I think all of us have looked at certain photographs that created a feeling, an emotion, that we didn’t have before we viewed the image. It may have been an image from the master photographer Ansel Adams, or maybe it was just a picture of a young child that pulled on your heartstrings. Whatever image it was, we all know that feeling of a “difference” in us that we felt by just having seen it.
Have you ever thought about just what was it in a photographic image that created a particular emotion in you? The first thing that comes to mind is probably the most obvious – the subject – of the image. There are certain subjects – weddings, kids, animals, war, poverty, death, who – by their very presence – can create strong feelings in us. The interesting thing here is that they aren’t universal. Some folks don’t like dogs or kids. These images don’t create any strong emotion. More likely, at most, just disinterest.
Interestingly enough, the one thing that I believe is the most important factor in creating and imparting emotion is something that beginning photographers tend to overlook. In addition to capturing what they think is an interesting subject, they’re usually more interested in composition – direction – movement. While these are important to the overall image, I believe that the most important factor in creating and imparting emotion in an image is light. By light, I mean the use of light/shadow/contrast/its direction/ and its color. This isn’t something new in photography or art in general. When you read about the dutch masters what is the most important element in their works – light. When people speak of the impressioninsts, what do they always refer to – their use of light. In photography – especially with the work of Ansel Adams. It’s all about his use of light. Even if you think about the word photography itself – Photo [light] graphy [to write or draw]. To draw with light. Throughout this post you will see several of my images that emphasize the importance of light.
First, let’s look at an image of the Jewish cemetery in Prague. Here light doesn’t need to have color to be effective. This image was purposely created using [and emphasizing] a very harsh, high contrast light. By doing this you’ll notice that it also brings out textures and a more gritty feel to the image. All of this adds to the somber mood and the emotion that this image was meant to convey.
On the other side of the spectrum, the color of light and its properties when it is diffused through mist can also have an impact on both mood and emotion. This image of the bay at Newkowin and the sunken forest leaves us with a chilly, almost mystical feelling for this beautiful, secluded beach.
To emphasize the importanace of light with and without color I’ve also added two of the same image, one in color and the other converted to black and white. The black & white conversion was done without any changes to the values so you can see how important light is to each. The light in both images comes only from the candles and a small window above the woman. In this case shadow [the absence of light] plays as big a role in creating the contemplative mood of the scene and how that emotion is conveyed.
I put in this last image of the tulips to emphasize the importance of the direction of light. Lighting from behind adds a vibrance – an energy to the image that is unique. When we view images like these our emotions become more heightened, in expectation of what will come next – even though we know that this is a still image and won’t change. That’s the impact that back lighting can have on our emotional perception of an image
While others may disagree about the importance of light in creating a mood and conveying an emotion I believe it is the most important element. All I ask is that when you’re out shooting, keep in mind the available light and try to use it to its greatest potential in your final image. Best – Bill