Full disclosure: I like creepy things. I like to see photographs of ruins, and creepy streets with dramatic (creepy) lighting. It’s not a representation of my actual personality, it’s actually quite the opposite (some call me goofy and outgoing, I consider myself just plain silly). But when it comes to photography, I like creepy both in my own works (I once captured a self portrait laying in a cemetery under the context of “hope”) and in the works of others. So you can say that creepy is my thing. But when it comes to creating creepy photographs, sometimes it’s a matter of finding the right place: Ruins, a creepy building, some naturally dramatic lighting. In most cases, you need to manufacture creepy. And that brings us to this week’s inspiring photo, Creepy Hallway, by Ryan Shaffer.
To start off, I want to discuss what this hallway might look like if it weren’t for Ryan’s artisan hands and photographer’s mind. I’m sure the hallways has a slight creepy feel to it. It’s pretty long and repetitive, and the shadows seem to come out of the corners in a way that inspires our inner fearful thoughts. But I don’t believe that this hallway is so creepy that you wouldn’t be able to walk down it. But as a photographer, Ryan’s most subtle thought becomes the inspiration for a photograph. A photograph of a normal hallway might not be so interesting as one that appears so dramatically lit…so creepy. And if creepy is what he was going for, he had to manufacture an image that painted that picture without a reasonable doubt. In other words, he needed to go over-the-top to portray the hallway as creepy for the casual viewer to understand. And so we’re next going to discuss how Ryan was able to enhance the creepy-factor of the shot.
I’m no denying that the hallways is long. In fact, I believe that it is. But if we wanted to exaggerate that fact, a wide-angle lens is going to help you do it. If you remember our discussion about zoom factors and perspective, you’ll remember that long focal lengths compress the space while wide-angle lenses tend to stretch it disproportionately. That is exactly what Ryan did here with a focal length of 18mm (27mm equivalent), the widest his lens would allow. That takes the already long hallway and pulls that opposite wall far away from the viewer’s eye. The doors at the end of the hallway are barely discernible and it stretches the pattern in the rug out to the point that the eye can barely recognize any pattern at all. So that’s a start, but not enough. To really boost the creepiness-factor, Ryan didn’t use a flash and recorded only the ambient light. The rest, I suspect, was handled in post. I imagine he boosted the contrast and clarity, enhanced the shadows and the highlights to really get that dramatic style of lighting. This is the complete opposite of what someone might want to do if they were trying to market the hotel. It’s the complete opposite of those HDR shooters. Darkness in the shadows and brightness in the bright spot is key to this effect. It makes the resulting image look a little off-kilter, but it really pushes the light dynamics of the image, and you can’t help but to agree with the title: This is a creepy hallway.
Truth in photography is a myth. In reality, the photographer can – and reserves the right to – manipulate an image to portray his overall goal. In the case of Creepy Hallway, Ryan set out to illustrate his feeling about this hallway. But he recognizes that there is no better way to portray those feelings than to exaggerate every aspect so that the viewer will agree, without any doubt, that this hallway is in fact creepy. Our job as photographers is to create a mood and strike up emotion. Sometimes you just need to create that emotion. Ryan has clearly done that.
Back in June, we featured another one of Ryan’s photographs, Gerbera Daisies, which you can imagine from the title is completely different direction than the emotions struck by Creepy Hallway. It’s very safe for me to say that Ryan’s body of work is quite diverse and demonstrates a number of skill sets from all over the photo genre landscape. In fact he has a little bit for everyone in his photostream, and so I would greatly encourage you to follow Ryan and his work on Flickr.