Creating Emotion in Landscape Photography

Creating Emotion in Landscape Photography

This article forms the basis for a number of keynote events that I have presented worldwide, including at the MontPhoto International Photography Festival 2019.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Acquiescence, Norway

Are you familiar with the impact of emotion? The concept of evoking a palpable sense of feeling from deep within is a powerful tool in landscape photography that allows the viewer to connect with the environment in a profoundly personal manner. Anyone can utilise technical skills to set up a camera in a beautiful location to take a nice picture, but it takes artistic skill to create a truly evocative photograph that speaks to someone’s soul.

Creating emotion is an important part of landscape photography, particularly if you are making pictures in a place that is captivating and dramatic. Truly great landscape photos are the ones that compel the viewer to feel something, even if they have never been to that place before. These are the photos that draw people in, making them feel as though they are immersed in the surroundings themselves.

So how do you capture a sense of mood and create extraordinary images of the landscape that will speak directly to your audience?

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Utopia, Netherlands

Imagine you are standing in an art gallery. Are you immediately drawn in by everything around you? Not necessarily so. Not all artwork is engaging but the pieces that do catch your attention seem to have several elements in common. These elements work together in such a way that they appeal to the viewer’s emotion, inviting them to stop in their tracks, stand still and to take in everything about that artwork for a single moment in time.

The technique behind creating emotion like this in landscape photography involves carefully thinking about what you want people to see, as well as what you want them to feel in response when they look at your photos.

Let’s consider the basic emotions that people experience more often than others. There is love, joy, sadness, anger and fear. Evoking these emotional responses isn’t all that difficult. Most people experience these feelings on a daily basis anyway and there is a lot that you can do to enhance their experience of these feelings when they look at your photos by concentrating on the various components that make up your composition.

Lighting, weather, colour, motion, tonal contrast and framing techniques all contribute to the way in which emotion is channelled, so let’s take a better look at how these elements can help you to create meaningful, atmospheric photographs of the landscape around you.

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As photographers, we are always on the search for light. The nature of lighting is important in landscape photography, as it can elevate a mundane scene into one that is interesting, or transform something that would otherwise be beautiful into a view that is rather dull. In the same vein, different qualities of light have the remarkable power of creating distinct emotions within a photo. For example, a dark backlit shot tells a very different story from one that is bright and hazy.

Dark, intense lighting works well for amplifying dramatic and powerful landscapes, making them appear more mysterious, breathtaking, dismal or even hostile. Take note of shadows in the landscape as well, as they can bring forth an extra sense of depth and dimension, adding further to the enigma.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
This Twilight Silence, Finnish Lapland

On the other hand, bright lighting can be used to capture soft, ethereal scenes with a more gentle, optimistic or lively disposition. A good example is during the moment just before sunrise in winter, when the sun’s rays cover the landscape in a graceful glow. This can create a delicate, dreamy feel that might be somewhat spiritual or elicit a sense of happiness and calm.


When composing your shots, keep the weather at the forefront of your mind. Fluctuating conditions can have an enduring effect on the overall mood that you capture in your photos. So rather than putting your camera away when it isn’t sunny, think about how you can utilise the atmosphere to create different emotions within the landscape.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
A Thousand Hours of Grey, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Storms are an excellent opportunity for creating drama and eliciting mood with your compositions. Think about a background of dark clouds rolling in at the seaside as raging, turbulent waves crash into tall, rugged cliffs. The surrounding landscape appears wild and windswept. What kind of emotions does this scene evoke?

At times, you may be lucky to catch some fog or mist in the mountains or the forest. When the sunlight streams through these layers in the landscape, it can add an almost otherworldly and mystical quality to your photographs, evoking a sense of enchantment. However, if the sun is not warm enough to break through the fog, then you may find yourself confronted with some very gloomy scenes that you can use to convey deeper emotions such as melancholy, sorrow or loneliness.

The Impact of Colour

It goes without saying that every colour on the spectrum holds the astonishing power of creating its own gamut of moods. Some colours are soothing, whilst others may be more stimulating. Let’s focus on the primary colour triad: blue, red and yellow.

