There are six emotions (sadness, surprise, fear, happiness, disgust, anger). Everything else is a combination or a blend of these emotions. Asking a subject to show happiness will result with a smile on their face as their eyes open wide. Anger can be shown with a scowl and a low brow.
I asked comedian friend Frankie Paul to pose for a few shots demonstrating each emotion. I should have used a tripod. He had me laughing so hard it caused camera shake resulting in lots of blurry photos.
Pretty easy. Its when we ask the subject to show confidence, pride or intensity is when it becomes difficult or confusing. The reason? Confidence and pride are not an emotion they are a feeling or a belief. Intensity is an exaggerated form of an emotion. So how do we get the subject to show confidence, pride or intensity? We get them to relive a moment in their life or to act out a story.
Have the subject think of a time when everyone thought for sure they were not going to succeed. Even with the odds stacked against them, deep inside they knew, without a doubt, they were going to win and they did. This will cause emotions to merge, to produce a look of confidence.
Intensity is a little different. Choose which emotion you want to have them act out to an extreme or an exaggeration. To show intense anger, have the subject think of a time when they were so mad they felt like screaming. Nothing seemed to go right and someone just pushed them over the edge. You may even have them scream “Why” to get a wide angry look. You’ll notice the their will change and their stance will get wider.
Experiment with self portraits
Spend an hour photographing yourself performing each emotion. You’ll feel silly at first, but that’s okay. This will help you relate to your subjects when you ask them to show real emotions.