2021 WEEK 4: Evoking Emotion (plus Intro to Personal Photo Projects)

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” – Ansel Adams

This year I’ve decided to work on a personal photo project (more on that below*) and all of my challenge themes will be related to personal projects in some way. Having said that, all of my themes can be completed whether or not you choose to work on a personal project. My first challenge of the year is all about evoking emotion with our photography. To be clear, this challenge is not about capturing emotion on people’s faces. Rather, it’s about taking a moment to reflect on what emotion you want to express or impart to the viewer of your photo. For some additional fun this week, DO NOT MENTION WHAT EMOTION YOU ARE EXPRESSING when you post your photo. Instead, I would like everyone who comments to say what emotion THEY feel when looking at it.

Icefall by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero
When I discovered this section of ice in a frozen waterfall, I was amazed by the shapes, textures and subtle colors in the ice – and my goal was for others to feel that amazement too.

I’ve recently come across two videos which talk about emotion in photography from the perspective of a landscape photographer, but I think the concepts can be applied to any subject matter:

First and foremost, you yourself have to have an emotional connection to your subject. Photographer Mark Littlejohn says, “If you don’t feel any emotion for your subject matter, how can you expect anyone to _look_ at your images and feel any emotion for them?” These don’t always have to be “good” emotions like love, joy, awe, wonder, etc. – they could just as easily be troubling ones like anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, etc. Take time to feel the emotion you want to convey and then use all of your photographic tools to translate your emotion into the making of the photograph.

Topsy-Turvy by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero
I love to capture funny expressions of birds. I’m pretty sure I am anthropomorphizing, but they make me laugh nonetheless.

Photographer Simon Baxter recommends slowing down your process and asking yourself “why” at every turn:

  • Why am I even taking this shot?
  • Why do I like it?
  • What in the scene am I drawn to and why are those elements important?
  • Is there anything that distracts from the message I want to portray?
  • What is the flow through the scene and why does that even matter?

Take time to consider the emotion that you want to express and then use that insight to inform the technical decisions you make to capture the scene: lighting, depth of field, perspective, horizontal or vertical orientation, centered subject or rule-of-thirds, would high-key or low-key be appropriate, etc. You even want to think ahead to how you plan to process the photo. It’s important to realize that each and every technical decision you make combine together as your personal expression of a scene.

Social Distancing by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, I took this photo because the desolation of the winter landscape enshrouded in fog reflected my inner landscape at the time.

Once you’ve taken the shot, post-processing gives you even more options to fine-tune the emotion you want to express. Color can play a huge role in this, but so can strong shadows and/or light. Techniques such as the Orton Effect can add an ethereal quality whereas a strong HDR effect can add a gritty and grungy feel.

A Break in the Storm by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero
I used the Orton Effect to make the atmosphere in the photo feel as magical as I felt walking through the snow-laden trees.

Note: It’s important to realize that not everyone will react to your photo in the way you might expect because everyone has their own life experience through which they interpret the world. An extreme example of this might be a photo of a spider or a snake. Usually people who photograph these subjects are fascinated by the details, but a large number of people are truly terrified of them and that fear tends to override all other emotions. But the same thing probably occurs in my snowy photo above. I love snow! But I know many people do not and just the mention of it makes them feel cold. Do not feel like you have failed just because someone has a different response than you intended! I believe that being able to evoke _any_ emotion in a viewer is a huge step towards making more impactful photographs.


*An Invitation to Explore Personal Photo Projects

I’ve decided to start working on a personal photo project this year and I’m inviting you to join me on the journey. This project is separate from the Trevor Carpenter Photochallenge; the only connection is that my challenge themes this year will be focused on skills helpful for anyone working on a personal photo project.

How Do You Hug A Mountain? by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero
This photo is what sparked the idea for my own personal project. This summer a wildfire threatened the county park that borders my neighborhood. Years ago I had come to terms with the possibility of losing my house to a wildfire, but for some reason I failed to make the connection that if I lost my house, that meant that the park I loved so much would also burn. This past summer that realization hit me like a gut punch as I watched the orange glow of wildfire inch ever closer to the place I call home. Luckily, both the park and my neighborhood were spared. This time. I vowed that I would not let another year go by without photographing my favorite places and experiences in the place where I feel most at peace.

Personal photo projects give you a chance to dive deeper into a subject or technique that interests you. Instead of trying to capture epic shots that stand on their own, a photo project gives you the opportunity to take a series of photos that are each part of a greater whole. They allow you to tell a story that simply can’t be captured in a single image and they typically take months (or even years) to complete.

If you’re interested or even just curious about exploring personal photo projects, I invite you to join me in a new Facebook group. You are welcome even if you don’t yet have an idea for a subject (yet). We’ll talk about ways to come up with one in the group, but in general a photo project should be something you care about, something that is close to where you live and something you have easy access to. It might seem weird to start such a project in the middle of a pandemic, but honestly, I can’t think of a better time to (literally) focus on something you love.

To be clear, this is not a class with defined lessons! I am definitely NOT an expert on personal photo projects – I’ve never done one before! My plan for the group is to learn as we go, share resources with one another and provide support and feedback for each other in a safe environment.


This week’s challenge summary:

  • Take a photo with the intent to express the emotion you feel about your chosen subject.
  • When posting your photo, DO NOT MENTION WHAT EMOTION YOU ARE EXPRESSING. Instead, I would like everyone who comments to say what emotion THEY feel when looking at it.
  • Post your photo during the week of Sunday, January 24 and Saturday, January 30.

The friendly community guidelines are pretty simple:

  • Take a new photo for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Post your photo each week to our active communities on Facebook or Flickr (or both). Tag the photo: #2021photochallenge #photochallenge #tempusaura
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2021 Trevor Carpenter Photo Challenge is fun and easy.

About thedigitaljeanie

I’m a self-taught photographer and way back when I used to love taking photos, but I allowed a business that I started in 2004 to take over my life and my photographic repertoire was reduced to quick product shots and how-to tutorials. When I joined the PhotoChallenge in December 2015, I was looking to rekindle my creativity and bring some joy back into my photography. I jumped in with both feet and have not looked back. I believe that photography can change the way we see and interact with the world around us. Some people may think that I hide behind the camera, but I feel that I experience the world in a much more intimate way when I am creating a composition in my viewfinder. In those moments distractions disappear, my mind focuses and I am fully present. It is just me and my camera capturing a moment in time that might otherwise go unnoticed. My background is as varied as the photos that I take. I’ve trained and worked as a software engineer, a massage therapist, an English teacher in Vietnam, a photo restoration artist (which is how I learned Photoshop) and for the past twelve years I have run a small software business with my husband where I have been published in numerous books and magazines, appeared on PBS television, created designs for fabric, quilts and machine embroidery and won awards for some of my quilts. It should come as no surprise that I am intensely curious about life and love to learn new things. I am blessed to live in the beautiful state of Colorado, USA in the Rocky Mountain foothills outside of Fort Collins with my husband and cat. You can find me online at: Photos: flickr.com/photos/the-digital-jeanie/ Day job: KaleidoscopeCollections.com Facebook: facebook.com/jeaniesa