In landscape photography, blue is a very common colour that you will find permeating the environment all the way from the sky to the sea and even frozen within ice caves or waterfalls. The colour itself is often associated with depth and stability. Different shades of blue can have various effects on how we feel. Light blue evokes feelings of tranquility and peace, whereas darker shades of blue may seem sinister. When composing your shot, think about how much blue is actually filling your frame and consider changing your white balance if it is a little too much.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
The Places We Hide, Bavaria, Germany

Red is another colour that you may often encounter within the landscape. Its many gorgeous hues are most apparent during sunrises and sunsets. This is the colour of passion, danger and rage. It represents fire, blood, and all of our primal fears. It is no secret that landscape photos with red hues demand our attention and evoke intense emotional responses. If you are blessed with these kinds of conditions, then you will want to make sure you have an eye-catching foreground to further immerse the viewer in your surroundings.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis
Last Day on Earth, Finland

Finally, the colour yellow can create feelings of happiness, energy and warmth. You are most likely to encounter varying shades of this colour during the summer, when the sunrise or sunset bathes the landscape in a glorious, golden glow. There might even be a carpet of yellow wildflowers about. Photos utilising the colour yellow can give us a reason to hope. They can also stimulate and revitalise our senses, or radiate a sense of fun.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Desert Hive Mind, Spain

Evoking Emotion in Black and White

Although colours may immediately appeal to some people, nothing evokes a complex response quite like black and white imagery. The lack of colour forces both you and the viewer to take note of shapes, angles, lines, textures and other elements within the shot. It can make a simple scene seem more powerful, resonating deeper within your soul.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
Diffuser, South Australia

Photographing in black and white can be difficult, particularly if you have not spent a lot of time doing it before. When photographing landscapes, rather than shooting completely in black and white, try taking your photos in colour but converting them to black and white in post-processing. This way, you’ll have ample opportunity to test the different moods that you can create in colour versus monochrome.

The Effect of Motion on Mood

Motion can have a profound effect on your ability to evoke moods within the landscape. Try experimenting with various exposure times to create different types of motion.

A long exposure can help you to capture a sense of serenity, such as by creating a dreamy flow in the waves crashing in at the beach. It can also help to smooth the water to create a sense of peace.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
The Restless Hour, Austria

On the other hand, a faster shutter speed can freeze the action, allowing you to capture the full, drawn-out impact of a dramatic moment, like water tumbling down from the top of the waterfall.

Of course, water is not the only way in which motion and mood can be added to a scene. Consider the effect that longer exposures can have on the structure of clouds and the tranquility that this can convey.

Tonal Contrast

Contrast occurs when bright and dark elements sit side by side in a photograph. You can have high contrast, which is when extremely bright and extremely dark regions are located near one another, or low contrast, when the brights and darks are diffused.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
This Great Big World, Myrdalsjokull Glacier, Iceland

High contrast shots are a good way of expressing drama, vibrancy and intensity in your landscape photography, whereas low contrast photos are subtle and subdued, exuding a softer mood and a sense of peace. Experiment with different levels of contrast, particularly if you have the ability to do so in post-processing, as you may be surprised by many of the various emotions you’ll be able to stimulate.

Tightening the Shot

Sometimes, zooming in with a telephoto lens or tightening the composition allows you to communicate mood in a way which you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do by using a wide-angle lens. Focusing on smaller details can make a scene all the more intimate, enhancing the sentiment behind the shot. Fewer distractions also means that the viewer may be more easily drawn into your image. In turn, they may be more likely to receive the message that you are trying to get across.

Fine art photography by lens based artist, Serena Dzenis.
In the Court of the Snow Queen, Finland

How Your Own Mood Can Influence Your Photography

Now that you’ve learnt the fundamentals behind eliciting emotions in your landscape photography, consider this: Whether you are aware of it at the time or not, your own mood can have a heavy influence on your photography and the subsequent emotions that you choose to capture or create.

One of the most important factors in evoking emotion in a photograph is to understand and to feel these emotions yourself. If you are in awe the entire time that you are in-field within a certain landscape, then the repertoire of photos that you’ll capture may be dramatic, though surely you will experience a range of other emotions besides that!

Learn to be aware of the range of moods you feel while you are out and about shooting. Think about how these moods might affect your work, and experiment with how you can use that to your advantage. There is hidden beauty in finding different ways in which to connect emotionally with your audience. After all, when we create emotion in landscape photography, we invite the viewer to come into our inner world. Our world becomes their world and in the end, that is how great stories are told.

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Comments on This Post
Joe Standart

Very well done! Thanks for sharing.

5 August 2018
Serena Dzenis

Thank you for reading, Joe! :)

5 August 2018

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