Making Photos With Atmosphere

I like my photos to have a sense of atmosphere and feeling instead of a chocolate box image view.

A nice scene is a… nice scene.

We all like a nice scene. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Being honest, I’ve taken a lot of those photos, until recently.

I ran a batch of photos from our local nature reserve through post-processing. I liked them, they were a decent set of photos. The nagging doubt crept in, though…

Reviewing the photos again, I realised that some of them lacked what I was feeling at the time.

It was an icy cold December day. And the sky looked ready to drop a load of some form of precipitation — it could have been rain or snow.

It meant the light was diffused by the layer of bleak clouds. But that’s not always a bad thing if you develop the photos to bring out that… atmosphere.

In the photo above, the dirty foreground works well. There’re some reflections going on and the exposure catches how the day was.

Before I started swooshing sliders around in Lightroom I stopped and thought about the scene. What made me raise my camera in the first place?

I liked the icy reflections. And the tree cutting across the scene was a nice feature. By including a dirty foreground I’d managed a sense of depth.

I shot it at ISO 800 f/5.6 1/250s 25 mm. I’d done the work on the camera to even out the light. But I knew I’d need to do more in Lightroom.

Sometimes, the work has to be done during post-processing.

More atmosphere

This one was taken on the same day. The swan was moving slow, so I had a chance to frame the shot nicely. And that reflection? Well, that had to be caught.

I shot the photo at ISO 800 f/5 1/2500s 270 mm. In Lightroom, I boosted the dark tones to bring out the reflection. It’s almost a silhouette, but I like the overall effect.

The point is: it feels how it felt to be there at that moment. And that is a significant thing. It’s the difference between a ‘nice’ scene and a strong photograph.

That raises a question: is it ever OK to shoot a nice scene?

The ancient tree

I messed this shot up when it comes to the nice scene stakes. But that’s fine — it was deliberate.

The thing that caught my eye about this scene is the strong structure of the tree. I could have walked back a little and photographed the tree more in its setting.

I decided not to. The long branches and overall shape told me a different story. By framing tighter, the photo became all about the tree. It appears to dominate the whole area.

By framing tight the branches run out of the photo — making you wonder just how much further they go on for. It makes for an uneasy scene. And it was that feeling I wanted to capture.

In Lightroom, I boosted the darks and dropped the highlights to give a slightly eerie feeling — the same one you would get if you saw the tree in the context I saw it.

So, atmosphere and feeling is definitely a thing in photography. I don’t always get it right, but I do always look for it.

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