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Do Your Photographs Evoke Emotion?

The colorful rocks, colorful reflections and the water and the graphic elements in this image created a visceral or emotional reaction to me - enough to compose it and click the shutter! Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

It’s just emotion that’s taking me over.” This short lyrical riff from the 70’s era Samantha Sang song, Emotion,” (written and performed by the Gibbs brothers – the Bee Gees) might just be a good photographic theme (just to assure those of you might be worried, no, I was not/am not a Disco fan – but you have to admit, some of the music had rhythm and melody that was just – well, catchy πŸ™‚ ).

A recent photo contest statement illustrates the sentiment. The art director for the sponsor noted that what he was looking for was images that would evoke an emotional response. That got me thinking about whether my images evoke any emotional response, and if so, could I articulate it? Looking through some of my images, I asked myself, do they evoke an emotion? And if I thought the answer was yes, how could I articulate the emotion? Did they make me sad, happy, angry, excited, euphoric or depressed? Almost universally, I could not label any of my images with those traditional emotional responses. So what, exactly does it mean to have an “emotional response” to an image?

That got me thinking about whether my images evoke any emotional response, and if so, could I articulate it?

My conclusions are equivocal. On a purely empirical level, I suppose it can be said that every photograph evokes some emotion. We often see and hear comments like, “nice,” “beautiful,” “awesome,” “great composition,” “well – seen,” and the like. Less often, it may be “ho-hum,” or “yuck, that’s awful,”(though I suspect these latter comments are more often thought than heard or seen πŸ™‚ ).

Photography is all about light. I have always been drawn to moving water and those slow-exposures that create a silky effect to it. But here, the "angel hair" texture to the water with the sunlight and shadow dappling it created an emotional reaction as I looked through the viewfinder: "I like it."
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Recently, I read a statement by a photographer who said we as photographers often put too much emphasis on our work being liked or accepted by other photographers. It was a statement that resonated with me. While I welcome constructive critique, it is not the “camera club” photo contests and observance of “rules of photography” that is a motivating factor for my images. I want my images have impact generally to viewers who aren’t looking at it as photographers and artists, but just looking at it as an observer.

An image with impact should create an emotional, even perhaps visceral reaction

As I stood on a roadside above, with the October wind buffeting me, all I could think of was the vastness of this rugged, wild countryside. While "vast" is not an emotion, my reaction to it was certainly visceral.
Copyright 2008 Andy Richards

Emotion” is perhaps not the precisely correct word for this phenomenon. An image with impact should create an emotional, even perhaps visceral reaction in the viewer. It needs to strike a chord that makes them keep coming back to it and keep looking at it (and in the economic sense, it has to create a feeling with that viewer that they want to have it hanging on their wall, day after day).

And if not, is the image worth making?

This kaleidoscope of color, sky, reflection and fog/steam in the very cold October dawn in Vermont created a number of emotional and visceral feelings in me (not the least of which was cold!)
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

As I thought about this, I wondered how reach that emotional “chord” in people? And as I thought more, a plausible answer came to me. Does the image cause a visceral or emotional response in me? If so, there is a pretty good chance it will create that response in the viewer. And if not, is the image worth making?

Thanks for reading


Ponds of Vermont

Autumn Reflection -Bakersfield Pond Copyright Andy Richards 2006

Ihave to admit that this Blog is a blatant “grab” of someone else’s thought over on the SOV Forums, where I am a frequent participant and sometime moderator. I have blogged here about water and about early morning light and foggy conditions. One of the forum contributors started a thread on Lakes and Ponds. I started looking through my images of ponds and lakes in Vermont and an idea for this blog was born.

By most accounts and definitions, the difference between a lake and pond is size. There are several large bodies of water in inland Vermont that are lakes, by name. Some are noteworthy; some, like Lake Willoughby, even spectacular. But there are thousands of small ponds and bodies of water throughout the state. Some of them have names. Others are just unnamed ponds. More often than not they present interesting photographic opportunities, most often in the form of reflections, mist and fog.

The Bakersfield Pond Reflection image is printed and hangs in the large conference room of my Law Office. One of my partners picked it out of a selection of a number of images. In a semi-gloss print, the image has an ethereal quality which is the result of the cold, still morning and the glassy smooth surface of the water, reflecting the colorful foliage. I discovered this pond and image early one morning while exploring for places near my Uncle’s farm in the pre-dawn. This is a very small, shallow pond that has no name.

Ricker Pond, Groton SF, Vermont copyright 2006 Andy Richards

Ricker Pond is at the South end of State Highway 232 which goes from Highway 302 to Highway 2 through the Groton State Forest. We drove 232 North on our way home to Bakersfield one evening and in the rear view mirror, saw the foliage reflecting on the Pond. We made a quick u-turn and headed back to the entrance of Ricker State park. In the afternoon sun, the flat surface of the water makes a great reflective foil for foliage and small mountains.

