Best Tips For Soulful Photography

Soulful Photography

Here the mood is a bit more contrasty, but at the same time it is softened by the warm tones throughout the image, creating an inviting and cozy atmosphere.

In my book Shooting with Soul: 44 Photography Exercises Exploring Life, Beauty and Self-Expression, I revealed my “secret formula” with the necessary steps to shoot images with soul:

See + Feel + Think + Connect + Shoot => Soulful Images

After I wrote my book, I began to further question myself on what exactly makes up a soulful image. Here are my top three findings:

  1. Light and Mood: Light creates mood, and I believe that mood is the No. 1 reason we are drawn to an image. Is the image light and ethereal or dark and mysterious? Is it saturated and vibrant or faded and romantic? Each atmosphere will induce a different feeling in the viewer. So when taking a photograph, think about what mood best fits your message and what type of lighting condition will be conducive to that look.
  1. Tonality: A soulful image is one that is harmonious in colors and tones. Similar to the way that light creates mood, colors and tones will produce a pleasant sensorial response and capture the viewer’s interest while an image that has conflicting tones will quickly disengage the viewer. Pay attention to the color scheme in your image. How does the background color interact with the main subject and the other elements in frame? Work with your point of view and composition to avoid distracting hues.
  1. Subject Matter: Aaron Rose had it right in his quote, “In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” All kinds of subjects can become interesting and captivating in the right light. However, when shooting images that are an expression of your soul, keep in mind that your themes and subjects will also reveal a great deal about your interests and message.
Soulful Photography
This photo is made of simple elements that work harmoniously together to create a peaceful image. The side lighting is soft and gentle, just bright enough to highlight the delicate flower petals and lend the photograph a romantic look.


  1. Choose a subject matter to photograph, and then ask yourself: What is the story I want to tell here?
  2. Create the right mood for your subject and story by lighting it accordingly.
  3. Choose a background and props that support a harmonious color scheme.
  4. Work around the scene to find the angle and composition that will best tell the story, while keeping in mind the above guidelines.


  • Light: Set up your shot by a window and shoot the same subject in the same spot during different times of the day. Notice how the different lighting conditions will affect the mood of your shot. You can also use scrims (such as curtains or silk) to diffuse and soften the light.
  • Color: Choose a color scheme for your shot. Gather all the elements you would like to use in your shot and see how they work together. Aim for a pleasant variation of tones. Also, pay special attention to patterns and textures as those can enhance the mood or work against it.
  • Subject: Study your subject’s placement in frame by experimenting with different angles and compositions. Move the subject closer to and further from the camera, center it, or place it according to the rule of thirds. Notice how every change affects the mood of your shot and expresses a slightly different feeling.

Shot Ideas

  • Photograph a vase with a single flower.
  • Observe and capture a child at play.
  • Take a photo of a found object.

Alessandra Cave is a commercial and editorial photographer living in San Francisco. She is also a writer, teacher and the author of Shooting with Soul (Quarry Books, 2013), an inspiration and technique book with 44 photography exercises exploring life, beauty and self-expression, from upon which this column is inspired. Learn more about Alessandra and follow her work at

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