“Black & White” by Luke Hittnger (Or Creepy Is What We Don’t Know)
Since yesterday was Halloween, I felt it appropriate to talk Creepy. Creepy is one of my personal favorite styles of scene photography. It happened upon me almost by accident. I would share a photo that was not intended to be creepy, and someone would inevitably comment that it was. Likewise, Luke Hittnger's photo, Black & White, shown here, may not have been intended to be creepy. But many would consider it as such. In my years of experience, I've learned a few things about creating creepy photos. Location helps, but more importantly…it's what we don't see inside the photo that really matters.
To start things off, Luke chose to shoot in Black & White. Draining the color from a scene helps to eliminate familiarity. In all forms of photography, this is a great way to lead the viewer to view only what you intend. But when we want to create creepy images, it can also be thought of as a way to eliminate aspects and tones within the scene that could hinder the creepiness factor. In Black & White, the yellow stripe in the road becomes a ghostly path. The warm hughes of the building and concrete work is nothing but a canvas for shadows. And the dark sky and shadows beyond choke out any light, leaving a nice negative energy to the photo. We simply cannot overlook the amount of area that is completely devoid of detail thanks to the darkness.
The thing that's interesting about Luke's photo is that there are a few points within the photo where the inverse – the placement of the light – is equally as creepy as the dark spots. There is what seems to be window light between the large building on the left and the main truss of the bridge. There's another larger window of light seen through the truss work of the bridge near the right edge. Due to the high contrast of the photo, and the lack of color, these appear to be pockets of brightness coming out of nowhere. It adds to the mystery, and in turn to the creep factor. There are also spots where the light is blown out, such as the corner of the walls below the lower bridge, or lower part of the upper bridge's foundation to the left. Blown out light hides detail just as well, if not better, than darkness. In an otherwise dark scene, these pockets of brightness offer anything but safe refuge.
Again, I do not know whether Luke intended for this photo to be the basis for a discussion of creepiness in photos, but it serves as a great example. The trick is ultimately in the unknown. By eliminating details and familiarity from a photo, we let the viewer jump to conclusions – we let their minds tell the stories untold. We tap into that by manipulating how our viewer sees our photographs. Regardless of Luke's original intent, I commend him for creating a creepy scene, and I'm glad to share it with you today.
Once you've had your fill of horror movies and you've eaten enough of your child's candy, you really should wander over to visit Luke Hittnger’s photostream. Within it, you will find some other great examples of creepy scenes – some color, some black & white. He also experiments with some high-key HDR photography.