15 Ways to Evoke Emotions in Your Landscape Photos

By June 11, 2019 September 22nd, 2019 Photography, Photography Home Page

As a landscape photographer, you are privy to the ability to cause your viewers to feel certain ways about your work. This can be intentional or unintentional but is destined to happen.

By using the following 15 techniques, you can get a better handle on the ways to influence your audience’s thoughts and emotions through your images.

1. Evoke Inspiration By Including People

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All people have an innate connection with other human beings. Interactions with others, whether overt or passive, can cause you to feel directly related to another person in some way.

Thus, inspiration can be experienced or perceived by adding people in your images.

Inspiration is evoked when a viewer recognizes or connects with an activity that someone else is doing in your image. 

Keep in mind, when including people in your images, pay attention to the timing of your shot. If possible, try to capture your subject in candid motion.

Doing so is one of the best ways to display a person’s connection and feelings towards a place or space. This can, in turn, tell a story for all to see, captured in time through your photograph.

While documenting moving subjects might be the easiest way to evoke inspiration, there are other methods that you can use to stir similar emotion.

If you can’t capture moving subjects try capturing your subjects in dynamic poses. This way, you can give the illusion of movement when there is none.

For instance, highlighting blank space between a subject’s body parts can provide the viewer with a sense of movement. You can also do this by accentuating the angles and positions of arms and legs.

Finally, in cases where you do not have other people to include in your scenery, consider the option of using yourself as a subject.

A tripod and timer can be incredibly handy for this type of self-photography.   

2. Employ Reference Items

We have all, at one time or another, experienced the inability to capture the beauty of a place.

Sometimes it is an issue of not being able to depict depth and space in a photo. One way to fix this is indicating scale by using a reference item.

A reference item can help your viewers understand how an item relates to other things in your landscape scene.

For instance, you can use man-made structures as a reference point for things in the landscape that are much larger than the structures.

One example of this is photographing a small cabin next to a tall mountain. Including the cabin in your frame enables viewers to experience the enormity of the mountain by reference.

Other items in nature, such as trees and animals, can also evoke similar emotional responses.

3. Vary Your Focal Length

Tweaking the focal length of a photograph is another way to inspire differing reactions from a viewer.

For instance, using a telephoto lens can cause an audience to have a more intimate relationship with the subject of the photo.

This is because zoom lenses enable something that is far away to feel close and more personal.

By magnifying distant objects, a telephoto lens enables a photographer to create the illusion of closeness.

They provide your viewer with a perspective that seems accessible, enabling them to better connect with your subject.

However, while telephoto lenses exude a feeling of closeness, they also provide a perspective that puts you at a scene but not in it.

Using a telephoto lens creates a very narrow viewpoint. This, in turn, limits the viewing experience to a small area of a scene.

In the alternative, you can use a wide-angle lens to change perspectives.

This type of lens is excellent for photographing large areas that spread far out in any direction.

For example, a lush forest or misty lake might benefit from being photographed by a wide-angle lens.

Buildings and other architectural feats can also benefit from a wide-angle lens. Using a wide-angle lens enables you to capture their immensity.

They are also good lenses to capture objects that are already up close. They can make a person feel like they are in the scene with the subject.

If you want a more extreme reaction from your audience, consider using a fisheye lens. This lens creates a distorted type of image that exhibits a curved perspective.

Keep in mind, in some instances, images made with fisheye lenses can cause a viewer to feel like something is off. This can sometimes stir a dizzy feeling or incite confusion within your audiences.

Your choice of focal length can help you evoke the emotions you would like from your audience.

By using a telephoto lens, you cause them to feel intimacy. With a wide perspective, you can inspire feelings of awe within them. By showing a fisheye lens angle, you can create a distortion of a traditional viewpoint.

Understanding the different emotional effects of focal lengths can help you better use them to support your visual story.

4. Use Fast Shutter Speeds to Freeze Motion

Another way to stimulate the emotions of your audiences is by using fast shutter speeds.

Fast shutter speeds help freeze movements sharply and crisply. The quick movement of the shutter enables you to suspend subjects in motion to capture its details.

While fast speeds are more commonly used in sports and wildlife photography, they can also be used effectively in landscape photography.

For example, fast shutter speeds can capture the strength of ocean waves by freezing them upon hitting the coastal rocks.

Freezing moments with fast shutter speeds can reveal narratives that you wouldn’t see with your own two eyes.

By freezing the motion of an object, you can make your viewers feel like they are sharing in a secret moment. They are viewing an image that is otherwise too fast to observe in a meaningful way.

