Personal Project; Mood, Ambience, & Dramatic Effects In Photography; Going Beyond Documentation Of A Moment

I have always been fascinated by how differently other photographers portray the same subjects that I photograph. Indeed, my office shelves are crammed with books and magazines with such images. Many of these pictures have influenced how I think about the visual world and how various photographic tools can be used. I am particularly attracted to pictures that convey something beyond a well composed and correctly exposed picture of an interesting subject. That something extra is often a sense of mood, a feeling of a certain ambience and/or a powerful and dramatic presentation of the subject all leading to the inevitable question--how did they do that?

Many of the answers I have gleaned over the years form the basis of my recent book, Mood, Ambience & Dramatic Effects, in Kodak's new series: "The Art of Digital Photography." The main message is that the successful photographer is one who is able to effectively combine two skills: the ability to see photographic opportunities plus an understanding of how to use various photographic tools to produce what was seen in the mind's eye. The most impressive images (in my opinion) come when the photographer goes beyond just documenting the subject in favor of exploiting photography's power to render a subject in many different ways. This can be the basis of a personal style and much can be learned by how a photographer uses the tools of photography to achieve such interpretations.

All Photos © 2007, Joseph Meehan, All Rights Reserved

There are numerous ways to accomplish this. There's the use of such basic processes as depth of field for either the isolation or integration between subject and background, which is further influenced through telephoto compression or wide angle foreground dominance and camera perspective. The role of composition and types of light that, as in a stage production, frame the scene while infusing it with a certain feeling. Add to this the use of selected filtration, shutter speed effects, a sense of timing as well as various software techniques and the possibilities for personal expression become enormous.

I came to realize that it was usually not one overriding technique that made the image work but the effective combination of many factors. That is, the successful photographer is one who makes many, many critical decisions (conscious and unconscious) before pressing the shutter release button. This, as opposed to just leaving the camera in Program mode, standing in one place and zooming to frame the subject. Certainly, if you are photographing a super model with dazzling features or some history-making event, such subjects will have enough intrinsic power to capture the viewer's attention. All you have to do really is to get the right exposure in sharp focus within a framing that does not detract from the subject. But let's face it, how many times do such opportunities come along? Undoubtedly, most of us work with everyday subjects and settings and therein is the challenge. To produce an image that is anything but ordinary and may even cause the viewer to think differently about the subject.

Joseph Meehan has been a professional photographer, writer, and teacher for 30 years, authoring 25 other books on photography. Hundreds of his photographs have appeared in books and magazines worldwide and his style has been characterized by The New York Times as "alive with color and sparkling with light." Meehan served as editor of the Photography Yearbook and was the senior technical editor of Photo District News for 12 years. To see more of Meehan's work, visit his website at:

Joseph Meehan's new book, "The Art of Digital Photography: Mood, Ambience & Dramatic Effects" (ISBN-10: 1-57990-970-1), is published by Lark Books--a division of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., New York/London. The book is available at fine book and photo stores. For more information, visit