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How To Create Atmospheric Photographs

Foggy forest

Atmosphere is a funny term when it comes to photography. In many ways, it feels a bit meaningless. Anything can have an “atmosphere”, whether it’s a photograph of a seagull on a beach, an ice cream dropped on the pavement or a selfie of yourself with a slightly disgruntled stranger in the back of the shot.

So what do we mean when we talk about atmosphere? Well, any photographer will be able to tell the difference between the atmosphere of a selfie and the atmosphere of an old, abandoned cabin in the woods. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, but there is a feeling. A strong sense of emotion which wraps around us.

It’s the same with a number of places, whether it’s a library at night, a derelict stone castle, or the ruins of some ancient civilization. These settings ooze atmosphere which puts it at the forefront of the photograph itself. They can make us feel sad, scared, nostalgic, warm, cold, happy; sometimes all at the same time.

How To Take Pictures Of A Feeling

While most people can walk by these kinds of places and leave the atmosphere unnoticed, there are others (mainly creative types; writers, photographers, artists) who take a moment to breathe it in, cling on to it and try to make them real.

Sadly, the human race hasn’t found a way to take pictures of emotions (we haven’t even found the cure for a common cold, give it time), but the thing about atmosphere is that it occurs in pretty predictable places. That ancient, eerie forest. The cold and quiet churchyard. These are places which will inhibit a strong and unmissable atmosphere, so the question isn’t about “how” to take pictures of a feeling, but rather “where” to find them.

Plenty of photographers will travel to different settings simply to envelope themselves in the atmosphere they emit. In a way, it is the kind of photography that is purely spiritual. There’s no reason why an old, dilapidated building should elicit any sort of emotion in the observer, but it does and professional photographers know this.

In this way, you should look to find similar places yourself. A quick search on Google will allow you to find interesting, old or abandoned places near you which might be the perfect setting for your next atmospheric photograph. Either this, or a quick walk around your local neighbourhood can also be a good idea to find something yourself. Try to go alone and allow your emotions to take over. This way you will know what places are giving off the most energy and you can capture them accordingly.

Taking Atmospheric Pictures

If you are familiar with the feeling we’re talking about and you want to go and try to capture it, then (as mentioned previously) the setting should not be an issue. Capturing it should also come pretty naturally, but that doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels. There are always ways to make your photographs better. With atmospheric photographs it comes with the balance of detailed and simple photographs. Say you get that strange, atmospheric feeling whilst walking down a lamp lit road at night. Sometimes the best way to capture that is through simply taking out your phone and taking the picture.

Other times, however, it takes a little bit more imagination and creativity. For instance, if you have actively gone looking to photograph old and empty houses with a deep history, then there are certain things that can help you capture the feeling they give you. A slightly tilted camera can elevate the feeling of unease, whilst a grainy, black and white filter can bring the age and history of the house itself into sharp relief, which will similarly get across that feeling inside your soul.

What Do You Do With These Pictures?

For anyone who likes taking pictures of yourself, your friends, your vacations; this article might not really be for you. This is for the photographers who observe and revel in the sort of atmosphere we’re talking about and want to add it to a beautiful, meaningful portfolio. Ordinarily, social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook are a great way to exhibit these photographs, but creating a photo book made from Instagram and Facebook can similarly give the photos a home to be proud of.

Photo books have the power to bring memories to life and place you back into the past. They are beautiful in their physicality, but more than anything, they are emotional. That is what these atmospheric photographs are too. Emotional. There is nothing necessarily special about a building in ruins or a dusty armchair in an attic, but it is the emotion that it gives the viewer which makes it important.

In this way, a photo book for these atmospheric pictures is fitting. You could even create a photo book which is dedicated entirely to this kind of portfolio. That way, whenever you want to, you can take it off the shelf and merge yourself into the atmosphere of those places and breathe in the moment all over again.


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