Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Capturing Mood in Photos

by Christina VanGinkel

After complaining to a friend recently that most of the photos I had snapped recently just were not what I expected, she asked to see them. They were ok; I went on to tell her, it was just that none of them were exceptional. Nothing I would want to frame and hang on the wall. After she looked, she asked me what I was aiming for, what goal I was trying to obtain. She felt that they were fine, all were clear, in focus, no heads even chopped off. I told her that while many of the photos were nice, I wanted to capture the same look, the same feel that my daughter had achieved in a photo of my young grandson walking on the beach. I took that photo out of its binder, where I had it sitting waiting to be framed, to show her.

The photo in question has this surreal quality about it. My grandson's head is tipped down, he is not looking at the camera, but more at the sand, at his feet leaving little footprints, his hands are in his pockets, a whole ocean behind him, and the overall photo has a soft feel about it. As I showed her this photo, and the more I tried to explain to her what I felt my photos were lacking, I discovered the answer to own question. I should say I realized what I felt was wrong with the photos I had been snapping. They were too staged. The subjects knew they were being photographed, which is ok, except when you are trying to take a photograph that emits a natural feel to it.

The time of day she took the photo had a lot to do with it also. She had snapped that particular photo as the day was winding down. Plenty of light existed yet, but not the bright, midday light that many of us assume we must snap photos in to avoid using a flash. The lighting had provided the natural, soft feel to the overall picture. This can usually be obtained in the first few hours of the morning, or as this picture had been taken, in the last hour or two before nightfall.

Because he was not looking directly into the photo, you are able to see and feel the rest of the photo, the ocean, his mood as he contemplates his footsteps, the combination. I asked my daughter if she had been aiming for any particular shot when this was taken, and her reply was no. She had taken probably twenty or thirty shots that evening. In some he was looking up at the camera, some were close-ups, others were as far away as this particular shot, yet the lighting was not as good, or the mood just was not conveyed. She told me directly that is why she loves her digital camera. She can snap away with no thought of wasted film, and while she understands lighting, she is not an expert. By taking numerous pictures as the light was changing, she increased her chances of obtaining just such a picture.

I do not think I will ever be able to reproduce a picture that comes close to the quality of those my daughter takes, but my Sony Mavica and I sure have fun trying.

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