Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Published 8:36 PM by with 0 comment

Moving Pictures: Capturing Mood and Atmosphere

A photograph is not worth making unless it moves me in some way. Making a successful image, for me, entails not only pressing the shutter but also developing the digital negative in a program like Capture One or Lightroom. If the final result is to be black and white, a further step of developing will take place in Silver Efex Pro 2. But enough about that. This post is about how I feel about photography, not what I do on my computer.

Getting an idea out of my head and turning it into a finished photograph gets easier with experience. That's not to say that everything I do is a success, far from it.
Because I'm not doing any commercial work, my ideas are completely my own. Occasionally the resulting images will look really good in-camera and other times their potential is realized in post production. My favorite part of the process is when the photograph takes on a life of its own.
I recently found myself at a hotel in an uninspiring location. I sometimes have moments where, if I don't do something with my camera, I'll go crazy. I was feeling like that in the hotel room and I suddenly had the idea of a lone figure, sitting at the edge of a bed, backlit by window light. The mood I was looking for was one of reflection, anticipation, possibly sadness and loneliness. Was this person hoping for good news or was he recovering from bad news? I like the ambiguity of the shot.

Waiting for News.
I've always been drawn to the atmosphere of fog. I think everyone is fascinated by it on some level. As a landscape photographer, it simplifies an otherwise busy scene, stripping everything down to its bare essence.
I was in Bend, Oregon and managed to snag some early morning fog at nearby Sparks Lake. The combination of the sun's first rays and the thick fog made for an interesting variety of patterns. Converting these photos to black and white created the mood I was after. Over the years, I have found that my most successful photographs are simple in design and simple works really well in monochrome.

Morning Fog.
The lake cooperated with my demands for a perfect reflection and I also chose black and white for the finish on this wide shot. I added quite a lot of grain using Sillver Efex Pro.
Sometimes I feel like digital photographs are a little too perfect and, contrary to some of my pixel-peeping colleagues, I prefer a grungier look. I like to add grain to soften the edges and create a warmth usually only found in film.

Sunrise at Sparks Lake.

There are few places I've been to since I started my epic road trip where climate change is not fully evident. Lake levels are at a record low and the landscape itself is changing profoundly.
From a photographic standpoint, the dried-up lake bottom was an interesting subject. The play of the morning light on the cracks in the earth made for fantastic textures.

A variety of moods at Sparks Lake.

It seemed like autumn came to Eugene in Oregon a little early this year. There was already a bed of leaves on the ground when I arrived at the beginning of August. While the summer represents a cacophony of vacationers boating, camping and hiking, autumn brings a quietness to the air. The slight chill in the morning is a welcome one and the colors of the falling leaves are spectacular.
Strange then that I would choose black and white for the shot below. As beautiful as the colors are, the details in the dead leaves are more interesting to me. Extracting the color helps to make the intricacies shine through.

An Early Fall.

Roof of Pete French Round Barn.

A highway that goes on for what seems like forever is a bit of a cliché these days but it is a metaphor for my life at the moment. Particularly in the United States, these roads represent freedom and endless possibilities. The highway is the conduit to my next destination, my next experience and my next favorite photograph.

The Longest Road.

I missed the Supermoon rising recently and it would have been breathtaking had I known about it and traveled a few miles to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. However, I'm not sure I would have captured such interesting clouds as I did a few days earlier. I was shooting the sunset at Black Canyon and my friend pointed to the sky behind me. I'm not sure I would have seen it in time had she not noticed it. This shot is all about mood. It reminds me of something I might see in a Steven Spielberg movie :)

Rising moon at Black Canyon in Colorado.

I had a few opportunities to watch and capture the sunrise and sunset at Black Canyon. The insignificance I felt while standing there was supreme. The colors were forever changing, evoking a kind of melancholy. These are the times that I am so grateful for this life.

Shades of sunrise and sunset at Black Canyon.

This last photograph below of Black Canyon is one of my favorites. I shot it on the first day I was there. On my way up to the park the sky was heavy with dark clouds and it began to rain. I had been watching the weather forecast and was expecting a little drama when the clouds would eventually clear. My patience was rewarded when shards of light appeared, penetrating the rain clouds like spotlights on a stage. The sun selectively lit up patches of the rock face and all I had to do was be there to capture it.
The resulting photograph has an ominous mood and it highlights, quite literally, the magnificent canyon walls. Meanwhile, the dark shadows fall to black, adding mystery to the picture. This is a good example of when the photograph takes on a life of its own. I could never have precisely planned the atmosphere in the final image.

Dramatic Light at Black Canyon.

Despite having access to some of the most stunning scenery in the United States, there are times when I have nothing but my imagination with which to make a photograph (like the above example in my hotel room). No matter where I find myself, I rarely say "there is nothing to shoot here". I truly believe that, with an open and creative mind, inspiration will make itself known.
My Adobe Spark (formerly Slate) presentation of this post is available here

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