“What does love mean” is one of the most common Google searches of all time.

It’s astounding that after centuries of human development and huge advances in understanding the human brain, love is a concept we just haven’t quite grasped.

Intimate couple kissing in the car.

Photo by Karen Rotezky

Many great poets, writers and philosophers have put pen to paper trying to illuminate the most elusive of subjects, to put a frame around a feeling that is so deeply personal and transformative for each one of us.  

Author Jeff Brown said, “That’s the thing about great love. It elevates everything around it. You walk through a forest together and it becomes a great temple. You merge your bodies and all heaven breaks loose (…) That’s why we can’t stop writing about love. Every verse is a cry for wholeness.” 

But where words may only provide a small glimmer of understanding, photography is like a window straight into love’s core. The art of capturing love on film is as delicate and enigmatic as the subject matter itself. Emotion is often fleeting and spontaneous, so no amount of clever lighting tricks, direction or beautiful scenery will cut it. It’s about reading between the lines of your subjects, understanding the subtleties of their body language and translating those poignant moments into the perfect shot.

Read on to be inspired by five photographers, who’ve captured the many forms that love takes all over the world, from South Africa to Paris to Brooklyn. The diversity of these images proves there’s one thing we know about love for certain: it’s in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps that’s the answer to all those forlorn of google queries.

Karen Rosetzkey

Blonde female couple having a breakfast at home.

Danish-Dutch photographer Karen Rosetzsky’s series ‘Young Love’ was shot over the course of three years – everywhere from Copenhagen to New Orleans to Cape Town – capturing giddy lovers during their most intimate moments, as they dance, skinny dip, eat breakfast in bed and make out in cars. Speaking of the project, Karen commented, “It was super nice to be able to capture these intimate and spontaneous moments. I always have an idea of what I want to capture before we start shooting, but when you’re in an actual bedroom you sometimes see things that aren’t what you’d imagined (…) A lot of the couples didn’t mind being naked in front of the camera as well, and that’s an incredible gift to a photographer when you are looking for something special and personal.”

Intimate couple kissing in sunset beach.

Monochrome happy couple's hug in the field.

Funky happy couple standing in the bedroom.

Zanele Muholi

African women couple half naked hug.

A photographer and self-proclaimed visual activist, South African photographer Zanele Muholi illuminates black lesbian and gay identities in contemporary South Africa. For her series ‘Faces and Phases’ (2006-11), Muholi photographed more than 200 portraits of South Africa’s lesbian community. “The portraits are at once a visual statement and an archive,” she has said, “marking, mapping, and preserving an often invisible community for posterity.” Muholi’s sensitive portraits challenge the stigma surrounding gays and lesbians in South Africa, debunk the common rhetoric that homosexuality is un-African, and address the preponderance of hate crimes against homosexuals in her native country.

African female with white cloth covered face.

Intimate African women couples love.

Blurred intimate women couple.

Braden Summers

African women couple with bicycles standing in the bridge.

Braden Summers is a New York-based director and photographer. Pictured are a series of portraits from his Kickstarter project, ‘All Love is Equal,’ where he travelled the world capturing beautiful images of LGBTI couples to promote diversity and acceptance. Braden felt that the LGBTI community was misrepresented by the mainstream media that has the tendency to portray LGBTI couples “in overly sexualized images, and sadly shown as a weak and powerless minority in foreign countries where it is dangerous to be recognized as gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer of any kind.”

Male lovers eating in busy market.

Arabian women sitting in the temple with small table.

Lauren Fleishman

Senior couple vintage mirror image. Male couple in suit walking in the street with umbrella.

Mainstream media is saturated with images of young and beautiful lovers – but what about the timeless and fathomless bonds shared between old couples who have shared each other’s love for more than 50 years? Photographer Lauren Fleishman set out to change this, capturing heart-warming, tender portraits of couples whose love for each other has survived half a century in a photo series called “The Lovers.” Fleishman was inspired to start the series when she read the love letters her grandfather had written to her grandmother during WWII. After he passed away, his diary connected the photographer to her grandparents’ marriage in a way that she couldn’t experience before.

Senior couple love in the living room.

Senior couple kiss in the garden.

Senior couple kiss at the beach.

Gabriela Hasbun

Female couple's hug.

Gabriela Hasbun is a commercial and editorial photographer based in San Francisco. Her latest personal project, “Transgender,” is a beautiful portrayal of transgender families. She writes: “My next project is a celebration of transgender families, in all their diverse shapes and forms. I know there is so much more to do for transgender equity, especially for those still marginalized. Nevertheless, I also know we are in an important phase in American history as gender non-conforming people, their experiences, and their voices are finding greater audience in mainstream society, particularly as part of loving families.”

Female couple's hug

Funky women couple standing outside the bar.

Female couple's hug.

Ros Brennan is a Sydney-based culture, lifestyle and travel writer who is published in Buro 24/7, 9Elsewhere, ArtsHub, Escape.com.au and Design Travel as well as being the co-founding editor of Antidote. She has an unstoppable love for 80s music, philosophy and French cinema, only matched by her inordinate fear of small talk and staying in one place.