Is it possible to Evoke Emotions through Landscape Photography?
The answer is positive. But let me warn you: there is no magic formula for this. It’s not a technique, it’s not a process, it’s not mechanical. You can’t just say “okay, now it’s time to create some images that evokes emotions” and do it. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.
Oh, and you’ve chosen to evoke emotions through landscape photography, right? So, I guess you like the hard way. Good luck.
Let me ask you this: how many landscape photos have you ever saw in your entire life that have triggered some emotions in you? Careful: I’m not talking about the amazement caused by beauty of the place, or the spendid colors, or a well-thought composition.
Landscape photographs have this “problem”: however beautiful they may be, many times they are nothing more than that. Beautiful postcards. They can be utterly spectacular, but they won’t give you chills, they won’t give you goosebumps, they won’t make you feel any emotion. In other words, beautiful but empty.
With this article I’ll try to give you some small tips on how to get a little bit closer to evoke some emotions in the viewers of your photos.
1. What Makes a Great Photo?
The variables to keep into consideration when thinking about what makes a great photo are way too many to even make a list.
Light, for example, is undeniably one of the most crucial factors that can make a good or bad photo. Composition plays an important role too.
I think though, giving for granted that who is shooting has a great knowledge of his gear and how to handle the technical part of the shot, the most important thing which can make a huge difference between a good photo and a great one is how the photographer relates to the subject of the photo, what he/she sees in that particular scene, what that specific scenery makes him/her feel and how good she/he will be to put those feelings inside the photo she/he’s taking. You’ll need a particular sensibility to be able to see what other photographers don’t; to embrace the emotions that other’s won’t feel.
2. What Are Some Examples of Emotions?
There are countless emotions that you can transmit to your audience with your photos; oh, also remember that emotions can be as subjective as it can get, so don’t expect to evoke the same emotion in each one of your viewers because it just can’t be possible.
That said, the photographer has surely a lot of discretionary power in deciding what type of emotions evoke in the people who are seeing his/her photos. Take as an example the picture above here: while I was shooting it I already knew what kind of feelings I wanted to transmit, which were basically the same emotions I felt while I was there. A photo like this one surely shouldn’t give you the same feeling that a picture of a cloudless summer sunset gives you: in this case, when looking at the picture, you should feel a mix of fright, anxiety and dread, while in the other case you should feel relaxed and in peace.
Now we’ll see together a few examples of the relation between emotions evokable through landscape photography and the conditions (light, weather, technique, etc) that you’ll need in order to evoke those emotions.
An easy emotion to evoke with other photographic genres, happiness can be tough to transmit with landscape photography; a child that laugh, the look on someone’s face when they receive a big news, those are all photos that will make you feel happy for a small bit.. The common denominator are the people: it’s normal to feel more empathy for our fellow humans, since we can read and understand what others are feeling with great accuracy.
That’s why I told you at the start of the article that you’ve chosen the hard way. With nature, landscapes, cityscapes, etc, you’ll need to take advantage of a series of condition in order to - at least - have a chance of evoking some emotions.
In this specific case, you should look for mainly sunny conditions, possibly at the golden hours, and search for a good foreground that can create a connection (and possibly sparkle that happiness feeling) between the background and the viewer.
In the image below, I took advantage of the fireworks to transmit the feeling of happiness in the town due to some local party.
Solitude can be transmitted (emotionally speaking, don’t get me wrong) way easier than many other feelings through landscape photography; the main thing you should pay attention is to isolate your subject as much as you can. Ideal situation would be if you could include only one main subject in the whole frame, like I did in the shot above.
Light should be delicate, without strong contrasts unless they are helping you to enhance that solitude feeling.
Another feeling that can be evoked through landscape photographs is calmness: most of the times, we can easily understand if the landscape photo we have in front of us has been shoot with quiet or with severe conditions.
Perfect reflections, motionless scenes, these are the type of situations you should look for; everything that moves or give the feeling of chaos should be out of your frame.
Colors and contrasts should be smooth and delicate, the post processing should be very subtle.
This may be the easiest emotion to evoke with landscape photography; there are endless majestic views around the world, from rugged mountains to rough seas, from huge waterfalls to carving glaciers. Almost every nature phenomenon, if framed nicely, will make the viewer feel small and powerless. It’s in our nature, as humans, to feel those emotions in front of things we can’t control or are just dangerous for us.
The range of subjects you can shoot here is too long to just give you some tips about light or weather conditions: for example, you should look for incoming/outcoming storms when you decide to shoot some seascapes, while you should look for clear skies if your goal is to shoot the northern lights in the sky. Each nature phenomenon needs its own conditions to be captured at its best. Before you go on the location to shoot, think about what conditions you need in order to achieve the result you have in mind and to capture some images capable of evoking emotions.
3. How do You Evoke Emotions in Photography
As I already mentioned before, evoking emotions in photography is not an easy task.
Speaking about photography in general, we are naturally drawn to feel emphaty when we see people in pictures, since it’s easier for us to read the emotions and the feelings they express. So, a good way to evoke emotions through photography is to include people in your photos, possibly in a genuine and natural pose. Don’t force your models to express a specific feeling, since the result will probably look unnatural: rather help your subject to feel the emotion you are trying to get with your photos.
You can get good results also by shooting animals like pets, but it’ll be harder to snap a good shot compared to shooting people, since it’s less likely that they’ll help while “modelling” for you. Many of these shots are quite cliches, but they will still generate some kind of emotion in viewers. Dogs, cats, rabbits, etc, are all great subjects; a lens with a great bokeh will help you isolate the subject and focus the viewer’s attention on the animal.
Lastly, here we are with our beloved landscapes! Whether it’s a seascape, a cityscape, an abstract-scape, etc, the lack of a subject (person or animal) that clearly expresses his feelings is hard to replace. The only way to evoke emotions with these types of photography is planning a lot before the shot and know exactly what we want to achieve; it’s not luck, it’s not a casuality.
If you do everything in your power to create an emotional photo, from studying the weather forecasts to understanding what light you need for that specific shot (Morning light? Ambient light? Sunset light?), you’ll manage to transmit the emotions you have in mind. You just need to know what you want to achieve.
4. Tips for Capturing Emotions in Photography
Even if, as I already told you, there’s not a secret formula to capture emotions with your pictures, there are a few general tips I can share that will help you reaching your goal.
- Be invisible: well, not literally.. But when shooting people, try to give them space and time, and not make pressure on them about how they should pose and/or what they should do. Try instead to make them do it naturally, or put them in the right context to let that happen. If you are shooting ceremonies, they shouldn’t feel your presence unless you are setting up a precise shot, so that you’ll be able to capture their expressions (and emotions) without forcing them.
- Use the right light: it doesn’t come as a surprise that light in photography is fundamental, right? Well, if you want your photos to evoke emotions, you should be even more careful about your light choice. A landscape won’t be even remotely the same when shoot in the harsh midday light or at sunrise/sunset. It won’t be the same neither with the fog, or with a thunderstorm. Think about what kind of light would fit best with that landscape and return there when there are those conditions.
- Focus on details: whether you are shooting landscapes, people or animals, focusing on a specific detail will help the viewer to understand the image better and concentrate on the emotions he/she is feeling by looking at it rather than spending time to understand what’s the subject of the image.
At this link you’ll find another article about the evolution of landscape photography you might find interesting.