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Kay Henderson's photograph of Faial Island's underground volcano interpretation center gives viewers a strong sense of what it's like to be there. (Photograph by Kay Henderson)

Photo Lesson: Evoking Mood

In addition to being longtime contributing photographers for Traveler magazine, my wife Sisse and I are frequently invited to join National Geographic Expeditions trips as photography experts, interacting with guests aboard the National Geographic Explorer

On a recent trip to the Macaronesia Islands—composed of the Azores and Madeira (both belonging to Portugal), the Canaries (which is under Spanish rule), and the independent country of Cape Verde—we had 25 passengers sign up for a photo workshop with us. We gave them assignments, or themes, to explore throughout our journey—including how to recognize and use light, how to interact with strangers and convey personalities through portraiture, how to tell a story and capture a sense of place through photography, and more.

Each day, we met to discuss the results of their efforts, with Sisse and I providing feedback and suggestions on how to improve. And each day there was a standout photograph that seemed to illustrate the lesson we had intended to teach—so much so that we thought it was worth sharing with the rest of the Nat Geo Travel community.

> Assignment: Expressing and Evoking Mood

Contemporary photography is increasingly personal, reflecting a state of mind, or mood, in addition to capturing the real world around us. The iPhone and Instagram era has helped this trend become a global phenomenon as more and more of us share our photos on social media. This moodiness, if you will, has also made its way into mainstream media, seen splashed across the pages of National Geographic Traveler and other publications. Part of our mission when we’re on assignment for Traveler is to capture images that give readers a visceral sense of what it feels like to be in a place.

In this photo, Kay Henderson visited the newly built Capelinhos Volcano Interpretation Center in the Azores, where an eruption in the late 1950s added half a kilometer of new land to Faial Island.

The contemporary building was constructed underground to give visitors an impression of what it is like to be buried under the sand. These physical facts combine with eerie lighting to set the stage for this very quirky photograph, where visitors are seen suspended in time and place, strongly evoking a mood.

The mixed orange tungsten lights on the left side of the image add color contrast. Kay also underexposed the photograph by one and two-thirds of a stop, making the image darker and saturating the bluish tones, which only serves to heighten the drama.

> Camera Settings:

  • ISO: 200
  • Lens: 17mm
  • Aperture: f/7.1
  • Shutter Speed: 1/100th second

Cotton Coulson and Sisse Brimberg are contributing photographers for National Geographic Traveler magazine. They are based in Glasgow, Scotland.

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