When you highlight this type of image, you are reminding them that each movement in life can be fleeting.

5. Experiment With Long Exposure

Long exposure is a process that gets its name from the use of the long-duration shutter speed.

When using slow shutter speeds, the subjects that are not moving, such as buildings or infrastructure, stay sharp. Anything else in the shot that is moving, such as lights from cars or stars, are blurred over time.

The effect of the technique results in a feeling of passing time, even though there is no direct movement in the shot.

One way you can use long exposure is when capturing water in your landscape photography. The water leaves trails as it flows by and onto the banks of its shores.

You can also utilize long exposure to capture water movements in the form of mist. This creates a foggy type of haze in your image. In that instance, your viewer may feel like they could even reach out and touch the mist itself.

You can also capture trails of light by using long exposures. Similar to the way that water leaves trails, light leaves trails in darkness.

For light trails, exposure is done more easily when there is darkness or low-light.

Because of the lack of light altogether, you can get a better trail from the light patterns that do exist.

It is more difficult to capture this in a setting where there is a lot of light because it is harder to see the differentiation in the movement. When the light trails are visible, they can evoke a fascinated reaction from the viewer of the work.

By experimenting with a long exposure, you can evoke the feeling of having been in a space for a certain amount of time.

Perhaps your viewer can imagine the feeling of the mist over the water as it spreads. Or maybe they can feel the passage of time as they look at the trails of light smeared by the stars in your images.

Working with these concepts can cause an audience to feel like they are completely engulfed in the landscape photo.  

6. Understand the Feeling of Color

Color can be a critical piece of a viewer’s experience. Depending on the colors that you are trying to show, you can evoke feelings of any type.

For example, warm colors such as red and orange can lead to feelings of excitement or comfort. Alternatively, cool colors such as green and blue can lead to feelings of calm or relaxation.

By utilizing color, you can create images that mirror the emotions you’re trying to convey.

For instance, if you want your viewer to experience a warm, happy feeling, you may want to frame your photograph with a sunset on a beach. The ambient light around this time often consists of lots of reds, oranges, and yellows.

On the other hand, if you want your photograph to indicate the presence of coolness and calm instead, wait until the sun has dipped below the horizon. During this time, the colors blues, purples, and greys will embody the atmosphere.

When utilizing colors to stir emotions, bear in mind that the emotions they evoke are not immutable.

For instance, while warm colors can reflect warmth and comfort, they can also lead to a variety of other emotions. They can indicate feelings of love or passion, or fire and energy. Red has even been known to evoke feelings of hunger.

Comparably, cool colors can evoke different emotions depending on your state of mind. To some, the color blue can mean coldness related to isolation or loneliness.

But, the same color blue can also remind a viewer of peace or relaxation. This could also be related to a human’s biological responses to stimuli in the environment, such as grass, water, or earth.  

Culture can also play a role in the way colors are interpreted.

In some cultural contexts, colors may mean one thing, while in another, they might mean something else.

Bearing that in mind can help you make better use of color in evoking emotions in your images.

7. Make Use of Different Textures

While color can evoke emotion in an audience, texture can heighten that experience even more.

Texture is a means of understanding photographs through the way that viewer comprehends touching and feeling.

It’s true that when looking at a picture, the viewer cannot touch the texture of its contents. But, if you capture the image in the right ways, that person should still be able to register the texture as if they could touch it.

Texture can be an interesting feature that draws directly on nostalgia or other thoughts. Examples of textures can range from rough to hard, smooth, soft, or jagged. These allow for a demonstration of a variety of depth, angle, and shadow.

Being able to see these things enhances the viewing of a scene or object. It can even make an audience feel like they are part of the scene themselves.

Standing on a beach with sand under your toes probably causes you to recall specific thoughts or feelings. Others might know what standing in a field, barefoot, feels like. By showing the texture of the sand or the grass, you can elicit different reactions from your viewers.

Other tactile ways that you can evoke emotion through texture comes from exhibiting things like softness or wetness. Reminding a viewer of the softness of snow can likely cause a variety of reactions.

Similarly, showing water from condensation on a glass or window, or in a pool in the warm sunshine, can trigger a different emotion.

The key asset when working with texture is light.  

The direction of the lighting will affect the way texture appears. Overhead light and sidelight are some of the best ways to accentuate texture.

The amount of light, in general, will also affect the texture. Objects lit with a lot of light seem like they have more texture than if little to no light is used.

8. Underexpose Your Images

In addition to showing texture, light can also convey other feelings. By toying with the exposure in your pictures, you can exhibit different types of creativity.

