How to create mood using natural light

How to create mood using natural light

Here is a good old truth about photography – timeless images are the ones that stimulate our imagination. At the end of the day humans are still driven largely by emotions rather than rational thinking. You can have the most amazing project in front of you, but if there is no “soul” in the image it will be hard to get your viewers attention. Curiously, in architectural photography often what makes a great image is not the project, but rather the atmosphere – the mood.

So how do you create mood in the image? By thoughtfully using natural light. Let me be clear – it´s not an easy task, because we don’t have control over the weather conditions and it often comes down to pure luck. But we can train our eye to recognize and capture those fleeting moments of great lighting. It takes a lot practice, patience and observation. In this game time is your best ally. In order to see and notice interesting light in your environment you can´t work in a rush. That’s the reason why I prefer to have one full day to fully explore the space. I want to give myself a chance to choose from the biggest possible spectrum of lighting scenarios. I allow myself to be lucky.

When someone comes to me and asks about my method of photographing a space I struggle to answer. Because my approach is based mainly on intuition. There is no script or guideline. Nevertheless, I wanted to challenge myself and share a few practical tips I found to be useful in creating captivating images of architecture. Here we go.

  1. Create intentional compositions. Don´t try to capture the entire project at once. Wide lenses are notorious mood killers. Instead, create a narrative in a series of images that reveal details unique to this project. Learn how to extract the essential information from complex environments. Focus on materiality. Focus on shapes. Play with your viewers imagination. Give them a hint of what this project is about – and let their mind do the rest.
  2. Be honest. Don’t try to make the space what it is not. Instead elevate and highlight the characteristics that the space already possesses. Is it a mezzanine apartment with huge windows exposed to spectacular sunlight? Let it shine. Is it a moody interior in black tones that absorbs every photon that passes through? Leave it dark.
  3. Respect the shadows. Mood is created by the dark areas of the image. If you notice a moment of sunlight creeping in and drawing geometric shapes on the walls, expose for the highlights and let the shadows shape the image.
  4. Shoot at sunset. I love those moments when the sun is just about to disappear and it paints in red everything it touches. For me it’s the best possible light to create mood – it has a soft, warm, surreal feeling.

As a bonus, here are a few of my own favorite mood-creators.

Best, Alex