Mood and/or atmosphere, has been at the center of much of my life,
since I was somewhere around 3 years old.
The memory is vague, but I was sitting in the living room floor in the
first house we lived in (in the city), watching the TV. I remember not
what the show was, but when a different program came on, I realized
that the mood or feeling of the visual effects of it, even on the old
fashioned TV, affected me in a profound way.
Not long after that, we moved out of the city to the house my mother
grew up in. Her mother had died, and her father needed someone to help
him at home, so my mom and dad, my sister and I moved in.
Not long after moving there, on a warm summer’s morning, I came into
the living room where my grandfather was sitting. He had the front
door open to the screen door, and there across the street, I saw a
golden sun rising over Lake Michigan. I got chills ( at 3 or so years
of age), and my life was changed forever.
Since that day I have never stopped looking and feeling what sort of
mood or atmosphere I was surrounded by. I do believe this is true to
one extent or another, of everybody, it’s just that I actually search
for mood changers, and I also think (way too much) about it.
Between those old TV shows and that incredible sunrise, mood and
atmosphere became one of the driving forces in my life.
I can feel (and of course see) the mood change on a sunny day when one
small cloud moves in front of that sun. Everything becomes different
in my eyes, but on the inside of me as well.
The different moods that are imparted by glitzy steel and glass
buildings, and old wood or stone buildings, can also affect the way I feel
inside. A movie in an old fashioned, often grandiose movie theater,
verses a modern 10 theaters in one small “cracker box”, can take on an
entirely different quality for me. The mood of the movie can change
because of the surroundings it is shown in. Well, to me it can.
I think most people, at least most women, know that a change of
clothes, or maybe even their color, can make you feel different
personally when you wear them. A different hairstyle can reflect a
I often watch movies that aren’t very good, because I love the mood
they impart. Movies have changed their atmosphere over the years.
Every decade or so, movies, slowly begin changing their feeling or mood.
From the first talking movies in the late 1920s, to 2019, movies slowly
develop new atmospheres. My favorite decade for movies were the 1940s.
Purely for their mood and feeling.
My life in photography, has been directed just as much by mood and
atmosphere, as it has by subject. I can feel the mood when I am out of doors,
and I can see it in most photographs. If a photographer could get paid
by his/her use of mood, I might have made a few more bucks in my
Almost any photo that anyone creates, has a feeling to it. It has some
atmosphere. Photographers go on making pictures, and delightfully realize
after they get home, that this picture has a nice mood, or they can
realize that there is always mood, and work with it.
I’ve never met anybody who denies that the hours around sunrise and
sunset, carries with it a lot of mood and atmosphere. The same is
true for photographs of said times. The colors range from red to
orange to yellow to pure gold, and I’ve seen my share that were warm
One of the most important aspects of “getting what you want” when it
comes to sunrise/sunset, is to make your exposure carefully. If you
want to utilize the deep, rich colors that nature is providing for you,
make your exposure (spot is best) in the most mid tone part of the
scene. If you want a deep, dark, mysterious photo, expose from the
brighter or brightest portion of what you see in your viewfinder. If
your in a lighter more ethereal mood, then expose from the darker/darkest
areas of the scene.
Things like mist or even fog, interesting shapes to silhouette, or
even things like storm clouds, will give a specific photo a voice of
Many might say, waterfalls do not have a character of their
own. I say they do, and that character (filled with atmosphere), can
be subject to the photographer, and how he/she chooses to represent
any particular falls.
Our first three pictures below are that of the same waterfall. They
are made at different angles and with different lenses, and in the
case of image number two, an entirely different section of Wisconsin’s Morgan
The next two waterfalls are fairly similar shots of two different
falls. While the compositions are quite alike, the images tell the
story of two different subjects. Each one has its own feeling to it.
They take two different paths, one split in two and the other dancing
around rocks, to come to the same conclusion. That being to keep the
river that feeds one, and the lake that feeds the other, “on path” to
where they are destined to travel.
Making wildlife images is a lot like creating photos of people. They
have a body, and they have a brain which allows for locomotion, and
expression. Any image of an animal, including a bird, will produce a
mood of some sort.
