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Phil Douglis | profile | all galleries >> Galleries >> Gallery Twenty Three: Stirring emotions through atmosphere and mood. tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Gallery Twenty Three: Stirring emotions through atmosphere and mood.

Expressive images often convey meaning through a mood or atmosphere that can express a particular emotional tone, or state of mind. Mood and atmosphere are not subjects in themselves. Rather, they can create a context that helps us tell an expressive story about our subjects. I have always sensed this, but never really consciously integrated it into my shooting until I received one of the most significant critical comments ever made on one of my own pictures from Jen Zhou, one of the most expressive photographers now posting on pbase. (

Jen was criticizing a quite ordinary picture I had posted of an equestrian statue that was far more descriptive than it was expressive. I had posted it at: in the hopes of drawing helpful critical comment and stimulating discussion.

That one picture drew more criticism than any other image I have posted. Jen, in her critical comment, said that “statues are very difficult to make great photographs out of. Even if they are full of history, they are physically lifeless. We usually need additional context to help tell their story, and the atmosphere we create around them is also important. What else we can include in the picture to make it outstanding? I really wish you had been there when the sun about to set. If the sky was getting dark, and that screaming face on that horseman’s shield turned orange from the setting sun, it would have created a better mood.”

Jen used two words in her constructive critique that jumped off the screen at me: atmosphere and mood. She is right. Because they can stir emotional responses, atmosphere and mood are the intangibles that can make an enormous difference in terms of meaning. From that day on, I have never made an image without at least making a mental note of how I might be able to take more advantage of the atmosphere or mood existing around an image to impart an emotional tone and help it work more expressively.

Jen’s comment also motivated me to create a new gallery in my cyberbook that would offer examples of images showing how atmosphere and mood can express an emotional tone and create meaning. This gallery is the result. Each of these images expresses an emotional tone or state of mind because of how I’ve used mood or atmosphere to influence the subject.

All of the initial examples posted in this gallery were made in Thailand, Laos and Burma in early 2005. In the future, I will be adding additional images featuring expressive mood and atmosphere from elsewhere as well. I’ve selected most of these images from my archive of digital travel articles posted at:

This gallery is presented in "blog" style. A large thumbnail is displayed for each image, along with a detailed caption explaining how I intended to express my ideas. If you click on the large thumbnail, you can see it in its full size, as well as leave comments and read the comments of others. I hope you will be able to participate in the dialogue. I welcome your comments, suggestions, ideas, and questions, and will be delighted to respond.