Certain photos command attention in such a way that we experience an immediate visceral response. You might feel uplifted, content, anxious, surprised, or even upset after viewing emotionally charged photos. This emotional element in photography is referred to as “mood.” In certain scenarios, like with candid photography, you will often find that a scene already has a predominant mood. Mood isn’t easily created while shooting outside of a studio, but here are a few ways to enhance it.
You are probably familiar with tools in post-production that help create more emotionally charged images. Tweaking the color tones, applying subtle masking effects, and other editing techniques can drastically shift the feel of an image. The tools in editing apps like PicsArt make this incredibly easy for photographers of any skill level.
One often overlooked way to enhance mood is through deliberate choices in composition. The way a subject is framed and appears in the context of your shot can set up a lot of backstory. In fact, the mood of an image can be difficult to adjust without the right elements in the photo to begin with. Here’s how different compositions can enhance a photo’s mood. Keep in mind that mood is also largely influenced by the subject matter and the context of the shot.
1. Leading Lines
Leading lines help draw the eye to elements in a photo, giving a sense of movement. When framing a shot with potential to use leading lines, think about what they convey about your subject. Leading lines can converge to point to the subject or towards a destination. Some photographers choose their vantage point so that lines in their composition create a path for the subject to follow towards an unknown. This can evoke feelings of curiosity, uncertainty, and anxiousness.
2. Static Lines
Primarily lines that are mostly vertical and horizontal, static lines create a sense of order and certainty, adding a feeling of rigidity to the scene. Similarly, when these lines create a consistent pattern, it adds an element of predictability to the shot. How your subject appears and is placed in comparison to these lines can change the mood. A subject within rigid lines can convey a sense of order, being grounded, or even feeling trapped.
3. Vertical Lines
Vertical lines tend to imply power, strength, and stability. How this relates to your subject can make it appear small, or even imposing on the viewer. You may even frame the shot to highlight the subject so that its outline creates long vertical lines to make it seem larger and bolder.
4. Horizontal Lines
These lines span most of the frame, and can create a sense of calm while adding an element of stability and balance. Landscapes are a great example of this effect, often using horizontal lines to bring parts of the foreground and background into perspective.
5. Subject Size and Placement
Scale can change the overall mood of a photo as well. Filling the frame with a close-up is imposing, making your subject look intimidating and larger than life. This creates an “in-your-face” impact on the viewer. Conversely, widening the frame so that your subject is smaller in comparison to its surroundings can make it appear minuscule.
This can be achieved by framing shapes and lines so everything is spaced out more or less evenly, without any one object dominating the frame. The eyes tend to be drawn to any perceived blanks in an image or inconsistencies in patterns. Photos with balance are free of this sense of tension, since everything appears to belong where it is. This can often be associated with feelings of tranquility and calm.
If you’re unsure how to check for balance, draw lines using the rule of thirds by dividing the photo into three equal parts both horizontally and vertically. A balanced photo will have the subject at one or two points of intersection, and other light and dark elements in the frame should be close to equivalent in size.
7. Asymmetrical Composition
Asymmetry can create tension by deliberately placing objects within the frame out of symmetry. This adds drama to a photo since visually, these different object are competing for space within the frame.
8. Negative Space
Negative space can be used to strip away the details in the photo down to just your subject. Depending on the context of the shot, this can set the subject apart, create feelings of isolation, or even show an imbalance of power.
There are many ways to capture and enhance the mood of a photo. When approaching your next shot with potential for mood, think of the story you want to tell and what you want to highlight about your subject. With that vision in mind, simply being more aware of the elements around you and how they can be used to enhance the feel of your shot can help capture the desired mood.
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