Water reflecting grey clouds and pink-tinged sky
Lens-Artists,  Photographic techniques,  Themed galleries

Gallery: in the mood

The moods and qualities of nature and the revelations of great art are equally difficult to define; we can grasp them only in the depths of our perceptive spirit.

Ansel Adams

It’s not too difficult to take a photograph of an object, person, animal or scene. Choose your subject, point your camera and press the shutter. A modern camera (or phone) will do all the work for you in terms of making sure the subject is in focus and well exposed. But how do you photograph a mood?

That’s the Lens Artists challenge set for us this week by Sofia. My answer is that we have three options:

Firstly, we can choose a subject that in itself suggests a certain mood. A rainy day, a still lake, an angry face.

Secondly, we can adjust our camera settings to create a mood or atmosphere, maybe by deliberately under- or over-exposing, or using a very shallow depth of field.

Thirdly, we can create a mood during post-editing, using software or maybe a phone app.

My preferred options tend to be the first and last of these techniques. But in my gallery below I’ve tried to include examples of all three.

Choosing a mood-suggesting subject

Still lake with wooden jetties and a distant volcano

Lake Atitlan, early morning

A still lake and an early morning provide the perfect opportunity to capture some tranquil shots. Our hotel in Panajachel, Guatemala, was on the lakeshore making it relatively easy to be in the right place at the right time. The overall blue tones of the image add to the sense of tranquility.

Group of four giraffes and a carcass

Mourning giraffes

Late one afternoon on a game drive in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, when the sun had already set, we encountered this group of giraffes. There were four young males and a female, standing around a giraffe carcass that was being picked over by jackals. They seemed truly to understand that here was one of their own and to be mourning for him. From time to time two of them would nuzzle against each other or entwine their necks, as if in consolation. Maybe I’m anthropomorphising to some extent, but it was in itself a mournful scene.

Pale waterlily among deep green lily pads

Waterlily, Okavango Delta

What can be more joyful than a simple shot of a flower turning its face to the sun, especially when contrasted with much darker leaves? And following the rule of thirds ensures maximum impact for this beautiful waterlily.

Creating a mood with camera settings

Dead branch and blurred sparkling water

At Cascada Paine, Torres del Paine NP, Chile

By using a wide aperture to create shallow depth of field I’ve turned the waterfall behind this dead branch into an abstract sparkling backdrop, contrasting with and emphasising the bleak appearance of the tree.

Black and white bird on a dried twig among waving grasses

Pied Kingfisher in the Okavango Delta

Again, the use of a shallow depth of field, here achieved with a long zoom setting, has produced the mood for this shot. Throwing the papyrus grass in the background out of focus creates a sense of movement that contrasts with the stillness and patience of the bird.

Small waterfall surrounded by bushesBlurred water over a small fall, surrounded by bushes

Aysgarth Falls, Wensleydale, Yorkshire

Here is an example of how the choice of setting can alter a mood. With a fast shutter speed the water of these falls is lively and bubbling. Slow the shutter down and the water takes on a dreamy look, slightly other-worldy. The brown colour of the water, by the way, is due to peat run-off from the moors above the dale.

Creating a mood in post editing

Low clouds over a lake

Lago Todos los Santos

This lake in Chile is apparently surrounded by stunning mountain scenery but when we took a boat ride here it was mostly shrouded in rain clouds. I made the best of it by increasing the contrast in the clouds and water when editing. This made a feature out of the glimmer of brightness as the sun tried to break through. I transformed the shot to monochrome, and cropped to emphasise the sky. I then applied a Color Efex vintage filter to add blue tones and a moody graininess.

Low mist over a lake

Matthews Linn, Kielder Water, Northumberland

Leaving Kielder one morning after an overnight stay I spotted that the early morning mist was still drifting among the hills on the far side of the lake. We pulled over and spent some time capturing the scene. It was already magical, but I used Photoshop to later exaggerate the dreamy mood by increasing the contrast and slightly softening the focus. I also added a cool filter to bring out the blue shades.

If you like this mood, I have a whole post devoted to this shoot here.

Sepia photo of an old stone building and cobbled lane

In a quiet corner of Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria

Koprivshtitsa in Bulgaria is not a regular sort of town; all the buildings of the town centre together constitute a museum. Many of its larger and most significant houses are well-preserved and colourfully painted, but in a back lane I came across this rather ramshackle storehouse or barn. I later converted my shot to sepia and added a frame to create the appearance of an old postcard and invoke a sense of nostalgia.


  • Wind Kisses

    I find it fascinating that many animals grieve. It makes sense, but is so moving to see it. Your giraffe photo was powerful! The kingfisher with the blurry background does bring a stillness to the photo. I took a photo of a hummingbird yesterday and, as always with hummingbirds, I wish I had my Nikon. The photo I took was just too busy. Would have been so much nicer if the background was out of focus. I didn’t have a favorite photo, but the sepia photos of the storehouse in Bulgaria seemed to have so many stories it wanted to tell, especially since it was off the beaten path. Loved it Sarah.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you so much Donna, I always love to get your comments and feedback 😊 You’re right that a blurred background sets off subjects like birds the best, bu it’s not always achievable. I’m glad you liked the sepia edit too. That whole village has stories to tell, as it was at the heart of the Bulgarian uprising against Ottoman rule. I should do a post about it one day!

