I recently spoke to a photo club via zoom on various topics in photography, including stressing a lot about light and emotion. In my opinion, you need both for a great image. Obviously we need light in a photograph because the medium requires light to exist….’drawing or painting with light’. But what about emotion? Let’s face it, if your image has strong emotional content, it will engage the viewer and their personal feelings towards the photograph. With so much content out there right now, photographers need to create powerful images to stand out.
Emotion is easy to identify in many images. People and animals show emotion to the viewer via expression, gesture and situation. Landscape and fine art images also display emotion through graphic design and color. But have you ever really asked yourself why landscape photographers like to shoot at sunrise and sunset? You know, the light is better….but what does this exactly mean. Warm hues of sun are friendly and inviting, and many viewers will be engaged by this color palette. But some landscape photographers define their work by stark moody tones, overcast light and deep shadows. This style of imagery prompts a very different set of emotions in the viewer, and will generate a different reaction…but it still has strong emotional message. In the end we are all expressing ourselves via our work whether it is bright and sunny or dark and moody…different styles, different emotions.
But what about flash? As with daylight, flash also has a full range of emotions, but with one key difference. While I can’t control the sun, I can control my flash. Using a simple speed light gives me another way of communicating in my image, and a way to create more and different emotion. Take a look at this church shot from Norway last month. There was a break in the sky and the sun was beaming through. This harsh winter scene had a glimmer of hope and renewal thanks to the sun breaking through the clouds. But what if I wanted to create foreboding and a more ominous feeling to the image?
Out came my speed light. First, I set my white balance to incandescent. Next, I underexposed the scene by about two stops. I put a full CTO gel over my flash to warm up the light in contrast to the dark blue scene below. Most important I didn’t diffuse the light at all….I wanted a shadow on the snow to reinforce the dark mood of this image. By using flash and changing white balance, I was able to change the mood of the image, and even increase the emotional element of the shot.
Flash is another tool in our toolbox for photographers. I use it in every type of work I do. But most importantly, it gives me another way to create emotion in my image to grab the viewers attention….