Emotionality in Photography

Photography & Writing by: Hon Hoang

Hon Hoang: Hong Kong Express, Mongkok, Hong Kong, 2017

Hon Hoang: A Lucid Dream for an Insomniac, Tokyo, Japan, 2016

Hon Hoang: Cherchez LA Femme, Los Angeles, California, 2015

The advent of digital photography and social media has given us the ability to capture and share photographs like never before. With this accessibility, comes an abundance of work from hobbyists and professionals a like. Though these images are beautiful in design or intriguing in the information presented, most seem to be missing an element of emotion.

Eikoh Hosoe: Azuma Bridge, the Sumida River, Tokyo, 1971

Philip-Lorca di Corcia: Auden, 1989

William Klein: Gun 1, New York, 1955

One of the best advices I was ever given was “A successful street photograph needs to include three elements that can be summed-up in the acronym: D.I.E.” Design, Information, and Emotion, I want to focus on the emotion element. It could be an emotion depicted in the photograph, one triggered by the image, or both.

Hon Hoang: Democracy on Fire, South Korea, 2016

Hon Hoang: Old Seoul Knew City South Korea, 2016

A purpose of art and more specifically photography is to be a stimulus that creates an emotional response. In order to achieve this, I believe that the photographer has to put more of themselves into the images they create. Any feelings of anxiety, fear, happiness, or excitement; try to capture that sensation and have it be reflected in the image. An example can be seen in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” What makes this work compelling is the anxiety and fear Munch felt as he experienced the volcanic eruption of Krakatoa was captured in his painting. He captured his emotions and put part of himself to help people understand what he felt at the time. What he experienced, questioned his mortality, the belief that the world is ending was encapsulated in his painting. I believe that a photograph should aim to do the same. Whether it’s in staged photography or street photography, an emotional discourse should be present between the audience and the photographer.

Hon Hoang: Foreign Home, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2017

Hon Hoang: Foreign Home, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, 2017

Edvard Munch: The Scream, 1893

The question now is, “how can we inject an element of emotion into our photography?” One method is to get lost in the moment as you photograph. Walk, explore, and gravitate towards what you find to be interesting. It can be the perfectly mundane to explicitly compelling. Learn to trust your intuition, capture what you find interesting and know what you like. Frame your world and showcase a part of yourself. Allow your images to speak for you so much so that they become distinctively yours.

Gregory Crewdson: Dream House, 2002

Daido Moriyama: Entertainer on Stage, Shimizu 1967

Hon Hoang: Immersion in Color, San Francisco, California, 2016

Parting Advice

  • *Design, Information, Emotions.
  • *“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
  • *Take photos, they will be bad, it’s okay.
  • *Know what you like and copy it.
  • *Ask yourself, “What do I want to show the world?”
  • *Put part of yourself in each picture.
  • *“Learn the rules then break them.”
  • *Forget about gear, focus on skills.
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