How to Photograph Dark Themes

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To do the project well one has to think about what objects or situations will translate photographically into a view that is considered dark, mysterious, or even evil.

Suspense in the image is what the viewer will notice first and as they begin to explore the setup they may even discover other elements which point to it.

The photograph has to invoke a sense of suspense but it also has to have elements which seem unreal and leads viewers to dwell on it and start imagining about the darkness in it;.

What does the image portray is the most common question that a successful dark theme carries with it and it is this same doubt about the message or the photographer's intention that keeps the gaze of a person focused on the photograph.

There are many still life subjects that one can use such as bones, rotting fruits, insects, dark shadows, some signs, candles, broken windows, dilapidated buildings and facades, broken doors and so on.

In nature there are also copious amounts of scenes that can be composed to be used in the theme such as dark alleys, dark woods, heavy brush, dark skies, even plenty of night shots such as one featuring a bright moon which illuminates a dark street corner.

Whatever looks desolate and menacing can be used.

Dark themes has a certain appeal. It may appeal to some because of the basic instincts that such a theme awakens, others may be inspired by the complexity of doing such a theme.

Still others may find an appeal in the composition elements which this theme can incur, especially when using still life.

What ever the inspiration or appeal that a dark theme has it still a good photographic topic which requires anyone to be creative and often think outside of the box.

Yet the images must offer a viewer some intrinsic value as to make them focus on it and explore the visual cues which in turn lead to the creation of the composition itself as well as the choice of subject matter.

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Digital editing programs such as Photoshop can be very useful in creating a dark theme. You can take a photo of a model, add some dark or mysterious looking digital background, make some edits to the model's face or body , darken tones and even get rid of some features like the model's eyes, and the final image will definitely look like a dark topic.

However, for doing a digital dark theme you must be very versed in the use of the digital program as well as being very computer literate since this will require several steps, and heavy editing.

Always remember to make a copy before you begin in case you make a mistake and wish to re-do the editing or start all over again.

It is always useful to do some research as to what constitutes a dark topic and proceed from there. Very useful is to look at literary works and use their topics and their interpretation as a guide. One such literary genre is Dark Romanticism.

"Dark Romanticism (often conflated with Gothicism or called American Romanticism) is a literary sub-genre. It has been suggested that Dark Romantics present individuals as prone to sin and self-destruction, not as inherently possessing divinity and wisdom. G. R. Thompsondescribes this disagreement, stating "the Dark Romantics adapted images of anthropomorphized evil in the form of Satan, devils, ghosts,werewolves, vampires, and ghouls." Wikipedia

A photographic dark theme shoot can be built from any of these works since the inspiration and the subject matter has already been provided for you by the author.

Your job will be translating the written work into a photographic one that follows the words on paper and adheres to the intention of the author.

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Lets look at one sample of a vista which can easily be turned to match this project.

You come upon a beautiful , old looking church or another building which features some prominent statues like gargoyles, angels and other mystical creatures. You take the shot in broad daylight and under a sunny sky with a few clouds.

There is nothing dark about this image but you now take this same shot and turn it into a black and white, darken the clouds and parts of the building and you now turned a brightly lit "pretty" picture into a dark themed one and all by doing some simple digital editing work.

The same thing works with most any regular subject. So long as you get the right light/shadow mixture along with the right tones you can turn basically any subject into a dark one.

How about a very simple one; get some novelty plastic vampire fangs or any other similar novelty teeth just like the ones available at any costume shop. Have a model wear them and offer a menacing smile. Photograph the scene in a darkened room using black light, and the resulting image reeks of a dark theme.

You can accentuate the effect even more by shooting in a HDR (High Definition Resolution) format or making the photograph an HDR with a digital program.

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Other suitable techniques are to use silhouettes of subjects like scarecrows, crows, owls, dead trees and foliage, cemetery pieces, and churches.

Although color works well, you will find that a large majority of dark themes are , like its name, dark to almost black and deeply shrouded in shadows.

Other sources of inspiration are any number of things that are evil related, are used in certain holidays or even as decorations like animal skulls and such.

Some items used in pagan ceremonies can also be used as they give the appearance of darkness probably because of the lack of knowledge about such ceremonies and what each symbol or item signifies in these ceremonial acts. or celebrations.

By far the best ones that I have come across are still life set ups that the photographer carefully arranges to set up the atmosphere.

These are best done in the studio since the ability to control the light and manipulate the scene is much easier and adding color like deep blues or reds is easily accomplished through the use of photo lamp filters.

Having the ability to use a fog machine to give the shots an added sense of mystery and suspense adds more of a creative touch to the photographs although the use of fog should be kept to a minimum or risk overwhelming the shot.

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The majority of the resulting images are suitable for entertainment publications and general photography ones. Some can also be used to display at fine art galleries.

So far as other commercial applications keep in mind that many advertisers rather use photographs which are cheerful in nature rather than dark in their essence, but there are some that due to the products they sell or manufacture may use them.

The best thing to do is to research and submit your images to an advertiser who may find a use for them. One good sample would be a maker of Halloween products and so forth as well as publications that dwell in the occult.

This project is not one that should be undertaken with a publication in mind unless you have found one that accepts dark theme photographs but as a method to practice your photography and grow as an artist.

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© 2013 Luis E Gonzalez

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2 comments

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

While I am not an expert photographer. I do know dark when I see it. I would think it may be disturbing to photograph dark themes for any length of time. Perhaps not, but it just seems so to me.

The technical end of it I am sure must take a concerted effort to produce the images that are really desired.

Thanks for sharing.

Angels are on the way to you this morning. ps


LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 3 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

pstraubie48: Thanks. Just keep in mind that it is just another photo theme

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