Eliciting Emotion in your Images

Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time with your camera ready to capture a picture that is sure to create an emotional response with your viewers. Try to remember photos in the news or magazines that have made an impact. Examples may include war scenes and disasters or delightfully happy moments.

But you don’t have to be lucky to create emotional works of art. You just have to do the work of deciding what impact you trying to achieve, imagining ways to realize your vision, then creating and capturing the scene and finalizing the image.

Here is an example I shot earlier this year…


This image was literally years in the making. I thought of the concept in 2009 and jotted it down in my notebook, then refined it occasionally. I knew what I wanted to convey… a sense of finality, hopelessness and loss. I also knew from previous visits that the beaches of southern Washington and Northern Oregon were ideal for the shoot. They are broad and flat reaching out into an unbroken Pacific ocean. The shoot had to occur during cloud cover, and preferably gloomy, light rain. In 2012 the weather and my schedule aligned.

To prepare for the shot I packed a pair of dress shoes and two plastic bags, my Nikon D700 and a 50mm lens. I searched for a spot on the beach that would afford me a good vantage point and sand consistency as well as good placement of the breakers. The scene would consist of the simplest of props: a beach, waves and footprints. It doesn’t take a complicated scene to illustrate an idea such as this.

I slipped on the shoes and the plastic bags over them. I then walked into the shallows, turned right and walked far enough so that my return steps to the camera wouldn’t be visible in the scene. I then waited for the waves to appear in line with the footsteps and took the shot.

I have applied multiple post processing filters to change the look and feel of the image with the result what you see above.

I am interested in hearing your comments about this image as well as staging emotional images.

Before I forget, why not shop where I do. Click on the Adorama ad below to shop for photography gear and accessories and I will receive a small reward at no cost to you. Thanks!



Copyright Notice

© Michael J. O’Connell, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael J. O’Connell and this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
This entry was published on April 18, 2012 at 8:34 PM and is filed under Photography Tips. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “Eliciting Emotion in your Images

  1. Danny Raphael on said:

    For openers I enjoyed reading about your thoughts, prep and execution resulting in the final image. It was refreshing and insightful to be able to “look behind the curtain.” Great concept. Results-wise the footprint angles to me as a WA resident look just a touch “too regular” and not deep/irregular enough even for firm sand, minor nits considering the overall inspiring capture.

    Regarding ‘staging’ of an image, emotional or not, I’m perfectly okay with doing that. I consider myself an “artist” who does such things as pose subjects, physically remove distractions, e.g., cigarette butts or other trash, utilizes props (hats, sunglasses, etc.), sprays a little “mist” on flowers and/or leverages the capabilities of tools like Photoshop to achieve my goals. This is no different in my opinion than movie director utilizing costumes, special lighting techniques, sound effects, music, etc. to get his message across.

    • Thanks for the comment Danny. The footprints in the raw shot were too indistinct so I tweaked the image to pull more detail. It was drizzling as well and the footprints were washing out as I was making them. This shot is perhaps the 10th attempt at walking and getting the distant breakers in line with the footprints before they were gone. By the end I was a bit soaked but I was able to cross this shot off of my to do list and get the concept out of my mind!

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