05/05/2015 02:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'Express Yourself - Why Expression Is One Of The Most Critical Parts Of A Fashion Photo Shoot' by Emily Soto

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that "beauty without expression is boring", and as someone who has to create images with the right expression, this quote nails it.


Whenever I photograph a model, getting the right expression from them is absolutely critical to the final image, but I don't hear many people talking about it or it's importance and I'd like to do that today. Expression helps tell the story, and it's useful for all of us to become a little more aware of our own expressions (and the messages they give out!).

I would define expression as the mood and emotion told through the face as well as through body language.


Getting the expression right in fashion photography is so important because expression allows us to tell the story through the images being created. It gives feeling, emotion and life to the image. As fashion photographers, particularly for editorial work, we are always looking to tell a story, often one of fantasy and make believe so getting this communicated through our images is really essential.

To tell the story that we're shooting, there has to be the right type of emotion to convey the mood of the photo. If it's lacking, or not portraying the right sort of mood, then the right story will have difficulty being told, simply because the right emotion won't be felt through the image.


The facial expression and pose have to flow seamlessly in order to convey a natural mood and not to look forced. If the models pose is right but the expression is wrong, the tone of the image doesn't flow and it will end up confusing the viewer. A model might have beautiful soft movement, with pretty clothing for instance, but if her expression is one of frustration, or if she looks angry, then the photo won't work. The general principle is that strong, fierce expressions work with strong poses, and softer expressions with more natural, whimsical, and softer posing.


One area of challenge in fashion photography can be to get a model that might not have a huge range in her expressions, to get the look or expression I'm trying to draw out.

Generally, I'll tell the model the mood of the shoot and the concept we are going for before we even think about starting the shoot. It's very important for a model to know this, and to think about it, as they'll generally have worked with many different photographers, looking for different emotions and very different looks and styles for each shoot. 


A model may be use to doing very strong, fierce expressions for more edgy looks, but when you are looking for something more soft, whimsical or playful, it's critical to express this to the model before the shoot, and work with them throughout, to keep the mood flowing and the right emotion coming through. In many ways I imagine it's similar to how a director would work with actors on a stage or a film production - my role is not just to click a shutter and make images, but to ensure the right mood and feeling comes through while we're on set.


One thing I've realized as a professional photographer is that how we express ourselves, through our body language and facial expression directly relates to how we are perceived by those around us. Working with models and having to draw the right expression from them reminds me of this day to day. The smallest micro-expression such as a small smile, or crossing your arms, can really play a big role in how you are perceived.


Photo Credits Photographer Emily Soto | Styling Julia Morris | Makeup Alyssa Lorraine | Hair Andrita Renee | Model Camelia at Marilyn NYC

See more of my work:
Photoshop Actions: