Creating Mood and Feeling in Your Photographs

Crafting a fine art photograph is a process requiring imagination, artistic vision, technical mastery, and good old fashion hard work.  There are no short cuts and like many things in life, you will fail far more than you succeed.  However, for those fleeting times when your inspiration meets execution, there is nothing more rewarding.

Join me, Andrew Collett, in this continuing blog series where I will share the behind the scenes creation of a few of my favourite landscape photographs and touch on why I feel they have become classic best sellers and why they connect so deeply with me and to others.  As well, we will take a look at important processing considerations prior to printing and what possible media choices would be best.

Randomly clicking the shutter at whatever catches your eye is fun way to “take” a photograph, however, it is no way to “create” a photograph.  Creating a photograph requires much planning, pre-visualization, artistic inspiration and technical execution.  It requires you to consider the following:

What is it about my subject that I find inspiring?
How am I artistically going to compose my subject?
What lighting and atmospheric conditions would be best for my subject?
What mood or feeling do I want to convey in my photograph?
What is it that makes this subject special?
How am I technically going to use my equipment to execute my vision?

Not all of the above will apply every time you contemplate a photograph, however, asking these types of questions before taking a picture will help you narrow down and “focus” your creative attention on what is important about your subject.

Morning Rain

The photograph at the top of this post was taken in Algonquin Park during an early morning summer rain.  Using the questions above as a guide, I will discuss the creative process I went through, how I technically choose to photograph the subject, and finally what considerations I will make when deciding how to print the image.

What mood or feeling did I want to convey in this photograph?

On this particular day it wasn’t so much the subject that was inspiring as is was the overall mood of the landscape.  The rain was  pouring down and there was a soft mist hanging over the lake.  It was both comforting and melancholy at the same time and it was this feeling that I wanted to convey in my photograph.

For me, my most successful photographs are those that start as feelings.  I try to imagine how what I am feeling about the scene could translate in a photograph.  I know this seems existential, but I honestly believe that when we connect how we feel with what we are photographing, we are on the verge of creating something truly special.  

You will often hear people say, “the photograph doesn’t do it justice.”  This is because they didn’t successfully convey how they were feeling about the subject through the camera.

How am I artistically going to compose the subject?

The composition for Morning Rain is not complicated, it is structured around the “rule of thirds” as I often find this style works well when creating photographs that are relaxing and easy to look at.

Choosing what to include in your composition requires careful consideration.  When composing a near-far photograph like Morning Rain, you need to choose a beginning, middle, and end.  Each element is equally important and either adds or takes away from your composition.  Look for the best examples of each and try to incorporate them into your composition.

The rock in the foreground caught my eye first, it has a beautiful shape and form and anchors the beginning of the photograph.  The mid-ground reeds walk you into the scene and lead you to the rounded hills in the background where your eye is left to explore the variations in shape and tone.

How am I technically going to use my equipment to execute the vision?

Now that I have established the mood and composition for my photograph, it was time to make some technical decision on how to achieve the look and feel that I wanted.  

Near far compositions are often shot with wide angle lenses.  This creates drama in the foreground while exaggerating the sense of distance with the background.  As I wanted the background to be an important feature in this image I did not want to “push” it off into the distance, rather, I wanted to keep it in the same perspective as I was seeing with my naked eye.  Also, this was not meant to be a dramatic image, I wanted a calm relaxing feel so for these reasons I choose to use a normal focal length lens of around 50mm.

Aperture and shutter speed were the next decision.  I wanted to blur the raindrops in the water so I knew I needed a small aperture and slow shutter speed to do this.  As it was fairly bright, I wasn’t getting a slow enough shutter speed even when stopped down to F18.

This is where being creative with your equipment comes into play.  I had in my camera bag a variable ND (neutral density filter) which fits onto the front of my lens and allows me to dial in extra density to reduce the amount of light entering the camera.  This has the effect of creating a longer shutter speed and was a perfect choice for the look I was after.  I ended up with a shutter speed of around 6 seconds at F18 but anything over 4 seconds would have been enough.

I should mention that shooting in the rain creates it’s own issues, water and condensation on the lens and of course the risk of getting your camera wet.  To help avoid this I always make sure to have a dry lens cloth and shoot with a protective bag for my camera.

Printing Considerations.
For me the end result of my photography is to create a fine art print.  While shooting, I often find myself thinking about how the photograph will look when printed and what media it might be best suited for.

As there is a lot of negative space in this image the paper choice was going to be important as it would show through in the areas of less ink density.  A fine art paper with a little texture looks great, also, canvas gives this this image a real painterly feel which works with the mood of the photograph.

Most people have light colour walls and as this is a light toned image, a frame to create a border and separate the image from the wall is almost a necessary.  When I print this on canvas I choose a black float frame and of course, when printed on paper a simple black picture frame works best.

When processing this photograph for printing it is necessary to maintain the contrast in the subtle tones so making sure I have just enough mid-tone contrast is important.  I am also careful not to darken the rock in the foreground too much as I want to show all the detail that is there.

About the Author
Andrew Collett has over 20 years experience as a professional photographer and fine art print maker and is the founder of Print Partner Inc.