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Emotionally Compelling Photographs

April 06, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

_TRV3944-EditLady of Nájera

I've been thinking lately about what makes an image compelling. There are so many technical factors to consider when making a photograph, from exposure to focus to noise to compositional structure, but those things don't add significantly to the emotional content of an image. They can add to the mood, but they do not carry the weight of the emotional content. The emotion comes from finding the short stories and poetry in a scene. The lead off photo in this post, Lady of Nájera, almost invites me to compose verse in response. What has been the substance of her life? What is she thinking of as she faces that blank wall? Was she once one of those school children emerging from the archway in the background?

Paris Shop Dog In this next image, the emotion that comes to me first is humor. It's that little dog standing guard at the shop door. Then I see the Beavis and Buthead t-shirt in the window. The man stepping out of the frame adds a bit of tension to the scene. But all in all, I just have to smile when I see this image.

_LND3542-EditFace in the Crowd

In the image above that I call "Face in the Crowd," the emotion that comes to me is curiosity. I have no idea why the woman in this photograph looking at me as she is. She almost looks trapped as if she wants out of something or somewhere. I have no recollection of this woman turning to look my way when I made this photograph. Regardless, her doing so made the photograph. I like the composition, but if she hadn't turned to look at me, it wouldn't have the emotionally pull.

Tokyo Under the Tracks I'll end this post with the photo I have titled "Tokyo Under the Tracks." This photo evokes a sense of mystery and intrigue. I was walking by the elevated train tracks in Tokyo in an area that was definitely not the high-rent part of town. Below the tracks were these small, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. The man approaching me in the steamy air could have come straight out of central casting. 

To make an emotionally compelling photograph, you have to be in the present and aware of your surroundings. When a photograph invites poetry or prose, then you've got something special. That is a photograph that someone can get lost in. That's what I'm always going for. I don't often get it, but when I do, it's pretty special.


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