Creating Emotional Photographs

February 09, 2014  •  Leave a Comment
iconic estess barn in snowIconic-Estess-Barn

The landmark barn between Gunnison and Crested Butte, Colorado during a snow storm.

Breaking the Rules to Create Photographs With Feelings

by Dusty Demerson

Way back when I was learning photography in school the concept of a white point and a black point in a finished print could not be expressed strongly enough. It’s a concept that Ansel Adams writes about in his materials and most other photographic educators, myself included, tend to agree with.

The principal states that there should be some area within the image that should fall on pure white and an area that should represent the darkest black within the image. If this approach is followed the print will contain a full range of tones and thus will be a “perfect” print. It will also be visually pleasing since a full tonal range is presented. This concept more-strongly practiced in black and white photography but still holds true in fine color print-making as well. How many landscape images have you seen where the area below the horizon looks great but the clouds are “blown out” and pure white? Where does your eye go when you look at such a print? It goes to the sky. Our eyes tend to fall on the brightest areas of a scene first. If that area has no detail or texture, we have created a weak print that pulls our eyes away from the subject and into the sky. While having both an area of black and area of white represented in the print, we need to be careful how much area within the print represents these tones.

While this approach is not the worst way to teach print-making to new photographers it falls far-short of providing good guidance in making expressive prints. While most great photographs will have a black point or a white point within their edges, not every scene offers a tonal range that broad. The scene above is a great example. I could have stretched the tonal range of the image so there was a black area in the loft of the barn. I could have also made the snow pure white. The photograph would have been technically excellent since a full tonal range would have been represented. The photograph would have also looked garish and unnatural. The finished image would not have created the emotional response of a barn in a snow storm. Creating an emotional response by our viewers is the whole point of professional photography. Ideally, we can evoke the same emotional response we had when we stopped to make the photo. Sometimes our photographs will contain a full tonal range. Sometimes we must be willing to bend the rules to create an emotional photograph.

The next time you sit down at your computer to prepare an image for print, step back for a moment and look at your screen. Does your photograph recreate the feeling that caused you to pick up the camera or have you edited the “life” out of your image? Rules and guidelines are a great place to start learning a craft but at some point we have to be willing to move beyond rules and create images with feeling and emotion.

See more of my photography at www.imagescolorado.com

 

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