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Three Ways to Create a Mood in Portrait Photography

The photos we like best are the ones that evoke our emotions. We’ll take a look at three ways to create a mood in portrait photography. 

Before we get into these three methods, you have to determine what kind of mood you want to establish. Is it a sense of belonging? Do you want to create something sultry, or positively energetic? Your subject can bring out his or her emotions and sensibilities, but that’s only half the job. As the photographer, you have to complement the mood of your subject with your photography skills.

1: Styling

Food photographers know the benefit of working with a food stylist. Portrait photographers should know the benefit of working with a good Make-Up Artist (MUA) or fashion stylist. Let’s face it, we don’t all have an innate sense of style. That goes for models as well as photographers. Working with a good MUA or stylist can set the scene for your mood.

I’m showing an intimate portrait below. Her hair and wardrobe work for that mood. If I wanted to provide a sense of family or motherhood, she’s probably wear something else and have her hair styled differently. They say “Clothes make the man.” It works for women, also. One of my friends is into Cosplay and she has a magnificent Catwoman costume. If only she weren’t overseas right now, I’d throw her on the ledge of a building and start working up a scene to create a sense of adventure.

Imagine your mood. Create a scene that fits it. Then find a style to bring it alive.

2: Lighting

Your lighting setup has tremendous impact upon the mood your photo conveys. Try to get the viewer to match the emotions of the subject. A shot with high energy may work better if you blast everything with hard light. Something more intimate requires a softer lighting approach with dramatic light fall-off.

Shooting in low light creates a sense of mystery, as does creating a silhouette. You can under-expose your background while adding just a touch of light on your subject to keep the viewer’s eyes locked and engaged with your photo.

Use light and shadow to isolate your subject, to create a sense of form, and to create a sense of curiosity. Over-lighting a scene eliminates shadows, and with it, eliminates mystery. Make your viewer wonder just a bit. Doesn’t matter what they wonder. Let them fill in that blank on their own.

3: Post Processing

Different post processing styles can enhance your mood or conflict with it. Choose the style that works best with the mood you want to create. I love color, but the portrait below works better in Black & White. Color is a message all by itself. You can eliminate it if it becomes a distraction or selectively boost it to enhance an area of your photo.

Some photographers desaturate the color in their photos and add high contrast to create a grungy appearance. You can direct the eye by sharpening some areas and softening others. The possibilities are endless, but they must be complementary to your subject and your mood.

You can create something ethereal with a composite, or make your subject hyper-realistic. The key is to balance the amount of post processing technique you use with the impact you want to create. Otherwise, your viewers will stop thinking about the mood of the photo because they’re too busy criticizing the technique in the photo.

Three Ways to Create a Mood in Portrait Photography

Try to remember that most people who look at your photos don’t care about your tools or technique. They just want to feel something. If they don’t, then they’ll pass over your photo in a split-second. You can create a sense of mood to keep them drawn into your portrait photography.

Three Ways to Create a Mood in Portrait Photography

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About William

Author, Photographer and IT Manager. I have a fondness for chocolate. I also own Suburbia Press and Aperture vs Lightroom. Follow me on Twitter at @wbeem.

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