While single images of any bird certainly contains information about
its species in the sense of what does it look like, to me they are
more about that individual bird, and singular characteristics it
possesses. They are apart from other individuals of the same species.
Of course, we can capture moody images of birds making them in great
light, but I suggest that differing sorts of images of birds,
inherently carry with them their own feeling or a mood.
These first two pictures are that of two different male Downy
Woodpeckers, each searching for food in two different locations. The
first is working for his supper, and the second is about to chow down
on a sure thing. The man-made terrain in the second image and the
natural world of the first, create two different feelings about the
life they lead.
Nothing like bathing in public. This male Mallard almost seemed cocky
as he “dared me” to make pictures him taking a bath. That
says something about his species and about him individually, and it
creates an atmosphere of a beautiful, carefree day.
There’s really nothing to compare with a super close-up of a bird. It
doesn’t hurt that Sandhill Cranes come in the size of extra large.
They also tend to be tolerate of people in cars. This one was
talkative the whole time.
Displaying individual personalities, sets the mood for viewing that
Two birds to a picture, often means husband and wife, so to speak. The
bonding and shared living of two birds like some of those you see
below, create a mood of (almost) romance. That does require some
anthropomorphizing but there is no reason we cannot adopt human
perceptions to wild animals. At least for our personal enjoyment.
The two pelicans you see in non-breeding plumage are not a breeding
pair, and that also goes for the Tundra Swans as the one with the
“dirty look” to it is a juvenile and the other one of its parents. The
Sandhills, the Bald Eagles, and the Purple Martins are most certainly
Anyway you look at it, two is social and one is not. That alters the mood of an image.
Groups shots with nesting birds can tell different stories.
The first image below of Purple Martins at a Martin hotel, are without a
doubt courting/mating pairs. Maybe they have decided to go out to
dinner together, and are debating where to go.
This is a mother Tree Swallow feeding the baby that is farthest away
from us. Group shots of birds often mean baby birds. The mood that
baby animals carry with them means a special sort of feeling to an image of such.
Group pictures like this one of a mother and her baby Pied Billed Grebes, or any
ducks, have a natural mood of protection and care.
I am not absolutely sure what these ducks are but I will bet (I cannot
remember) that mom is just out of sight ahead of them.
Certainly flight shots, such as these of some Sandhill Cranes, have a
sense of teamwork to them. Being a part of a bigger group or order, is
humanistic in its nature, and gives viewers of images like this
something they can identify with.
Now this is really teamwork, How on earth do they manage to not collide?
To me, this carries with it the mood I had when I drove on the freeway
system in the greater Los Angeles area. Controlled chaos. That said,
my money’s on the birds when it comes to avoiding crashes.
I might suggest the question color or black & white, may provide the
greatest possibility to with one click of the mouse, change the entire
atmosphere of an image. By the existence of a weathered, dusty, and
cobweb covered darkroom that sleeps in my basement, I think I am
qualified to suggest for photographers what today is a simple,
software provided alteration for already created photo files. There
are also cameras that will do the chore for you. Try it, you may learn
to like it.
I prefer B&W jpegs that I already envisioned when I was in the field.
With that having been proclaimed, I am not ashamed to “recreate” an
image to a “new vision” of monochromatic B&W.
For me, there is nothing more difficult (in photo editing) than to
take a beautiful successful high color image, and render it in B&W.
Of course, I always keep my original files. I am ok with all of the
renditions below, but of course I ought to be I did them. Even with my
love of B&W, if I was pressed I would rather show my colors. Still,
that tones only first image from Big Bend N.P. in Texas, weaves some
magic within that deep toned sky and contrasting clouds.
It is quite difficult for me to accept the B&W transfer of this early
morning “color and shadow” image from Valley of The Gods in Utah. Until
I begin to enjoy the simple moodiness the colorless light and those shadow
The brilliant reds in this tulip photo, played against the shadowed
background, are impossible for me to say goodbye to. That is until I saw (with
eyes and heart) the gentle and simple tones of the same scene in B&W.
Moods change, but the ability to share moods through photography never
will. Whether they are obvious like the sunrise/sunset photos, or a
bit more subtle like the birds and waterfalls, they are one of
photography’s greatest tools.
It is all in how you view it,