“Love” is a word that we use to describe our affection and attachment toward the people in our lives. The types of feelings we have for our parents, partners, friends and children are quite different from each other. How can one single word accurately describe the variety of contexts in which we love?
The Ancient Greeks recognized that there are many different types of love and had words to describe each kind:
- Philia — intimate, authentic friendship
- Ludus — playful, flirtatious love
- Storge — unconditional, family love
- Philautia — self-love
- Pragma — enduring, long-term love
- Agápe — empathetic, universal love
There is no one-size-fits-all technique to photographing genuine connections and true emotions in people. However, using these 6 Greek words for love as a guide, you’ll create authentic, emotive photos of your subjects and the types of love in your love-photoshoot.
While each kind of love has its own unique distinctions, as a photographer you can set yourself up for success for the shoot by:
- Choosing a comfortable setting for your subjects
- Setting up your shot before shooting (location, lighting, composition, etc.)
- Being ready with prompts to guide your subjects
- Watching for the magical, decisive moments to press the shutter when you see your subjects feeling unguarded
With all of types of love, the most emotive and authentic photos will happen when your subjects feel relaxed and at ease.
1. Philia: intimate, authentic friendship
“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”
Philia describes the type of love that comes from a deep, loyal and intimate friendship. Philia is an authentic, kind and soulful connection between friends.
When capturing close friends, make sure that they’re in an environment or engaged in an activity in which they share joy, feel bonded and connected in their friendship.
Prompt ideas for close friends:
- Ask one friend to tell the other their silliest private joke, using only their face, hands and bodies.
- Position the friends with their arms round each other’s shoulders, looking away from the camera. Ask them to think about a time when the other friend was truly supportive of a hardship — and to think of that time with gratitude, knowing that they had the other’s support. When you see that the friends are truly feeling the moment, start snapping the camera.
2. Ludus: playful, flirtatious love
“I have found men who didn’t know how to kiss. I’ve always found time to teach them.”
― Mae West
Ludus is a playful, fun and flirty love. It describes the elation one feels in the early stages of a relationship: laughing, teasing, and feeling giddy around each other. Ludus is about embracing the excitement of love’s early moments.
When photographing a newer couple, go to a location where they feel most playful and fun together. This could be a cafe, favorite art museum, their house or a favorite park.
Prompt ideas for couples:
- Ask one person to tell the other how beautiful they are by looking at the other and only using their eyes to communicate.
- Ask one person in the couple to tell the other what the first thing was that they noticed about the other person and how it made them feel. Have them tell the other person by whispering in their ear.
Hot tip: always shoot both during and after the prompt. Many times the best images come from the moment just after the couple has completed the prompt.
3. Storge: unconditional, familial love
“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”
— Mother Teresa
Storge is a natural affection and commitment shared by family members. It’s the protective, primal and unconditional love that we feel for our families.
- Ask the family to fake laugh. This inevitably leads to real laughter as they listen and react to each other’s pretend laughter.
- When photographing the whole family, ask them to group hug while looking at the camera.
- If a formal pose for the whole family is desired, make sure to stagger the family by height and size. Place taller people in the back, have some sit in chairs in the middle. Kids can stand in front, sit on people’s laps or be held in the arms of the people in back.
- Break the family up into smaller groups. If there are siblings, ask one of them to read a book to the other or teach the other how to draw or paint, for example. If one of the siblings is a baby or toddler, ask the older one to give them a kiss. A classic never fails!
4. Philautia: self-love
If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?
Philautia is love of yourself. It is self-compassion and being comfortable in your own skin. Engendering love for yourself can grow by taking the time to do things that make you happy, healthy and centered. Some people find this through making healthy choices in exercise and diet and setting aside quiet time to read or meditate.
Photograph your subject engaging in activities that nourish them. This could be while taking a walk in the woods, doing yoga, reading in their bedroom or cooking healthy meals in their kitchen.
Prompt ideas for photographing one person:
- Go on a walk or hike with your subject, ask them to take a few moments to themselves to quietly look around and take in the beauty of their surroundings.
- Ask your subject to close their eyes and recall a time where they felt grateful, calm and present in their own skin. When you sense that they’re immersed in these feelings, quietly take a few shots while their eyes are closed. Let them know that when they themselves feel fully immersed to open their eyes and look at the camera. You’ll capture beautiful moments of peace and calm.
5. Pragma: committed, enduring love
“Commitment is an act, not a word.”
Pragma is the love between romantic partners which is based on commitment, patience, and endeavoring to enhance the relationship over time. Pragma describes an enduring, mature love that grows in healthy, long-term relationships.
Partners who have been together for several or many years tend to be very comfortable with each other — and they know which locations and activities support their bond as a couple. Their home is a great location for photographing this type of couple, as they have likely buil this home together through time and with love.
Prompts for long-term couples:
- Ask the couple to show how much they love each other by engaging in an activity where they will be physically close. This could be activities such as slow dancing, touching each other’s face while looking at each other, cooking together or simply kissing.
- Position the partners close to each other and have them look into each other’s eyes. Ask one of them to think of their favorite thing about the other and to communicate it using only their eyes. Ask them to lean in for a kiss or an intimate hug when they sense that the other person is feeling the moment.
6. Agápe: empathetic, universal love
“Love is such a powerful force. It’s there for everyone to embrace-that kind of unconditional love for all of humankind. That is the kind of love that impels people to go into the community and try to change conditions for others, to take risks for what they believe in.”
— Corretta Scott King
Agápe is love that is empathetic to humanity itself, to nature and to both friends and strangers. It is a love that is altruistic, compassionate and in which people help others without wanting anything in return.
As agápe is driven more by a feeling than an action, capturing it in photos generally involves much less of a set-up than with our previous types of love.
Ideas where you could capture and photograph agápe in action are at a pride rally, of volunteers at a food bank, and of people who dedicate their lives to others such as nurses or teachers. To capture the feeling of agápe toward the earth, you could go to an organic farm or animal rescue and photograph people interacting with the location.
Photographing with the Greek words for love as your guide and inspiration, you’re practically guaranteed to create magical, authentic photos of the connection between your subjects.
Interested in joining our community of photographers and contributing to Noun Project? Submit your work here.
Creative Director for Photos at Noun Project and Photographer