Underexposure occurs when there is not enough light to capture the image. As a result, the photos will lack detail, and objects may disappear into the shadows.

You can utilize this effect to evoke different emotions from your viewers. Underexposure can often provide an eerie hauntingly beautiful setting.  They tend to be very moody and evocative.

Underexposing your work can also stimulate the viewer’s imagination and interest. Having to fill in the underexposed areas on their own inspires curiosity and evoke emotions of wonder.

You can also evoke emotions by intentionally making things too dark to be seen.

As mentioned before, you can create texture using certain angles of lighting and shadow.  By underexposing your image, you can use shadow to minimize perceived texture in your image.

The lack of light can cause a feeling of ambiguity, even confusing the viewer as to how to feel or think about your work. However, for some, this could be precisely the type of reaction you would like to convey.

9. Overexpose Your Images

white wood covered with frost frosty landscape

The flipside of underexposure is overexposure.

Overexposure results from allowing too much light reaching your sensor. Although overexposure can cause a photo to lose some detail, it can also indicate a unique perspective for a viewer.

In the same way that underexposure causes an audience to “fill in the gaps” with their imagination,  overexposure causes a similar reaction.

By using slight underexposure in your work, you can emphasize the drama of its contents.

Allowing a bit of extra light into your image is also great for creating an ethereal or dreamy effect. The extra light can make the edges of the items in your photo to soften and blur.

By taking some time to experiment with this type of imagery, you may be able to tell your audience a different story of everyday objects.

10. Play With Contrast and Affinity

Contrast is the difference between perceiving lightness and darkness in an image. Affinity is the lack of contrast.

By understanding the relationship between contrast and affinity, you can evoke different emotions from your audience.

Showing low contrast can cause a more muted response to an image. However, the use of higher contrast will likely cause a more intense emotional response to your pictures.

High contrast tends to create a high drama feel. This is done by having very bright and very dark pieces of an image very close to one another. Because those differences are so dramatic, they draw a lot of attention to a photograph.

When focusing on landscape photography, you can use high contrast to evoke strong emotion from the scene.

One example of this would be capturing an image of the bright sun right next to an ominous thundercloud. The high contrast between the light and dark would likely stir a strong emotional response from a viewer.

In the alternative, affinity can evoke a different emotion. For example, consider an image that has such little variation in light that it is difficult to differentiate the change.

The result of this can be an image that is muddled or almost blurry. This is usually caused by a light source that has been overly diffused.

In landscape photography, an image using this technique could be that of a foggy road in the woods. The viewer could then experience feelings of mysteriousness or thoughtfulness.  

There are two major ways that you can play around with contrast and affinity. You can choose a setting that is naturally high contrast or affinity. Or, you can process your photograph after the fact.

By choosing a natural setting with high contrast or affinity, you let your subject do the work for you.

Alternatively, you can use contrast tools in post-processing to adjust the outcome of your image. This means that you can manually adjust the contrast or affinity of your photo until you are happy with the result.

Resources:

How to Make Landscape Images Look 3D With Dodge and Burn

The Difference Between Clarity, Sharpness, and Contrast Sliders

11. Work With Aerial Diffusion

Another way you can evoke emotion in your landscape photography is by working with aerial diffusion.

Aerial diffusion is wholly dependent on the particles that exist in the air.  Examples of these particles can be dust, smoke, fog, or even rain.

The presence of these particles causes light to spread in a different pattern than when there are no or fewer particles present.  In turn, these particles create a blurring of the image.

The more particles in the air, the more difficult it becomes to identify the texture and colors of objects.

By using aerial diffusion, all other aspects of the landscape will be muted. This blurring of visibility can result in feelings of softness or even magic.

To best prepare for this type of photograph, you will need to find a setting where there are sufficient particles in the air.  As you can imagine, that means you might have to wait for that exact effect to occur. Waiting for a foggy or rainy day might be easier for photographers in some locations, but in others, you might be waiting for quite some time.

The alternative to waiting for this moment that may never come is by using effects on programs like Photoshop.

A common way to create aerial diffusion in Photoshop is with the Orton effect. This effect creates a light blur on images that often produces a dreamy vibe.

Resources:

How to Make Landscape Images Look 3D With Dodge and Burn

Make Your Images Look 3D With These 10 Techniques

12. Photograph In High Vantage Points

High vantage points can create an awestruck feeling for a viewer.

Perhaps it has something to do with our biology since humans have long used high vantage points to survey far off lands. By being someplace up high, we get a stronger understanding of how far landscapes can go.

