How To Capture Images That Portray A Mood

Photography is a powerful medium, it’s got the power to lift someones spirits or bring them to their knees depending on the content and composition.  Sometimes, as photographers, we see a moment that makes us feel a certain way and we want to capture that with the camera.  Fortunately, it’s not as easy as simply pointing and shooting at it like a Neanderthal.  No, you must take care to compose your image in a way that only includes what is needed and excludes anything that will contradict the mood you’re trying to convey.

The image you see above could have been a bright and cheery moment or sad and dreary one depending on the composition.  I went for more of a middle of the road approach so nobody jumped out of their windows in despair, leaving out some of the recently renovated buildings and road as well as the tattered tarps and piles of rubble to either side of the frame you see above.

Shooting through the fence is something I’ve used before, it’s an attempt to give the sensation that you’re standing right there, looking through your own two eyes rather than a two-dimensional photograph.  Using foreground elements like this can have a huge impact on what mood the image elicits with the viewer.  Obviously, if I had a little daisy flower in the foreground you’d probably feel a little more chipper when you viewed the image…  Amiright?  Imright.

When trying to convey a mood, or really just create great photography, what you include in the frame is just as important as what you keep out of it.  As you probably already know, simply moving the direction of the camera a hair this way or that can make a huge difference in the end result of the image.

Composition Ideas To Convey A Mood

There are ways you can enhance the mood of an area when you’re photographing it.  Think about what you feel when you look at the scene you are about to photograph and then try to include things like these to really hammer the point home:

Dark And Moody


Deep Textures

Dark Clouds

Possibly Under Expose Slightly

Lots of Contrast

Light and Cheerful

Blue Skies

Possibly Over Expose Slightly

Clean Lines

Smooth Textures

*Don’t try to include every example in one image…  These are meant to be examples, you can include one or multiple variations of the examples above to convey the mood that you’d like.  This is by no means an exhaustive list and there are certainly always exceptions to the rules so please get out there and experiment a little. 

Capturing Mood In Street Photography

Capturing mood in street photography can be a little more straight forward…  If you want to capture depression or sadness you can simply find someone who looks depressed

20273969645_bf96ea75ea_oCan’t find a sad sap to snap?  Use the composition builders we talked about above…  Like shadow, texture, etc. to create the mood you want.

JMB_0360Light and shadows are two of the most important ingredients for any type of photography you pursue.  When thinking of portraying a mood, think of yourself as a chemist creating a concoction that requires light and shadow in varying consistencies to develop a number of different results.  If you fill your precious beaker up with a majority of light and just a dash of shadow, let it cook on your Bunsen burner for a few minutes, and presto! you’ve got a photograph that gives viewers a happy-go-lucky mood.  Reverse that recipe, more shadow than light and you’ve got yourself a depression inducing snap shot that would have caused Vincent van Gogh to lop off his only remaining good ear.

*I hope it’s obvious that it’s not that easy, but the analogy above does have some semblance of truth to it, light and dark in varying quantities has a large impact on the overall mood of an image.

If none of that works then just flip your camera around and take a selfie of you frowning or smiling depending on the mood you want to capture.

If you’d like to share your photography with PhotolisticLife and the rest of the world feel free to submit it to either our Facebook page or the PhotolisticLife Flickr Group.  Don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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4 replies on “How To Capture Images That Portray A Mood”
  1. says: Becky

    Thanks for yet another good article – short and to the point. I like it. The one of the young man makes me want to sit down next to him and put my arm around his shoulders and tell him, “This, too, shall pass.” Is that an HD version (not sure how to accurately ask that question but you will know what I mean)?

    1. says: John Barbiaux

      Thank you! Yes, he seemed rather upset. The image is not an HDR image (high dynamic range), I think that’s what you meant. It was shot RAW and edited in Lightroom.

      1. says: John Barbiaux

        Haha, well there are lots of variables that can influence the “look” of a shot. I process a lot of my shots with VSCO (a plugin for Lightroom) which gives a distinct look. Also, I shoot with a full frame camera which has a larger dynamic range than smaller sensor cameras (not sure which camera you’re using now) which means I retain a lot more detail in my shadows and highlights which can make it seem like I am shooting HDR in some cases.

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