The Aesthetic Of “Atmosphere”

It enhances the mood or feeling of a place

Sheep In Meadow Fog

Atmos is a Greek word meaning “vapor.” Sphaira in Greek means “sphere.” Combined, scientists use the word “atmosphere” to describe the layer of gases surrounding a planet, held in place by gravity. Artists refer to “atmosphere” in an image when atmospheric weather conditions, colors or textures play a role as an image element.


Sun Rays On Corn Field

Outdoors, atmosphere takes the form of condensation, precipitation, or particulate matter such as steam, smoke, fog or smog. One of my favorite times to photograph is when the weather changes abruptly so there’s early morning fog. This can be anticipated the day before by watching for an extreme shift in temperature between night and morning. Being on location at or before sunrise, especially in low-lying areas, is ideal for capturing fog, and that can extend the shooting time to two hours or more. Mist and fog diffuse the light, softening the scene. Elements close to the camera are sharper. With distance, color saturation diminishes and blurring increases to produce a veiled or muted effect.


Wild Barley

Atmosphere can be created in a studio “tabletop” situation using an aerosol spray called, well, “Atmosphere.” I haven’t used it for health and environmental reasons, but it’s sold in some camera stores and online. I’ve never been a fan of fog filters either. They apply the softening effect evenly over the entire image, making the image flat, lacking in depth. Above, a clump of weeds were positioned in front of a computer screen that displayed a photo of a storm taken in South Dakota. The image on the screen was sharp, so to blur it and maintain the effect of distance I set the camera’s aperture to wide open, thereby reducing the depth of field. To silhouette the prominent weed, the exposure was based on the computer image.



Communication Objective

Because of its propensity to soften and blur by reducing the acuity or sharpness of image elements, atmospheric effects are best used when the objective is to create an expressive image, one that conveysmood or feeling rather than information. Actually, it’s the reduction of information that enhances the expressive quality of an image.


Atmosphere In Social Places—A Reflection

The atmosphere of a place is its “sensibility,” the impression we get when we enter a space. Consider the distinction between a restaurant where the floor is concrete, the furnishings are metal or hardwood, the tables and utensils are plastic, the lighting is harsh, and the bare, hard walls and loud music make conversation difficult, with a restaurant where the floor is carpeted, the furnishings are soft and comfortable, the tables are wood with cloth coverings and the napkins are cloth. There’s silverware, soft lighting, barely audible music, and acoustic features that dampen the sound of multiple conversations. These are examples of “hard” and “soft” atmospheres. 

Gas Station Interior

The atmosphere in a social space relates to its purpose and the thinking behind its organizer. For instance, a home can be organized, cluttered, noisy, spacious, sparse or inviting. The same with business and commercial spaces, entertainment and sports venues, gatherings of all kinds, indoor and out. The atmosphere of a place effects us personally. As the above image attests, spaces conveys an impression about the person or persons responsible for it. Here, the atmosphere is created by the objects—image elements—and how they are arranged. The atmosphere in social places can depress, confuse, exhilarate, empower or suppress. It can also uplift and inspire, as it generally does in cathedrals and luxurious facilities. The differences are apparent as we visit libraries, retail stores, restaurants and other people’s homes. 


Linda's Bedroom Window

As human beings who seek a variety of experiences, many of us, at one time or another, explore the full spectrum of available atmospheres. Growing up, I enjoyed vibrant atmospheres, loud and noise with lots going on. Now, I decidedly lean toward places that are quieter, softer, and calm, more inspirational than informational, more meaningful than entertaining. Interestingly, studies show that it only takes seconds for us to read an atmosphere.


A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live. — Bertrand Russell, philosopher




Photography Monographs. The pages can be turned in each book.


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