Packed with Emotion
How to capture feeling in a photograph.
One mark of a truly effective photograph is that it contains some type of emotional impact that resonates with the viewer on a visceral level and draws from the gamut of human emotions, including awe, peacefulness, joy, anger, calmness, sadness and inspiration. It instills a sense of presence and place. Two people may see the same photograph yet feel a totally different emotional connection, absorbing the image through their own filters of life experience. This is the type of photograph that stays in a viewer’s mind long after being seen. Is there such a thing as a formula — or a recipe — for making such a photograph?
Most emotion-evoking images are taken without the photographer consciously thinking about it. That’s because we tend to take photos in situations or locations to which we are emotionally drawn in the first place, such as a beautiful landscape. Chances are, if you feel awe when you shoot the scene, the viewer will react similarly.
The question becomes — what was it about the scene that made you feel the emotion to want to shoot it in the first place? While a subject such as a majestic mountain or colorful field of wildflowers can be awe-inspiring within itself, there are other elements we can look for, and techniques we can employ, to increase the emotional impact of the photo.
All Earl Nottingham / TPWD
Draw the viewer in with composition. A sense of presence can be created by including foreground, middle ground and background objects in an image, especially landscapes. This helps create a sense of three-dimensional depth. Using a wide-angle lens often helps with dramatic composition.
beautiful light heightens the emotion of the shot. Bright light, whether by time of day or minor changes in camera exposure, can evoke a sense of airiness, happiness or optimism. Dark skies can make a photo feel mysterious, powerful, ominous or foreboding.
Consider Contrast. We often overlook the way contrast affects the emotion in our scenes, such as the higher contrast of a bright sunlit day versus the lower contrast of soft evening light. We can lower or raise contrast in-camera or afterward with image-processing software. High-contrast images tend to have a more dramatic, “punchy” feel, while lower contrast suggests a more muted, subdued and gentle feel. For almost any subject, the subtle nature of a lower contrast often produces a more inviting and introspective image. The impact of both high and low contrast is especially pronounced in black-and-white photography.
Be mindful of colors. Bright, primary colors will always have a “wow” factor. Cool tones such as greens and blues feel peaceful, while warm tones, especially red, invite intensity. Pastels are restful. Most digital cameras will have picture profile settings that allow you to pick a color palette based on your preference.
Atmospherics can add emotion to any scene. Fog or a delicate rain can give a peaceful and ethereal feeling. The warm colors of sunrise and sunset evoke their own emotions, as do the bluer, cooler colors of evening and night.
Of all the pictures we take, we probably feel the most emotion from portraits of people, especially family. Trying to capture their true personality can be a daunting task, and, unfortunately, it is all too common these days to feel that we must pose for a photo, usually resulting in a silly face or fake smile. However, the portraits we are drawn to and treasure through the years tend to be the unposed, candid ones where the person is just “being” and not necessarily looking into the camera. Photographing people as they go through their daily lives and routines will result in natural smiles and true personality. You are, in effect, a guest into their world for a split second. No two images will ever be the same.
Please send questions and comments to Earl at
For more tips on outdoor photography, visit the magazine’s photography page at
For more tips on outdoor photography, visit the magazine’s photography page at.