Because of this, photographs that exhibit this perspective are often perceived to have a privileged point of view. With high angle shots, the viewer can observe a scene in its entirety and make sense of it more holistically.

When you shoot these types of images, the viewer can feel like they are on top of the world. This can lead to a feeling of power or even strength. By capturing these type of images in your landscape photography, you are certain feelings of transcendence and freedom.

There are various ways you can create this effect in your landscape images such as climbing on top of a cliff, building, or a tree.

In some situations, you can utilize aerial photographs. Keep in mind, however, that the feelings that aerial photographs evoke can be different than those of a lower vantage point.

Being entirely above an object can evoke feelings of empowerment, but it can also stir up feelings of isolation. This privileged perspective can cause your viewers to feel like they are not apart of the visual story.

13. Photograph In Low Vantage Points

Like high vantage points, low vantage points can inspire feelings of awe for a viewer.

When you choose to shoot your images from a low angle, you can create a towering effect for whatever your subject is. One way to understand this is by looking up at a tall building.

If you are looking up at a high-rise building, you can feel its height towering over you. You might even feel like its size is dwarfing you.

You can recreate this imagery by getting low to the ground near your subject. Angling your camera upwards produces the same effect as you looking up at the high-rise building.

When you capture this in a photograph, your viewer can experience that same towering feeling.

By shooting a subject or object from this low vantage point, you lend some authority to that thing. If the subject takes up a lot of the shot, it appears that it has a large amount of significance.

This angle also tends to remove other elements in your photo. This, in turn, highlights your subject in a way that it is almost all that the viewer experiences.

By asserting so much power from one subject to the viewer, you can stir strong feelings of awe.

This is particularly true when the subject is naturally grand as a mountain or large tree. By getting down to a low vantage point, you can evoke an intense emotional reaction from whoever is viewing your work.

14. Use Backlighting

Backlighting is another great way to arouse emotion from a viewer.

By setting a light behind your subject, you can create high drama in your image.

This dramatic feeling arises from the light highlighting your subject’s silhouette. The edges of the silhouette are encrusted in a halo which makes the subject appear as if it is glowing. As a result, the subject may have no features at all, showing up as merely a dark figure.

Though the figure itself may be blank in appearance, the shining edges are clearly defined. The contrast between the darkness and the light creates a visually stimulating photograph.

This effect can make even mundane objects look important because of its haloing fact.

You can also use backlighting to introduce concepts of anonymity for your subjects. By hiding the features of the subject of the photo, the viewer fills in the blanks themselves.

This can give viewers the opportunity to relate to the image in a personal way. It enables them to put themselves into the shoes of the figure or envision someone else as the figure.

Sometimes, the audience can perceive this high drama image as one that feels very intense. Because of this, some photographers use this technique to create spooky photos. The shadows that are cast from a backlight can cause feelings of unease.

Resource:

How to Make Stunning Images With Backlighting

15. Pay Attention to Lines

Different types of lines can result in various types of reactions.

For example, curved lines can come across as soft and soothing.

Perhaps it is something in our biology that causes us to react in these ways to linear imagery. But, even rocks can be perceived as soft and soothing if they feature curved lines

Horizontal lines can help show stability or balance in landscape photography.

For instance, the horizontal lines seen in beaches or fields can make a viewer feel peace and restfulness.

The more horizontal lines in a photograph, the more intense feeling of calm is perceived. An example of this would be the horizon of the beach, followed by the horizontal lines of the ocean’s waves, followed by the horizontal lines in the sand.

You can also change the feeling that you are trying to show by changing your linear perspective to that of a vertical angle.

Vertical lines can help a person feel height, strength, or even a sense of power. Objects that follow this sightline can cause your audience to experience those emotions. For example, tall buildings or light poles can provide a feeling of ominousness because of their sheer size and enormity. Arranging a scene with more than one vertical line can increase this feeling.

Understanding which types of lines cause which effect is a powerful tool for you as a landscape photographer.

Take the time to experiment with the ways that lines change your subject’s impression. Doing so will provide you with a stronger understanding of how others perceive your images.

Conclusion

The above techniques can help you to garner a variety of emotional responses to your landscape images.

By learning more about your viewers and the way they perceive your work, you can take advantage of the best ways to inspire thought. Evoking emotions is a powerful business, but doing so does not have to be difficult.  

About The Author

My name is Vinci. For the past 5 years, I’ve voyaged across the world seeking the next great photograph. I invite you to join me as I explore our beautiful planet and share its stories through the lens of photography.

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