In Photography, Light = Mood = Emotion

4 07 2010

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




9 responses

15 09 2017
Falguni Pathak

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11 06 2017
internet marketing

An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a friend who has been conducting a
little research on this. And he actually ordered me dinner because I
stumbled upon it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this….
Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending the time
to discuss this topic here on your web site.

27 10 2014
bamboo Indoor

Have you ever considered creating an ebook or guest authoring on other blogs?
I have a blog centered on the same ideas you discuss and would really like
to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would appreciate your work.
If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

3 10 2014
choosing a wedding photographer

Hello to all, how is everything, I think every one is getting more from
this site, and your views are fastidious designed for new visitors.

15 03 2014
Creative Writing

I like it when people get together and share ideas. Great
blog, continue the good work!

31 12 2013
Rudy Steinhardt

Thanks for your post. Another factor is that being photographer consists of not only trouble in catching award-winning photographs but additionally hardships in establishing
the best digicam suited to your requirements and most especially
challenges in maintaining the standard of your camera.
This is very correct and clear for those photographers that are straight into capturing a nature’s interesting scenes : the mountains,
the actual forests, the actual wild or perhaps the seas.
Going to these adventurous places surely requires a camera that can surpass the wild’s nasty natural environment.

8 08 2010

Just so you know, with your help I’ve figured it out and just keep trying more and more of this to find one that just really screams “COOL” to me!!! So fun. Thanks,

1 08 2010

Good Morning Shelley –
First – thank you for checking out my blog – I hope that you’re enjoying it. The newest post this morning – on Editorial Photography – talks about a significantly different approach to making images. I hope you’ll have a chance to read it.

Now – as to the little girl with the bubbles. If you have any Adobe Photoshop software it’s quite easy. The key here is having software that has a form of Layers in it. So, here’s what you do:
• First you have the original image [the background layer]
• You can then take one of several approaches
o Duplicate that layer [so it rests on top of the original]
o Make that layer Black and White [if you can work on that layer directly]
o Take the eraser tool and erase the black and white bubbles on the top layer
o This will expose the color underneath
• Another similar, and equally easy, way is to start with the original image [as above] then:
o Instead of duplicating the original layer, while it’s still active, go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer> and choose Channel Mixer , or Hugh/Saturation and use one of these tools to create a black and white layer above the original.
o Just like above, you then take the eraser tool and erase what you don’t want from the topmost layer – exposing the color underneath.
• The important part in all this is to have software that includes Layers in its structure. If you have that, it’s really quite easy and the end result looks fantastic.

I hope that this is of some help for you. Again, thank you for checking out my blog and I hope you’ll continue.

Best –

30 07 2010

I would really love to learn how to do something like you have done with the little girl and the bubbles photo.

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