Atmosphere can amplify an interesting subject, creating a great photograph that says something more through light and through selectively keeping areas unlit to create mystery and intrigue. The mood created can also change the context of the subject matter drastically and alter our perspective and interpretation of the scene.
Here are ten great examples of using atmosphere to create a great photograph.
In this photograph by Chandra Bong the long exposure has smoothed out the water and also amplify the wisps of cloud or fog moving over the mountains. This effect, especially with the ethereal clouds moving over the mountains on the right, gives the photograph a quiet feel communicating the solitude of the location. Chandra has also used a wide angle lens to great effect giving us this beautiful sculptural piece of ice while including the context of the location for our benefit.
This photograph of a child from Rowena has so much atmosphere caused by photographing the child on the edge of a light source. This allows most of the child to fade into darkness while retaining the eye which is our point of focus. Many photographs also use the colour blue in shadow areas to create a sense of coldness and mood, and here there is a touch of warmth on the lit skin that provides a nice colour contrast which draws us back to the face.
Shooting up towards the sun while underwater creates a beautiful delicate mood that suits these manta rays perfectly. Matt has deliberately created silhouettes that dance throughout the scene that tell us more about the rays and even about their movement through the still image.
Where other photographers so often use darkness to create a mood, Nick Hinch uses the lightness of the scene and snowdrifts to create its own atmosphere, suitable for a beautiful location like Iceland. The high key approach to the environment creates an isolated feel to the photograph and its subject, the beautiful Icelandic Horse. Capturing the head of the horse facing downwards rather than at the viewer also helps communicate a feeling of coldness, of covering up, of harshness in this world.
Empty space is used well to create a feeling of isolation and mystery in this shot by Alexander Housalas. Including all this space around the van rather than simply photographing the van tightly, we are forced to consider why the van is here in this bleak roadside location and at this time of evening. The light from the van itself gives it a place in the composition by lighting the surrounding space.
A great non-traditional portrait from Seng Mah that asks many questions. The low level of light works effectively, filling the midtones, with the sparse highlights spared only to draw us towards the face of the man and lizard. The subject looking down and side profile rather than a front on with eye contact style shot adds to the mystery and dark textured background holds the atmosphere together.
Kylie Gee has done a great job photographing a huge amount of dust being disturbed in this rural scene. The fluorescent orange with the central contrasty tree immediately draws the eye and then encourages you to explore to the left and right, discovering rural sheds, water tanks and more, hidden by dust. This hiding of the various elements creates an interesting atmosphere that speaks to the hardship of rural life and how dry it can be in these areas.
An interesting observation from an art exhibition space by Andrew Dickman. These spaces are often very moody where video installations are being displayed and Andrew has used this to maximum effect by capturing an usual frame of the exhibited video, as well as juxtaposing it with the viewer in the bottom left who is kept at a distance, barely touched by the light.
This portrait by Candy Goldsmith teleports me to another time with a treatment that feels film-like (it may well be!) as well as this deep vignette. It matches well with the theme of the image which is about experiencing childhood through financial difficulty – something that resonates particularly with me. The positioning of the hands is a little guarded and unsure and with one eye hidden by hair you get a feeling that the child isn’t totally comfortable. This sits well with the general narrative and feel of the shot. All of the other elements in the photograph, from the old wheelbarrow to the often-repaired swing are well used and continue to tell this story.
Glenn Homann may well be a master of the mobile, with this shot as one of our finalists in the mobile category. Glen has positioned the strongest light behind the largest tree here which helps deal with the lack of dynamic range in most mobiles by reducing the brightest highlights. The scene is very painterly with fog allowing the foreground trees to better stand out against the background and there is a nice balance between the many trees on the left and the solo tree on the right standing out against the glimpse of river. There is also some strong vignetting that keeps you in the scene and creates even more mood. This could have possibly been captured on location (fog and light can do some wonderful things) or later in post-production.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at ten photographs from 2018 that exude atmosphere and mood. Atmosphere, mood, feeling are all things we will be looking for in 2019 and help us feel something for the photograph of the subject as well as communicating how we should feel about them when used at its best.