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How to Photograph Fear and Phobias

Updated on September 9, 2013

Fear and phobia go hand in hand as one usually awakens the other. Many people have a phobia. It could be a phobia of a simple thing or it can be more serious. Fear is faced by almost everyone at one time or another.

Often a phobia turns into a fear. Photographing feelings and emotions can take some time and a lot of practice to learn to recognize what makes a good image. However this particular theme does not have to be difficult to capture and turn into photos. One of the first things to do is to conduct a little research into the many things that can cause a phobia such as fear of heights, fear of the ocean, fear of spiders or like in my case a phobia about frogs.

Once you have your list of phobias, then start to record images of those things. Try to record images that are up close since looking at an image that has been magnified also magnifies the reaction to it, especially if one happens to have a particular phobia dealing with the subject of the photograph.

Other images that may not be dealing with a specific tangible subject such as fear of the unknown will have to be photographed in a way that emphasizes the subject matter itself. If for example you intend to represent a fear of heights, then a good source of subjects would be tall buildings. Record images from the top of a building while aiming the camera down to the street, alternative you can heighten the sense by photographing a tall building while aiming the camera straight up towards the top of the building.

If your subject matter is the fear of water, then a suitable image would be a fast flowing river or rushing ocean waves as they crash into shore, but avoid including too much detail of the shoreline or rather a solid surface. If your subject is for example the fear of spiders, then close ups of spiders, especially large specimens such as tarantulas would provide the best photogenic samples. Keep in mind that with close ups you will lose some of the outlying details of a subject, thus concentrate on the details that seem more threatening such as the fangs of a spider, the head of the tarantula, the big wave.

Choose what details to highlight carefully. If the shot is of a tall building while looking down, then the highlight should more geared towards capturing the side of the building as is streams downward with the details of the ground not needing to be sharp, in fact the street view should be blurry to direct all of the emphasis towards the height of the building and the descend.

Off course not all images have to be representative of a phobia. Images that can invoke a sense of fear or being afraid are also part of this theme. Photograph situations that can be interpreted by an audience as a fearful situation such as a photo of the barrel of a gun aimed straight at you or a photo of a person on a small rowboat in the ocean while a shark's huge fins are near. Off course do not attempt setting any scenario like this one, use Photoshop instead and sandwich images together.

Use lighting to your advantage. A photo of a spider or snake looks more menacing if in close up and if the scene is scantily lit since darkness is a synonym for fear as in fear of the unknown; we are often afraid of what we cannot see.

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0 | Source

Remember to be careful when dealing with any subject that can pose a threat and never bring a person who has a real phobia or fear towards a subject matter together. You can use models to simulate an expression of fear or a look of terror when confronted by a phobia, off course assuming the model does not have a natural fear regarding the fear causing element.

Explore all subjects no matter how incredulous a fear of them might seem. Some images associated with certain fears are not so apparent for the majority of people, yet with a twist in perspective and creativity they can be made to look fearsome such as a very frightful clown.

Simple staged set ups can be used to represent this theme such as a photo of a person under water with the eyes wide open as if fearful of drowning. Your bathtub is a good stage, just remember to get a close up; just the face and the water.

An audience can relate to such an image mainly because they are not able to see what's beyond, what else is in the water, or is the person really drowning. Imagination leads people to think all sorts of things and this is good to know when composing photographs. Simple use of shadows such as one of a giant shadow hand reaching over to grab another shadow of a person brings forth the fear of being caught, of being pursued of powerlessness.

One of the most common phobias is the fear of public speaking, a simple image of a microphone clearly focused on while the rest of the scene is of an audience and out of focus is powerful enough to remind anyone of this particular fear.


© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      melissa: Thanks

    • profile image

      melissa 4 years ago

      that photo is from a band Porcupine Tree's album :-D love love love them!!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      kashmir56: Thank you

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      randomcreative: Thank you

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 6 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great interesting information on fear and phobia within this well written hub !

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      Interesting topic as always! I'm not a big fan of clowns either.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      manthy: Thank you, I too was never afraid of them until a rash of movies featuring some really freaky clowns started appearing.

    • manthy profile image

      Mark 6 years ago from Alabama,USA

      Clowns didn't freak me out until I saw the one John Wayne Gacy dressed up as, that is scary.

      Nice hub