Analysing an Image: Using Atmosphere

Atmosphere and mood play important parts in photography, see how one photographer achieved this. The photographs and the analysis given is selected from students contributions (with the photographers permission naturally).

The Child – September Analysis
The Child

This image by Edmund Byrne (Ireland) can only be described as excellent! What makes this image stand out is the atmosphere that is successfully portrayed in it. It is a moody and dark atmosphere that creates the impact in the image.

There are two factors that create this mood. The expression on the child’s face and the lighting that was used.

Children are always great subjects to photograph. Those of us who have children will probably have stacks of pictures of our children as they grow up. We mostly photograph them on special occasions such as Christmas, birthdays and holidays. When asked to pose they are usually far better than most adults at composing themselves in the way the photographer requests, as long as they have fun doing it.

Technical Quality

Before we deliberate over the composition of this image let us first look at the technical aspects. Focusing and depth of field in this image cannot be faulted. The image from front to rear is pin sharp. Not only is the child’s face sharp but also the detail in the coarse textured wall behind her. The exposure was also very accurate despite the difficult lighting situation. The strong but diffused side lighting caused a very bright circumstance on one side of the image and darkness on the other. Despite this, detail was still perfectly rendered in both the highlight and shadow areas. Many people would automatically use a flash to light this situation. Had this been done the atmosphere would have been ruined and the result would be a very poor image.


Many of our students in our Basic Photography course will be surprised to hear our positive comments about this image as far as composition is concerned. The general “rule” when taking a portrait is to hold the camera in a vertical or “portrait” format. But remember as we have said in our texts, these rules or guidelines can be broken. In this case the extra “space” caused by holding the camera horizontally has aided the atmosphere in the image. How it has done this is by utilising the dark empty space, giving the image a moody and lonely appearance.

The girl’s position in the image is also important. Positioning her in the centre of the image would have “split” the image in two. Implementing the use of the “rule of thirds” and positioning her off centre on one of the imaginary verticals, has kept the image whole. Again with the majority of the image in darkness, the mood has been sustained.

Had the photographer positioned the child on the other imaginary vertical, most of the area would be highlight, taking away from the mood of the image.


The use of colour or rather the lack of it has also helped create a sombre atmosphere. The black clothing and chair keep a low key effect and the almost colourless wall doesn’t distract the image.

Last but by no means least is the child’s expression. We normally photograph children with happy smiley faces and they cannot help but smile when a camera is aimed at them. In this case the girls serious expression and big, deep, almost sorrowful eyes have brought the whole image together. It takes a cooperative model of any age to achieve this.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, an excellent image capturing mood, atmosphere without sacrificing technical quality

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