      • Wind Kisses

        You should. With travel, there are so many stories in stories. Do you organize your photos according to places, dates, themes? All of the above? I am pretty organized but with photos there are so many times we use them for “other” stuff.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          My travel photos are organised into folders according to where they were taken, and if I’ve been to a place more than once further organised by date of travel. I sometimes pull out a few highlights, such as street photos or wildlife, and duplicate them in themed folders, but I’m not very disciplined about doing that so it’s a bit random! Recently I’ve started using Adobe Bridge (part of their Creative Cloud suite) to tag photos with themes such as different animals, street photos, landscapes, etc. etc. That way I can then do a search in File Explorer if a theme comes up for a challenge. But it’s quite time-consuming so it will be ages, if ever, that I get around to doing ALL my folders that way! Meanwhile I rely on my very imperfect memory 😆

          • Wind Kisses

            hahaha. same. I try too. I feel organized, but then I want a random photo that has nothing to do with a place and can’t find it. I asked because I ran across a photo I thought I had deleted and was thinking if I had a better system, I might find those random photos better. Lets just say its all in the fun. lol.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Nora 😀 I’ve shared that photo of the Okavango Delta previously, in an unedited version, so I thought it would be interesting to play around with the colours and mood this time – glad you like the result!

      • equinoxio21

        If you have it at hand, otherwise don’t bother. We were there some 20 years ago. The hotel might not even be there anymore. 😉 (Though my wife probably remembers the name. Ha!)

        • Sarah Wilkie

          It was right at the lake end of the main street, on the left facing the water just before the path lined with souvenir sellers etc. I looked on Google maps and it’s still there – the Posada Don Rodrigo. It had (and seems still to have) a small private museum attached which might jog your memory?

          • equinoxio21

            Could well be. By the location. Names change. I’ll have a look at our albums. Might have jotted the name down.
            That would be a nice coincidence.

  • pattimoed

    Great post, Sarah–your images, your explanation, your approach to the theme. Terrific. I lespecially ove your kingfisher image, the giraffes, and Lake Atitlan. Great photos.

  • wetanddustyroads

    Lake Atitlan is picture perfect! And one can almost feel the atmosphere in the mourning giraffe photo – that’s brilliant (but also sad at the same time).

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 😊 Yes, that lake was perfect for photos (I took loads!) and I completely agree about the giraffes, I was both fascinated and sad to watch them.

  • Image Earth Travel

    Beautiful, Sarah!
    I’m more of a purist and use my eye to frame a picture. I find post-processing tediously painful – perhaps I need to change my philosophy. 😉

  • margaret21

    These are fabulous. And – high praise from someone who generally doesn’t like ‘mucked-about-with-photos’ – I love your header photo. And good to see Yorkshire qualifying for an honourable mention. A great pair of images.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Margaret, that is indeed high praise 😊 That header photo is lovely in its own right but I’ve used it several times before so for this challenge I thought it would be interesting to experiment with some different filters and I rather liked that effect and the colours it produced 🙂 Glad you enjoyed seeing Aysgarth Falls too!

  • Sofia Alves

    I’m glad you covered all three ways (you explained them beautifully, by the way) of photographing moods, even the one you normally don’t go for. My favourites are both the post editing ones. They really strike a chord with me today.
    The giraffes one is an interesting one and a remarkable shot. I think they are mourning as elephants also do.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Sofia 😊 I’m glad you like the post-editing ones, as I enjoyed creating those! Yes, the giraffes are mourning like elephants are known to do, but apparently it’s much rarer for giraffes to do so and usually only when a mother loses a baby.

  • bushboy

    Well done in giving us a mood. Favourites, the Kingfisher (of course), that fabulous water lily and the sepia in Bulgaria, truly wonderful Sarah 🙂

  • Tina Schell

    Excellent exploration of the topic Sarah – for me the image most on-point was the giraffe gathering. Perhaps I’m just in the mood (😊) for anthropomorphism this week but I do truly believe animals feel as we do and seeing one of their own being decimated would definitely be moving.Terrific post.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Tina 😊 It was quite fascinating, as well as moving, to see this behaviour in the giraffes. Our experienced naturalist guide was equally fascinated – she said she’d never witnessed them do this in several years of guiding there.

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Very interesting difference in the two shots of the cascading water. As a complete non-tech dinosaur most of the points in this post are lost on me but I can certainly appreciate the quality and “mood” of the shots.

  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Your amazing photos put me in a good mood, Sarah. I loved them all, but if I had to choose a favorite it would be the Kielder Water. It truly is dreamy. I hope you’re having a nice Sunday.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Kellye. I’m glad you picked out Kielder, it’s a favourite of mine 😊 The ten minutes or s we spent taking photos there were fantastic, I got so many images that I was at least pretty pleased with, and a few that I love!

  • Anne Sandler

    Wow Sarah, this post is amazing in photography and narrative. I like the way you describe how you create/change the picture’s mood in post. This shows your creativity at work. Well done.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Anne 😊 I’ve learned from reading posts by all you LAC crowd how much it adds to it if there’s some explanation about how the photos were created!

  • Amy

    Beautiful gallery in the mood. Thank you for explaining. Your photos tell stories. The mourning giraffes is quite moving. Love the lake capture!

  • photobyjohnbo

    Great examples, Sarah! I enjoy capturing the mood of an image as I see it, but I find changing the mood of an image in post-processing to be fun as well. I really like the cool blues added to your post-processing selections.

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