This is what I know for sure: All of us crave the love of another human being. Our bones long to be held, our skin to be touched, our hearts to be squeezed with love. We need unconditional love like we need air. It’s the kind of love that hurts and breaks and then heals to become even stronger. It’s the kind of love that a parent has for their child, and that a child has for their mom and dad. That kind of love, you never want to forget.

This is why I document families. There’s nothing more important on this earth than photographing emotional connection, the love between a parent and child, the heart of a relationship. It isn’t enough to capture a pretty picture. Without authentic emotional connection, a photo is just a picture. But when I can tap into my own emotions, when I pull out my own memories of heartache and love, wistfulness and longing, it’s then that my photos come alive.

Mother and son hug with unconditional loveYou can do everything technically right, but if your photo lacks emotional connection, it lacks meaning.

Most of us are lucky enough to have felt the warmth of unconditional love as children. This parent/child love is fascinating to me, because I believe it’s possibly the strongest form of love.

But this phase of mutual love is fleeting. We expect and encourage our babies to grow up and to eventually move away and find their own tribe. While our children will always be the most important things to us, our position as parents will eventually turn into us being supporters of our kids’ own journeys.

I’m experiencing this with my own children as they become teenagers. Those years where I held my babies close (and it was never close enough), they are behind me. I hold them still now, but it’s not the same. They squeeze me tight and then rush away to do important teenager things. I’m so glad I took thousands of photos when they were little. The memories fade no matter how precious, but one look at a photo of my baby nuzzled against my chest reduces me to tears.

This feeling is what I channel with my clients. In my photos, I want to show my clients the love that I see. But, more importantly, I want to show them what I feel when I look at them with their babies. I want to photograph emotional connection, longing, unconditional love. These clients are feeling the same things that I did for my children. I know they want to hold them close and never let go. I know that the smell of their newborn’s head is better to them than any rose. I know that for a child, the best place on earth is in the arms of their parents, being adored. These are things I feel deeply, as if I were with my own babies all over again.

Use your own emotions and memories.

What is it that drives you to create? If you’re inspired by the parent/child connection and unconditional love, like me, then use those feelings to make magic in your photos. Think back on your own first days with your newborn, those long afternoons rocking your baby, the snuggled-up bedtime stories with your preschooler and the comforting hugs you still long to give your children. Tap into your strong emotions. Use your memories as tools to push you forward.

When you’re photographing emotional connection, you need to feel it. Remember, the artist is part of the photo too.

5 Tricks to photographing emotional connection:

  1. Encourage your subjects to touch.
  2. Have your subjects look at each other, or ask them to close their eyes.
  3. Create connection with the viewer by photographing subjects up close.
  4. Shoot in low light to evoke a feeling of intimacy.
  5. Give your subjects something to do and then capture their genuine expressions and emotions.
A father looks at his laughing daughter, showing unconditional love
A mother strokes her smiling daughter's hair, showing unconditional love
a father helps his son set up a sling-shot on a mountain

I create my best work by using my feelings to create honest, intimate emotion. I believe that photographing emotional connection is important and meaningful. I believe that, as artists, we must push ourselves out of our comfort zones and tap into our own feelings in order to create magic. Because love is something we feel deep within, not just a pretty picture.

We are all more alike than different. Love is a universal language. Discover what emotion drives you, and then use it to create connection in your photos. You are a part of every photo you take, so make it count.

All photos by Vanessa Brack.