In this issue, Michael Freeman shows how to capture the intangibles that make images atmospheric
Creating a specific mood in a photo is a complex process, involving all sorts of variables. Michael Freeman discusses the colours, lighting and compositions that can give an image a particular atmosphere, from upbeat and cheery, to cool and calm, to wistful or melancholy
Photography isn’t always about visual components alone.
While light, colour, moment and so on are all important, and can often be enough of a reason to shoot in their own right – just think of a shaft of sunlight breaking through storm clouds and illuminating a key element in a landscape – they are by no means the only considerations. Underlying such surface details in a picture, there may be other things happening that work on the emotions of the viewer rather than the optical senses. Even without putting it into words, when we photograph, say, a landscape, we’re easily drawn to what most people would call a certain atmosphere, or mood. That shaft of light, or an unusual and brief combination of sunlight and clouds, for instance, might convey a sense of drama or even foreboding. Equally, a light morning mist over fields backlit at sunrise might evoke a mood of peace and tranquillity. Of course, moods may be harder to pin down and define than visual effects, but that doesn’t make them any less potent. You could think of them as adding another layer of meaning to your photography. Searching for mood with an idea of how to enhance it and communicate it effectively can be another, deeper, photographic tool for you to use.
Nor is mood confined to landscapes, even though that is probably the most obvious genre to benefit from it. Portraiture very often makes use of mood: subtle changes of expression and gesture can make a major difference to what the subject appears to be feeling (stress on the word ‘appears’, because human beings are complicated and don’t always show feelings obviously). Good portraiture, whether planned or impromptu, engages the viewer into thinking about what is going on behind the eyes and the face, and often it’s a matter of mood.
The combination of brooding clouds and a single low shaft of sunlight just after dawn is fleeting when it happens, but rarely fails to create a strong mood – in this case turning an otherwise normal view of Cader Idris in Wales into something much more dramatic