If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a photographer, its that you can never trust a photo. “A photo doesn’t lie,” they say. But who are they? And what do they really know? Clearly, they are the liars, because emotions can be controlled with a camera just as easily as they can be controlled with paint or music. To demonstrate that fact, I’d like to share this photo with you: If I Had One Wish… by Shobha Srinivasan.
What do you feel when you gaze upon Shobha’s photograph? Do you feel hatred and loathing? Does it give reason to pick up a dagger and thrust it into a casual bystander who looked at you odd? Fortunately for the bystander, Shobha was not striving to be the next Charles Manson when she created If I Had One Wish…. No, the great majority of us probably feel calm and peaceful when we focus on the soft (and softly focused) feather and the greenish-blue hues of the background. (If you feel something else, consider yourself in the minority). What she has done is create a simple mood engine: A perfect balance of colors, subjects and camera settings that create such an emotion. She stayed in the cooler and softened side of the color spectrum. She has kept the frame free of clutter (nice and clean). Even the subject is simple, clean and soft.
Emotions are an important connection that you have with your audience. You can change the intent and the message of a photograph just by tweaking a few things in-camera or in post-processing. Harder focuses, clutter, high contrasts and mysterious subjects are cause for tension and the fear response. Soft focuses, clean frames, low contrasts and softer (but well defined) subjects trigger the opposite response of calm and peace – Zen, if you will. You can use such a technique to connect with your audience. Or you can dominate their emotions and thoughts by throwing a wrench into the works. What if this feather were tar covered? What if the background was a mess of wires and electronic parts broken to pieces? Would the opposite response be triggered? Such an approach – such an attitude – might not get you instant love. But your viewers will respect you for it.