How Todd Hido Creates Haunting Atmosphere in His Images

Atmosphere is a quality that almost any creation can have, it is often desirable, but it is tricky to achieve. When it's done right though, it makes the work memorable.

I can't remember the last time I liked a video as much as I like this one by Jamie Windsor. As has become oddly apparent in the last few weeks in my writing (by nothing more than coincidence), I love dark and moody photography. I don't much care if it's landscape, portrait, or still life, if it's got a dark and interesting feel to the image, I'm interested. In a recent article I mentioned that I love the work of the artist, Edward Hopper, and Windsor brings up his work in this video (coincidence number 2) for the same reason: his paintings had atmosphere.

It's an odd and difficult to define quality, and it certainly isn't tied up just in the moodier side of the arts. A beautiful golden hour with light pouring through cobbled streets can have atmosphere, for example. However, American photographer Todd Hido has this rare knack for creating atmosphere in almost all his images, regardless of the tones, exposure level, or subject matter of his photographs. I don't want to take away anything from Windsor's video, so instead of discussing what makes certain images feel like they have atmosphere, I'll briefly focus on common components you can use to create it.

If you study Hido's work, there are threads that run through many of his photographs. First and foremost, there is often a sense of apocalyptic isolation. Familiar looking locations look completely deserted (a point Windsor makes too), and this loneliness is a quality that can certainly create a sense of atmosphere. The second commonality in Hido's work is blur. Many of his images, particularly landscapes, seem to be shot through rainy glass or a smudged lens. I wouldn't be surprised if many of his images were shot through a pane of glass he brought with him and sprayed with water. Finally, a quality that could be mimicked that I think pulls all of his images together is tone. Even when using color, his color palette is almost always extremely limited. There isn't a wealth of different colors and this gives his work a muted feel.

How do you think atmosphere is created in photography?

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1 Comment

Robert Nurse's picture

I've seen this post before! Hmmm!