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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.