Mood & Atmosphere

Mood and atmosphere are as much a part of any form of art, or any sort of entertainment, as is story line and acting, singing  and dancing, or for that matter what a photograph “says to you“.

Most of you who have been here at Earth Images for a while, already know how I feel about mood and atmosphere.

I’ve divulged in this blog before, during one period of time, I watched a little known and pretty much unsuccessful western TV series called The Pinkertons, because I loved the mood that the show produced via the color and atmosphere of the light they used. The show was “ok” in an of itself, but it was the warm smoky light that streamed through the window of a saloon that they frequented, as well as the chilly, bleak winter’s light they often used when they were outdoors, that captivated me.

I  always examine mood and how it translates in old westerns, as well as old crime dramas which are usually referred to as noir.

Mood, is in the eye of the beholder. Not only is it true that what I like about any given mood may not be what you like, but whether or not there is even a mood to be found, is debatable. 

Some old TV shows, bleed mood (for me) right through them.

One of my favorites is, or better said was, The Untouchables.  While the mode of dress, the old cars, buildings, furniture, telephones and so forth, are in keeping with the mood that any old crime (noir) show should have, the music used at appropriate moments, the language (1920s and 30s, not the 60s when the show was made) spoken, bring the mood to life.  The black & white format was a must to create and hold that mood.  At the beginning of the show each week there was an old wooden table, with a book on it, the book was The Untouchables (of course) co-written by Eliot Ness ( of course) and Oscar Fraley.  A single lamp lit the table in an otherwise dark room. Next to the book was a 38 revolver, and on the other side a bunch of loose 38 caliber bullets. Mood personified. At the end of the show there is a drawing or painting.  It is a nighttime scene with tall buildings (Chicago) in the background, and silhouettes of men in period garb (hats and trench coasts) and they are all terrified of something that is happening. Perhaps a drive by gangland shooting?  The music used also adds to that mood.

At certain dramatic highpoints in the show, a single trumpet mourning out a sorrowful, smoky cry of the blues is heard, and it adds exceptional atmosphere. 

The reason I’ve gone to so much trouble to describe the mood I’ve taken away from a TV series, and tell you what I personally saw and felt that gives me that mood, is so you can know just how much I pay attention to any artistic endeavor I view, and how to me, mood can alter the quality of everything I see.

The black & white years of Gunsmoke, the first (1950s not 1970s) version of an old cop show (noir again) called Dragnet, and a late 50s private eye show called Peter Gunn, are among shows that drip and reek with mood and atmosphere.

Gunsmoke, went on for many, many years, and of course eventually switched to color. While I still watched because the stories got stronger (which can also a provoke mood and atmosphere) it was never quite the same for me as when the stark vision of Dodge City, Kansas, was bleak and colorless.

Whether I like something or I do not, I almost always ask myself why. I spend a lot of time asking myself questions, and occasionally I get answers.

We are thank God, not homogeneous by nature. God has created each of us unique unto ourselves. That of course not does not give us the right to steal from one a another, to physically harm anyone, or to break “just” laws that society has created in order to protect the health and the freedoms of its people. Being free, means freedom from harm, be it directly physical, to our reputation via lies, to what we own and call ours such as vehicles, property or anything else.

We do however have an inalienable right to be our “own person”, and  to pursue individual happiness.

Many still photographs carry with them, a mood. Many may not perceive the same mood that you or I see, but they still may see something else. Some people never knowingly observe mood or atmosphere at all, but that usually just means that they haven’t thought about it, not that it wasn’t there or didn’t affect them. 

If the image below carries with it any sort of mood and atmosphere, it will likely be different for me than for someone else. I stood at what felt like the precipice of the planet when I made this in the Never Summer Range of the Colorado Rockies. I was standing over 14,000 foot high at the time. This image helps put me back into the mood I was in when I made it. When you are actually there and are the creator of a photo, you will likely receive a different set of stimuli than someone who has never been there and is seeing the picture for the first time.

That does not mean, the image doesn’t impart a mood or atmosphere to the new viewer, only that it will be “their very own” version of it.

Other pictures are obvious in their subject matter, and are often obvious and universal in what they convey to others.

My bonus is that having been there and made the picture you see below, I have memories tucked away of this moment between a mother and her baby.

Still, there is a mood to the image. I would dare say that some would say ahhhhh”, how sweet or cute and feel sentimental, while others might find the scene fun and joyful and full of energy.

All of that is mood, created by atmosphere.

I suppose if I am known for any subject in nature photography over all others, it would be sunrises/sunsets. It should not be a shock that one if my favorite subjects is one which is atmospheric and moody. It also is very “interpretive” Your composition and especially your exposure directly impact just how moody each image is.

The images below are “sort of” similar, but the first is a sunset over the Rocky Mountains, and the second is a sunrise above Lake Michigan.

The mood (s) here can range from serene and quiet, to fiery and explosive depending on your take, and where your tastes run. I dare say, that some people may not recognize any mood.

When you turn the camera in the opposite direction of the actual rising/setting sun, the mood, or at least my mood is very different.

In this image, the world is full of colorful details. This is just a few trees on the edge of an alcove of the Mississippi River. Of course, the morning sun helps to brighten it.

I was obviously there at the time, but I feel happy when I see this. A whole new day is here!  A rebirth.

With an image like this, I go for a less interpretive, strait up exposure. This is what I actually saw with my eyes except for the fact that I selected the composition, via lens choice and the position of my camera/tripod.

To me flowers exude happiness. However, as photographers, maybe we see a gently etherealness.  You may also see things that have never occurred to me.

The semi abstract close-up of a Lily below, to me, exudes form and design as well as crispness. It also imparts mood via the clashing light and dark colors.

What do you see?

This image of a Prairie Coneflower, while bright in color, is more ethereal due to the softness of the background. Blended yellow washes of green and yellow.

In this final image we have sort of competing moods, at least in my opinion. I made the photo in Monument Valley Utah/Arizona and the gorgeous sandstone rock and the majestic clouds almost compete against each other for our attention. Even though the rock forms are clearly not mountains, they seem majestic because we are looking somewhat upwards at them. The clouds and blue sky demand that we pay attention to them, as they visually separate (contrast) themselves from each other.

Some people might view this image and feel exhilarated, while others may feel calm and peaceful. Still others might fall asleep. We are all different.

Both, either, something else, or nothing at all, it is our prerogative to ingest atmosphere and mood as it comes natural to us, or as we choose.

As photographers, it is one more tool in the camera bag.

Thanks and God Bless,

Wayne

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