The Tip Off
Capturing Mood

Capturing mood imagery in photography is achieved through applied techniques and filters. Of course, subject selection, exposure, and compelling composition are the most important elements in creating evocative imagery. When the light is marginal, such as pre-dawn, dawn, and late afternoon to sunset until an hour after sunset, are always good times to work. Certain times of the year consistently create low-lying fog in cove areas and valleys. In early spring and early fall, when the air temperature cools at night and warms during the day, you get ground fog. Because fog tends to separate elements, these are good times to get that single tree, fence line fading into the fog, or sun breaking through the mist, creating "god rays."

Filters can be used to enhance the beauty and mood. Here are some of my favorites.

  • At dawn, when there is a red glow on the horizon, use a Tiffen 812, which is a modest enhancing filter that affects red only.
  • At sunrise when the light gets golden, use an 81 series warming filter to intensify the effect.
  • For fog, try a 10cc magenta to add subtle color to the mist.
  • If there is a low-lying fog and blue sky, try your polarizer to see if it darkens the sky. You don't need to put the polarizer on the lens, just hold it up and look through it while you spin it. If it gives you what you want, use it on the lens. Of course, when shooting in the direction of the sun, no polarizer is necessary.
  • For hard sunrises and sunsets, where it's very bright with little or no color, try using an FL-W. It adds color to the sky.
  • The Singh Ray diffusing filter, usually used for human portraiture, is great for portraits of natural subjects, adding a touch of softness and creating a subtle, ethereal feeling.

This image is an example of how to use the f/stop to control how much sunlight spreads through a foggy scene. At f/22, the sun appears as a hard round disk. At f/2.8, the sun appears as a big white hole almost encompassing the entire frame. At f/8, on this image, the diffusion is confined to the area framed within the trees, thus controlling the amount of diffusion. The effect can be viewed using the depth of field preview button.
Photos © 2001, Tony Sweet, All Rights Reserved

A long exposure (1 sec) of an egret lifting off of a rock accounts for the soft movement and rear-curtain sync flash adds the detail. Making this image without the rear-curtain sync flash would have resulted in a completely blurred image and confusion for the viewer.

An easy technique is to focus on a flower or part of a flower with a macro lens at its widest aperture with the sun in the background, low on the horizon for low contrast. This creates a very soft, impressionist look. The soft roundness of the sun is a result of using your widest aperture.