Do Emotions Affect Photography?

I believe that as photographers, we cannot avoid putting a little piece of ourselves into our photography work. Whether we intentionally do so by allowing our thoughts and feelings dictate the outcome of our images at that specific moment, or sub-consciously doing so without realizing that what we go through, or our state of mind can affect what and how we shoot our images. Of course, I am discussing this topic from a non-scientific point of view, as there probably is no research or data to back up any of my claims (maybe there is, who knows) and I am blurting out merely theories that I have in my mind, as a practicing photographer. Maybe my curiosity on how human psychology works inside a photographer has a lot more to do with myself, and how I perceive my world around me. 

Image taken by Jojo, used with permission. 

I'd like to think of myself as a joyous person. I do tend to smile a lot, and I have a generally happy expression when I am around people. I lean toward this as a strength in almost everything that I do, and I notice how being a positive person can affect the outcome of the things that I do in life, whether it is the relationship that I am in or the career that I am pursuing. As a photographer, being seen as a happy person helps tremendously both for my professional shoot environment, as well as for my personal projects. Clients tend to favor photographers who are well-liked, have good manners and seen easy to work with. Imagine if you are getting married, you are hiring a wedding photographer, you won't want a photographer who appear grumpy and bitter who will be stuck with you the entire wedding day. I acknowledge the fact that a lot of my clients hire me not because I am the best photographer out there, no, I can easily name 10 competitors who can do a better job and are more experienced than I am in the field. But I got hired most of the time, because they like me. Knowing this helps me to strategize my business better, and aim for more jobs, especially the recurring ones. I have read somewhere that "emotion tends to be twice as important as facts in the buyer's decision-making process". I can see that happening. 

I personally find it odd that a lot of my mentors, or even friends in my earlier days of starting my career, often told me that showing emotion is a flaw. That emotions should be placed in check. Emotions can lead to failure, and people will perceive you negatively if you show too much emotion. I find it really strange that people who are climbing the corporate ladders would somehow fake their emotion, as if they are wearing a mask, creating a completely separate work persona, presenting themselves almost void of human emotion to be more efficient and effective in the cold, cold work environment. Maybe that was the main reason I left the work force; I cannot be a two-faced person. I cannot fake my emotions at work. If I am happy, I am happy, I will smile from ear to ear. If I am sad, I am sad, I will cry my eyes out. If I am angry, I will let you know how I feel. Suppressing emotions is so unhealthy, I cannot imagine myself lying to everyone and to myself, day in and out, if I want to be "successful" in my career. I guess, working for myself as a freelance photographer frees me from such a burden. 

Having been actively shooting for almost 20 years now, looking back on many occasions, I can see clearly how my emotion affects my photography. 

When I am happy and in a positive mood, I gravitate toward brighter, more colorful subjects. I tend to be more open and less rigid in my subject finding, and my composition is a lot more varied. I look for subjects that reflect my current state of mind - I look for smiling people, when I shoot portraits of strangers on the street. Since I am in good mood, I can chatter up a stranger, make him feel at ease. I believe my expression does affect the people I interact with, and that will be reflected back at my lens. I smile, the person smiles back. As simple as that. 

When I am not in the right state of mind, well, there are days things don't go the way I want, and I do feel miserable and depressed, I am only human. The subjects that I shoot will be very, very different. I tend to shy away from any human interaction. I will not approach any strangers, as I cannot even gather enough energy to smile. But you see, I still have that itch to click the shutter button. So, I find other kind of subjects to aim at. I will look for cats, because cats cheer me up, in whatever horrible mood I am in. They are easier to approach without draining too much energy out of me. I will shoot inanimate subjects, like cars, buildings, trees, bushes, things that don't move so much. My output will be less colorful, less vibrant, less "alive", but by no means these images are worse than my "happy" images. They are just different. 

When we become photographers, we put a part of ourselves into our work. As we shoot more and more, we see our identity, fingerprints all over our images, which can be identified as personal style. Some famous photographers have imprinted so much of themselves into their work that just by one glance over a series of photographs, you can tell who the photographer is. I am nowhere near that level, quite far from it frankly, and maybe I will never reach it. I don't aim to be famous or become an icon. Honestly, I just want to enjoy the shooting process as long as I can, and now, hopefully photography can sustain me as a career. I do admit, I see how I have put so much of myself, my heart into my own photography, and that is a fact. 

Knowing emotions affect photography helps me to be a better photographer. If I know that I am not in the mood or have the energy to strike up a conversation with a stranger, I will change the subject that I am shooting - I will do insect macro photography instead, which requires a lot more technical execution and zero human interaction. If I don't feel particularly joyous on one day, I will maybe lean into the darker tone of things, shoot everything in black and white and find deep shadows to reflect my not so bright feelings. Consciously knowing how you feel can help you fine-tune your choices of image making, which can have direct impact on what you create as you click that shutter button. 

But what do I know? I was an engineer, and a product specialist for a camera company that died, and now a freelance photographer. Maybe I should not read too much into this and just bring the camera out and shoot some images. 

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