Unifying a Photo’s Emotions

What’s the difference between a good picture and a bad photo, also of the same subject? It’s a hard question. If I knew for sure, I’d never need in order to delete a photo again. But there is one concept that will I’ve found helpful to answer the question: unity.

Unity is all about getting the entire photo “on the same page, ” so to speak. The photo’s emotions are all in synchronize as much as possible.

It’s a bit like the concept of simplicity in photography, where you eliminate everything in the photo that will takes away from your message. But in this case, you’re not looking for individual distracting elements like an ugly piece of trash in the middleground of your panorama photo. Instead, you’re searching for emotions that contradict one another, and shifting them so that they complement each other instead.

It’s easier to picture with examples. Take a look at the 2 photos below, which obviously is just the same photo with two different post-processing styles:

Aspen trees with bright light and cheerful emotions
NIKON D800E + 20mm f/1. 6 @ 20mm, ISO 100, 1/30, f/16. 0

B&W Aspen Photo Edit

I’ve asked a number of photographers which one they like better, and thus far all of them have said the first photo. I concur.  

But why? It isn’t really as though a high-contrast, darkish, monochrome edit is always a bad fit. I’d even say it’s one of my favorite post-processing styles, both in my own pictures and in my favorites that I have seen from other photographers.  

Yet it doesn’t function here. I believe the reason is it messes with the photo’s emotional unity. In the real world, the aspen trees in front of me personally were bright, yellow (probably the most optimistic and sunlit color), and inviting. By comparison, the monochrome edit attempts to impart emotions of strength and mystery. Those are hardly bad emotions within photography, but in this situation, they branch off totally from the emotions of the issue!

How can you modify emotions in photography within the direction you want? There are plenty of methods. You could change your light, post-processing, subject, or composition. Actually camera settings and cameras play a role.

The contention is that one of the best methods to take a strong photo is to make sure these emotions are unified. For example , gentle plus low-contrast light complements a calm and peaceful subject; a balanced composition of the same scene continues the disposition even further. If you do all that, the end result is likely to be much stronger than a photo with a haphazard smattering of different emotions.

Here’s an incomplete list of the particular emotional decisions that exist in photography:

  1. High quality of light: Low contrast vs high contrast. Dark vs brilliant. Colors – and which of them – vs monochrome. Whichever light you pick (or await, if it’s natural light) has a massive impact on the photo’s emotions.
  2. Subject: Consider the differences between a rocky, jagged mountain and a gentle hill of grass. Figure out exactly what adjectives you’d use to explain each one; those are the emotions the subject will convey in your photo. (In portrait or even wildlife photography, the subject’s own emotions play a major role here, such as in case your subject looks happy or even sad. )
  3. Balance: A balanced picture is peaceful, deliberate, plus static. An imbalanced picture is tense, chaotic, and active.
  4. Space: A photo with lots of beneficial space feels crowded and busy. A photo with lots of damaging space feels lonesome plus empty.
  5. Structure: Imagine three individuals huddled together, versus the same three people far aside from each other, versus two people collectively and one alone. Each agreement has its own emotions. Exactly the same is also true of broader compositional shapes and constructions, like a circle versus a triangle.
  6. Texture: Gentle texture, soft emotions; harsh texture, harsh emotions. The emotions the texture conveys in a picture are almost always similar to the adjectives you would use to describe that texture (as is also true along with your subject).
  7. Other Post-Processing, Camera Settings, and Compositional Choices: There are numerous more ways to change the photo’s emotions. In post-processing, you can avoid and burn certain areas of the photo to emphasize or de-emphasize all of them. For your camera settings, you may use a long exposure or a quick exposure to change the character of your subject (say, blurred compared to tack-sharp). Even camera equipment can play a role, such as putting a soft-focus filter on your lens.

The key is that as many of such factors as possible should be telling the same story. You can shift all these factors toward a punchy photo, a somber photo, an etherial photo, an organic photo, or almost any other emotions you can think of. The more single these factors are, the clearer and more effective your own photo’s emotional message is going to be.