Ricker Pond, Groton State Forest, VT copyright Andy Richards 2006

The Unnamed Pond along Route 5 South of Barton is really more of a wetland area than a full-fledged pond. In the cold, clear morning air, the fog rising from the pond’s surface made a wonderful subject and several images were possible.

Cool (32 degree) temperatures following a very wet period created wonderful steam and colorful morning cloud conditions on this pond near Barton, Vermont

Athens Pond was another “rear-view mirror” afterthought one morning as we drove from Townsend to Grafton on State Road 35 in the Southeastern part of Vermont. Another U-turn and found us on a nice dirt road which borders the North side of the Pond. We got there in late morning and the sun was a little too high in the sky for my taste, but knowing I might not be back again, I took this image.

Athens Pond, Athens, VT copyright Andy Richards 2010

The Pond in Weston is a man-made pond, created by a man-made waterfall. It created a nice reflective foreground for the colorful treat the edge of the pond.

Reflecting Pond, Weston, VT copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Fairfield Pond probably yielded more color from the man-made elements including cottages and boat.

The Jay Peak image is actually a man-made pond on a golf course near the ski area.

Another unnamed pond near the top of Hazen’s Notch.


Reflections; Cascade River, Minnesota

Water is one of my favorite photographic subjects. Water is essential to the world we inhabit, and the one we photograph. Water covers nearly 80 percent of the Earth’s surface. So it is not surprising that water is often an obvious part of the images we capture. But there are also some very subtle ways in which water occurs photographically.

There is almost always a connection with photographic images and water

There is almost always an indirect connection with photographic images and water. Water is used in many industrial applications for heating and cooling, as a solvent and cleaning agent. Indeed, water has been referred to as “the universal solvent.” Water is also an essential nutrient for humans and most other animals, as well as the majority of plant life. Thus, whenever we photograph wildlife, people or flora, it is likely that water has played a part. Water is often the basis for recreational activity, including swimming, boating, canoeing and kayaking. And what about skiing and snowshoeing? Even when water is not a primary element, there is still an indirect connection. For example, photographs of desert sands and other arid environments signal to us the lack of water.

The water droplets on this daylily add photographic interest and suggest the healthy growth of plant life following a fresh spring rain.

Photographically (and scientifically) water takes on 3 forms, each of which present unique and inviting photographic opportunities. Water in its liquid form is perhaps what first comes to mind. As such it is probably the most often found reflective surface for reflection images. I routinely look for ponds, rivers, pools, fountains and even puddles for reflections, either as an image in and of itself, or as a foreground object of interest.

Fountain in front of Texas State Capitol, Austin, Texas

Water in motion is equally captivating, in my view. One of my favorite subjects is waterfalls. Whether a steep, powerful cascade, or swirling rapids, moving water can present some intriguing compositions. We use shutter speed to control the “look” of the water. There is something beguiling about silky, dreamy, flowing water blurred by slow shutter speeds of 1/15 second or longer. Use of neutral density filters in front of the lens can achieve even slower shutter speeds, further blurring the movement of water, or controlling light conditions to produce the slow effect. Moving water can also contain swirling reflections; a double benefit in my view.

Mad River, the namesake for "Mad River Canoe," is really just a small stream, not navigable by canoe. However, this part of the river contains several series of dramatic drops and riffels, making is a wonderland for photographic images

Other times, the photographer may wish to do exactly the opposite, using very fast shutter speeds to “freeze” the powerful or whimsical motion of moving water. Thundering waterfalls or high, splashing waves are sometimes exciting subjects. I used a fast shutter speed and a burst of exposures to capture this crashing wave on the rocky shoreline of Acadia National Park.

Atlantic Ocean surf, Bar Harbor, Maine

Light is clearly the secret to compelling images. Nothing reflects and shows light at its best like water, especially if it is moving.

Bartlett Falls, Bristol, Vermont: Getting a "just right" shutter speed in difficult, but dramatic lighting conditions makes this image unique

Water takes another fascinating form as a gas. Clouds, ground fog, and steam rising off water surfaces are all mesmeric elements in photographic art. These conditions come with a combination of elements. Generally, a rapid change in temperature, preceded by extremely moist circumstances, creates fog or steam. I look for a cool, clear morning following a particularly rainy period, for example, to create these conditions. Also, a precipitous change in temperature will create fog. When in Vermont in October, 2010, I followed the remnants of a tropical Hurricane which dumped several inches of rain on the state. Cool morning temperatures created wonderful ground fog conditions every morning.

Cool early morning temperatures following a heavy rainfall created magical atmospheric conditions for this image

Foggy conditions and clouds filter sunlight and often create vivid coloration in skies. Changes in weather conditions will often yield some of the most dramatic skies one can imagine.

Cool (32 degree) temperatures following a very wet period created wonderful steam and colorful morning cloud conditions on this pond near Barton, Vermont

In its frozen form, water has great photographic possibilities. The obvious is snow. However, ice, icebergs, flow ice and icicles all can be entrancing. And frozen water can even make dirt look interesting!

Margerie Glacier, Glacier National Park, Alaska

Thanks for reading………