Mood in Landscape Photography

The dictionary defines mood as a state or quality of feeling at a particular time. Mood, in my mind, is how I go about evoking a feeling in the viewer. Setting a particular mood in landscape photography is not as easy as it may sound. The photographer must convey to their audience what they felt while taking that particular photo. Technique and composition can be learned in photography, but being able to make a viewer feel what you felt, at a particular moment in time, requires much more than learning something from a book or webinar. I believe, once I am able to relay what I felt while shooting my subject, I have accomplished my true art.

Landscape photography is a completely different art form than painting or drawing. Photographers capture what they physically see before them, in-camera. Creating a mood or feeling must be achieved by using different techniques. This is more difficult than being able to paint or draw in an object or leave out an object. Certainly, with Photoshop, a photographer can remove or even put in an object, but true emotion must be captured in-camera. That is not to say that I don’t use Photoshop to enhance the mood, but certainly not create it.

Oyster Creek Fog - Mood in Landscape Photography

Ways & Means

There are many ways to achieve mood in landscape photography. Examples would be long-exposure, low light, the aperture/shutter speed chosen, black and white and sunrise/sunset photography. By using one of these techniques, or a combination of several, you will be able to create certain moods. I also believe the mental state of the photographer creates the mood in their work. Within this last year, I’ve noticed calmness that has come over me and is reflected in my work.

Chincoteaque Morning - daybreak over the ocean

Golden Hour Landscape Photography

Sunrise is an amazing time to be on the beach with your camera. There is a certain calmness in the early morning hours that seems to bring positive thoughts and emotions. Maybe that sounds cliché, but there is a feeling of hope that the new day may bring. I also try to create a starburst in many of my captures, which I believe, relays a feeling of hope and goodness. My goal when shooting sunrise photography is to make a person feel hopeful, believing there are good things ahead. Sunset on the other hand, in my opinion, creates a more sullen mood, not sad but maybe a more thoughtful mood which is achieved simply by the warmth of the sky as the sunsets.

Compared to the morning sun, the evening sun appears to be more golden and quiet as opposed to the bright yellow and orange of the morning sun. During sunset, the colors in the moments after the sunsets are beautiful pinks and purples which, if captured correctly, can achieve a very calming feeling for the viewer. White balance is also something to consider when photographing sunrise and sunset shots. If you prefer to have more warmth in your photo, then you may want to set the white balance to cloudy or shade. This will bring more of a warm feel vs. daylight which will bring more a cool (blue) tone to your photograph. The morning hours, in my opinion, are cooler vs. the evening hours which are warmer.

Long Exposure Landscape Photography

Long exposure landscape photography, especially during sunrise and/or sunset, can achieve an incredible mood. The time for the exposure can range from seconds to minutes. They create silkiness to the water, creating a beautiful contrast between the stationary object (i.e., jetties, pilings) and the water. Depending on the amount of time used (seconds, minutes or even hours), the water may appear almost ghostlike.

One Tree - a black and white  photo of a tree on the coast

Black & White Landscape Photography

Another technique that can be used is black and white landscape photography. With black and white photography, the color is not present. Therefore, it does not distract from the message of the photograph. Color cannot speak for the mood or feeling. The lines and structure of the scene must convey the feeling the photographer is trying to get across to their audience. There are times when color can actually take away from the mood or feeling of the scene. The contrast in black and white photography can set the mood of the photograph.

High contrast displays a lot of black and white with little shades of gray as opposed to low contrast, where more shades of gray are present, giving a much softer feel to the photograph. I believe the key to black and white photography is to keep it simple. With color photography, the color is able to speak and create a mood and feeling. However, with black and white photography, the lack of color makes the leading lines and textures that much more important. The mood is created when the tones and shades speak for the lack of color.

Fishing Blind

Put Your Faith in the Weatherman

Lastly, I truly believe that the weather is a big player in the mood and feel of a photograph. Sunshine represents happiness; go out on a foggy, wet day and just the opposite will be achieved. This is not to say that bad weather doesn’t have its place in photography. Not every photo should be or is happy and cheerful. There are many days where the weather may match the mood of the photographer giving him/her a chance to express their darker side.

Final Thoughts

After years of learning composition, lighting, and how to use my camera, I feel as though I am finally where I should be. It may take time for you too to feel this type of satisfaction with your work. If you are persistent, hardworking and most importantly passionate about your work, you will find yourself emotionally connected to your photography. It is this connection that will reach your audience.

Debra Nancy Miller was born in Jersey City, NJ. After residing in several areas of New Jersey, she makes her home in Smithville, NJ, with her husband Brian, daughter Cristine and their Westie, McKenzie. A self-taught photographer specializing in landscape photography, she went from a person with no photographic knowledge or experience to a semi-professional photographer. Debra currently makes the New Jersey Coastline her primary focus of photography.

Debra Miller -

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