Take this illustration:

NIKON D800E + 24mm f/1. 4 @ 24mm, ISO hundred, 0. 6 seconds, f/16. 0

I was standing at the edge of the particular Arctic Ocean on a raining evening. The subject in front of myself was a jagged block associated with ice that had cleaned ashore, plus an angry ocean behind it. We deliberately chose an off-center composition rather than balancing the subject.   I waited for blue hour to get dark, high-contrast light (which also happened to be blue, exactly the same color as the subject – even more unification).

All those emotions are on the same page. The whole message of the photo is unified. Compare that to the photo below – which is a very similar subject matter, but is a much less unified and effective photo:

NIKON D800E + 24mm f/1. 4 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 2 seconds, Aperture: f/16. 0

Even though block of ice is comparable in both photos, this 2nd shot is so much weaker. The pastel light while flying and the centered, balanced structure give off gentle and stationary emotions, which are totally wrong for such a harsh block of ice. The message isn’t in sync in any way.

In the field, it’s almost as if there’s a checklist you can go through in order to shift a photo’s feelings in the right direction. Higher contrast? Check. Dark gentle? Check. Imbalance? Check. Extreme subject? Check. Jagged structure? Check. Everything is on a single page.

Naturally , I don’t keep a bodily checklist with me in the field, yet I absolutely think about these things just before taking a picture. I attempt to consider elements like light, balance, space, and consistency to make sure that each one pushes the particular photo’s emotions in the direction I want. If I realize the emotions aren’t unified, We try to change things like the composition or subject to get them to be.

It may seem like all this takes too much time, but it’s still possible to unify a photo’s feelings even in fast-moving situations like sports and wildlife photography. Perhaps it’s as easy as transforming where you’re standing so the colors in the background inform the same story as your issue. Or maybe it’s zooming in to get more positive space, since you don’t like the empty, harmful space emotions of the zoomed-out composition.

Probably you’re also thinking that this really is all fine and great for genres like studio digital photography, but almost impossible for something similar to architecture or landscape function where you have less control of your subject. But that’s not the case at all. You can always move around to find a different perspective, wait for the light to change, look behind you, zoom in or even out, and countless other things. Although it’s not possible to physically move a mountain, it might as well be, thinking of how many different ways there are to alter how the mountain looks in a photo. (See Václav Bacovský’s  amazing photograph project of the extinct volcano Trosky , which he posted on Photography Living a couple years ago. )

Dark Shadows
NIKON D810 + 70-200mm f/2. 8 @ 70mm, ISO 140, 1/500, f/9. 0

The concept of “emotional unification” doesn’t have to be a conscious procedure. While I’ve found that will my photos improve considerably when I make these decisions deliberately, I know other photographers who prefer their results when they don’t overthink things. If you’re unsure which method fits you better, you may find that my article on the top versus the heart in photography helps figure it out.

Either way – whether you’re a spontaneous or a deliberate photographer – the fact remains that photos are almost always stronger when they have an unified psychological message. Look through your own greatest photos, and I’m sure you’ll see this bands true even if you didn’t do anything consciously at the time; the light, composition, subject, and post-processing all contribute to the photo rather than branching off in conflicting directions.

Unity in your emotional information isn’t the only thing that makes a good photo, of course. You still require some reason for the picture to exist in the first place, as an interesting subject or time. But once you’ve completed that, you’ll find that getting everything else in the photo “on the same page” is a great way to make it stronger and more efficient.

As with the basic concept of simplicity in photography , the greater problems you can eliminate inside a photo, the better it will be. Whilst these problems sometimes take those form of individual distracting components in your composition, arguably the bigger problems are emotional interruptions – elements that do not tell the story you want. Fix them by shifting your light, composition, and subject in a more unified direction, plus you’ll see the quality of the photos improve.

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