fists, leaning forward, hands on hips
Self-Isolation/Defensiveness: Limbs crossed and/or pulled in very close to the body, head tucked in or turned away, body made as small as possible
Contemplation/Introspection: Body relaxed, fingers touching the face or head
Lethargy/Sadness: Body sagging or hunched, shoulders and limbs loose, chin/face low, hands over the face
Impatience: Body tense, hands on hips or arms crossed, weight shifted to one side or the other
Happiness/Joy: Body relaxed and open, limbs uncrossed or away from the body, chin/face up
When working with two or more subjects, body language cues can help to indicate the connections/relationships between the subjects, and utilizing your knowledge of those cues will greatly improve your ability to capture warmth and affection in family or couples portraits. Look for bodies/faces angled towards each other (or away), physical proximity, whether the chest is opened up towards the other subject, whether subjects are touching, whether arms or legs are crossed, feet facing towards or away, open or closed palms, body rigidity or relaxation, and the mirroring of overall body language.
For the purposes of this exercise, you may not include the subject’s face in the image. That may involve shooting the subject from the back, cropping below the neck, photographing a figure engulfed in shadow or blocked by other elements … but whatever your approach, no part of the eyes, nose, mouth, etc may be visible. You must rely on the language of the body itself to convey feeling and emotion.
Congratulations to the ladies below whose photographs were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices!
Courtney Kirkland ‘mrsckirkland’:
Laurie Yuenger ‘LaurieY’:
Jane Button ‘cuteasabutton’:
Carol Swaitkewich ‘carolswait’:
Harmony Pyper ‘harmonypyper’:
Sarah Carlson ‘SarahCarlson’:
Thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise! We love seeing all the beautiful imagery!
Do you want to participate in the next Creativity Exercise? Visit the forum here where Sarah has challenged us with the theme “Small Subject, Big World“. Don’t have a membership to Clickin Moms yet? Head on over here to sign up! You can still participate in this ‘Body Language’ challenge by either visiting the forum here or sharing with us in the comments below. We’d love to see your work!