What Makes Ethereal Moody Images?
This post is going to be a bit different from my otherwise technical (Geeky) posts of the past. I am going to share my philosophy of creating MOOD in my art.
I spend a LOT of time studying the fine art photography of the past masters (Ansel and others) and current photographers. I visit galleries, web sites like 500px scouring for examples of the creative process that generates images that speak to me. This takes up a lot of my time but I feel that it is a worthwhile investment to further my understanding of what makes great art that reaches out and grabs my attention! I do NOT do this in order to copy others, (that is not my way) rather it is to understand what about an image makes it reach out and tweek my artistic desire! You would think that after 55 years of personal photography that this would not be necessary, but if you think about it you will realize that life is learning and we never stop that process. Sometimes it is re-learning forgotten lessons, other times it is about learning new lessons. We all change and our tastes also change as we age, so to me this is a natural progression in our path in artistic endeavor.
I personally tend to work mostly in B&W Film, but do not limit myself to it. I create as well in color both digitally and on film too, but my real passion is B&W. Here we are going to discuss only B&W and all of my examples are created on various 6×4.5 medium format camera systems because working with flim and the process of film motivates and enhances my creative process. I am going to leave out the technical details of the images because I want you to really study the images without considering the technical aspects of the creative process.
Let us consider the image above of Kathy Dean, a shrimp boat in Port Royal, SC. What about this image gives you pause, making you want to really study it? Sit back and consider the mood of the image and what you are drawn to as you study it. For me, it is the dark moody sky and reflections contrasted against the bright whites of the boats. My eyes continuously circle around these details and re-settle on the boats again and again. The dark sky and water create a moody ethereal frame that traps our attention on the boats themselves yet provides a scene free of the distractions of color.
If we were standing there today with camera and tripod wouldn’t we be thinking that we could have a much better image with fluffy clouds? Let me suggest that if indeed there were clouds the day I created this image that they too would have been a distraction from the mood of the image.
I will honestly tell you that as I stood before this scene that it was my primary thought that this could be an amazing moody image provided that I set it up as a longer exposure to smooth the water and darken the sky and reflections. In other words, I studied the scene, pondering what it was that drew me to it and how to use the camera (my tool) to create my vision!
These are my secrets to successful fine art photography:
Stop, Look and Think about the scene:
- Why are you attracted to it?
- How do you compose for a simple yet powerful image free of distractions?
- How to super charge the image with mood?
- How to use the camera to create this vision?
Lindale Denim Mill, a study of extreme dynamic range in a single image…
Let’s take a look at another image, this one digital (yet another tool), and the camera on hand when visiting the inside of the Lindale denim mill in Georgia. This is one of those location that will NEVER fail to deliver scenes full of wabi/sabi goodness full of amazing mood providing you approach it with the right motivation and mental tools!
I spent 7 hours here over the course of 2 days. It was a power parade of mood that swamped my senses and at every single turn. I was continually stunned at what lay before me as I moved through the factory! What more motivation could a fine art photography artist desire? I slowed down, WAY DOWN and studied each and every hint of mood before me.
For this scene, (Blue dye tank) I studied the dark moody ceiling and walls behind the pillars, the deep tank with its grungy details, but I particularly paid attention to the play of light coming through the windows and highlighting the entire scene! I realized that in order to capture this scene with mood that I would need to control the sunlight and keep the dark areas from loosing detail. I setup the camera to control both and average the entire composition. This happened quite fast (remember 55 years of experience) and it only took ONE SINGLE EXPOSURE…
To me, this scene has amazing flow that draws me in thru the lighted windows, walking around the exterior of the room and moving down the ladder. My attention never leaves the room. It has a wonderful dark mood and speaks to me of days long gone.
What more can a photographer ask for in such a creation?
My path in creating this image:
- I walked around the entire room several times, studying the elements that the scene contained.
- I constantly asked myself; “Mark, why do you like this?” and “What do you actually like?” I answered; “The dark mood broken into segments by the light coming thru the window and the LADDER!”
- Can the camera I had capture the overall mood and range before me? “YES!”
- What is the best vantage? “Closer to the ladder!”
- How best can I control the contrast and range of this image? “Multiple spot meter readings to shift the scenes entire dynamic range into that of the camera!”
After this it was just a simple matter of setting the the composition, exposure and capturing the image!
Ok one last example… Daddy’s Girls…
This is one of those scenes that I visit time and time again. It is only a few hours from home down in Bluffton, SC (a location where my oldest son lives). There is only one single boat at this commercial dock and processing plant. There is a boat launch and pier close to the left, but for for this shot I wanted a more head on view. I got my son to take me out on his boat so that I could get this angle on a terribly stormy day. Dark and Stormy it was. Heavy rain and wind, but these were the components that were in my vision so I suffered through it to get this image. I took several shots of the scene (waves, no tripod and a moving boat) so I invested an entire roll of 16 images knowing that a lot of them would be blurry and out of focus. Good thing too, I only got this one single sharp image but it was so worth the effort!
Do you see what I am getting at? I KNEW what I wanted with this image, I knew what tool (camera) I wanted to use so I returned dozens of times here, re-evaluating again and again till I got what my vision demanded! I have been here a hundred times over the past 4 years and was NEVER satisfied with the scene!
What my vision demanded:
- Moody, Stormy Sky.
- Bright light on the boat.
- Cloud detail.
- No other boats to clutter the scene at the launch.
- Medium Format Film only.
- No workmen on the boat.
So it took years of returning again and again until I got the scene that matched my vision! But to me it was well worth it! Will I stop returning? Heavens no, you NEVER know what nature will provide you with so keep returning!
As always, I hope that you enjoyed this post! Please consider leaving feedback and comments!