Capturing Emotions, The Human Condition.


This was a talk presented to the Manitoba Camera Club, February 3, 2015 and The Winnipeg South Photo Club, March 18, 2015.

The Art of Emotion

Tonight we are about to embark on a journey to try and gain a deeper understanding of photography. We are going to delve into the mysteries of capturing emotions and feelings in two dimensional digital images. Can a photograph depict and evoke feelings that are deeper than say a raw journalistic capture of a shooting, accident or riot. We know how those make us feel. My hope is we’ll have some understand of these subtle dynamics by evenings end and how you can apply it to your images.

One of the gallery experiences I enjoyed over the past 5 years allowed me to interact with photographers both local and from around the world. These conversations allowed for the sharing of ideas and concepts, combined with my continued work and studies in processing images, I began to formulate a theory on the understanding of how emotions can be comprehended and applied. Within this presentation I will try to explain some of these intricacies which I have applied to my work.

So sit back and enjoy this journey to your inner emotions.

Creative Photography.

The Human Condition

This is the first in a series of articles that will be posted on my bog Joe Kerr Photography under the subject titled “Creative Photography”.

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I would like you to close your eyes and listen to these sound bits and see if you can visualize the scenes you are about to hear. So relax and open your minds eye.

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Here are a couple of questions to help open your minds eye:

Did your visions easily flow from one sound bit to the other ?

Do you have a favorite ?

Were your thoughts in B&W or Colour ?

How did each sound bit make you feel ?

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Great images all begin at the capture, so here are some critical issues and influences when going out to capture amazing images:  Remember this is about the human condition and gaining an understanding of capturing emotion in images.

Lets start from the very beginning.

How did your day start out ?
Are you looking forward to your shoot ?
Do you have a plan on what your shooting ?
Is weather or sunlight a factor in you deciding to shoot today ?

Is today an optimum day to capture that subject ?

These and many more questions all influence how well your shoot will go but ultimately how you will feel about it. It is my opinion that how you feel is the most important key to capturing great emotional images.

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Putting yourself in a mindful space that is relative to what you are shooting is inherently difficult. This is one of the most important and influential characteristics of great photography and that is to actually feel your potential images before you even hit the shutter.

Here is a situation that may help you understand this. Do you remember the most amazing sunrise opportunity you’ve ever had and how you felt when it presented itself. Can you also remember another morning that was equally beautiful but for some reason it just didn’t pan out. You see the differences in your images but do you remember how each of those days started out and how you felt.

This is not a contemporary thought process lets take a step back in history for a minute and learn from two masters.


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Ansel Adams immersed himself in his environments and became so in-tuned he even named trees and rocks in around his cabin near Yosemite. He followed and created trails that became his home under the sky, yet, he understood that nature only allowed him a moment of opportunity, they weren’t his, but his photographs were, and he could share them. He became much more philosophical about what he was feeling while capturing images and constantly wrote in his journals his thoughts. He clearly understood how his images could and would effect his viewers and how his emotions would influence each capture. Because the print was what everyone would see, Ansel spent enormous amounts of time perfecting his prints in the darkroom so that they were perfect portrayals of what was in his minds eye not just a capture of a scene. He wrote about having a vision of his print before capturing them, and though these images were very personal to him, as a viewer you can see and feel that.

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In a completely different photographic genre there’s Yousuf Karsh. He was another artists that lived through his photography. As a portrait photographer he didn’t have the lighting sophistication that we enjoy today. Still, he enjoyed shooting on location, the most challenging portraits of the time. His innate sense and feel of natural light combined with his in camera skills he created images that are astonishing even today. With those simple techniques he created outstanding portraits that brought his subjects to life. Yet, I think most importantly, he took time to study and understand his subject first. He then visualized and executed sitting techniques that both relaxed them and yet brought out their personalities knowing something of who they were. Upon studying his work you can actually feel their personalities come out of the prints. His compassion to execute what was in his minds eye made him a world renowned photographer during that era and even today?

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I referenced these two artists because most of you know of them, and, they are masters whom we can relate to through their images but also as human beings. Although uniquely different they shared an inner bond of an innate sense of a divine intervention that helped to create their art. I certainly don’t profess to be in the same league of either of these famous photographers, yet, I do understand what they were trying to convey in their memoirs. Theirs and other similar concepts have been my inspiration for years and I will try to convey to you tonight what that means. No this is not a religious intervention but it is a deeper understanding of what made them tick and create amazing images.

The Capture:

On that note let me express to you what I’ve learned and have adopted as my usual or unusual process in capturing.

How I shoot varies greatly. example: If I’m with a group or with another person I rarely do what I truly like to because the dynamics will not allow. If the moment feels right though, I may disappear from the group to find my own space knowing that time will allow me to explore what is being presented to me.

Here is what I like to do as a solo shooter and I think the difference will be self explanatory. During solo shoots I take a lot of time, I’m not a run and gun type of photographer. Again, I’m going to talk about the human process behind the camera.

Nature or Scenic Shooting:

I chose this genre of photography because its one that most of you can relate to. Here is a list of things I do in preparation to taking that first shot.

  • Clearly pack all that is need for that day, the night before. One bag and a tripod.
  • Pack snacks for me and the creatures.
  • Look up some creative websites that inspire you.
  • Leave early with plenty of time to spare so your not feeling rushed.
  • Listen to music or other inspiration audio bits en-route.
  • Once I arrive I will find a trail off the beaten track, people are everywhere these days and personally I don’t want a shot that everyone else has.
  • Arrive and chill. Stop, look and listen. This is how I begin the process of interacting.
  • Until I’m feeling what I’m about to interact with I will not begin, take deep breaths and relax and survey my surroundings.
  • I like to feel a sense of perspective of who I am in this environment and how I could be perceived by those who live in this environment.
  • Feel the time of day, maybe its the warmth of the sun as it begins to lighten the morning skies, get a feeling of the trees wakening as the winds begin to blow, listen as the birds begin to sing and as life begins to stir in the forest.
  • Listening I can hear and feel life all around me and by being still, for sometime now, the forest will begin to reveal itself.
  • Over time you will learn the rhythm of nature and understand how it will react to the foreign sounds you create, remember you are the intruder.
  • Remaining quiet and still is exhilarating to me, I can be here for hours and not think anything of it.
  • Always be aware of the light, watch its glow illuminate the trees and the meadows, be aware of where it is and isn’t, light is the key to all great shots.
  • When nature presents itself go slowly, take time to try to understand the creatures in their habitat, see how they react to sounds around it, watch and learn every move, ears, eyes, neck and over-all body language.
  • Watch every detail, the direction it appears to be going, is there better light coming up, can you time the optimum reaction to the camera, take it in and feel it, until it becomes a part of you.
  • I can get so involved that I can feel their heart beating and I’ll watch their breathing, a relaxed sigh, a sudden and alert gasp and hold.
  • Patients and more patients think before you hit the shutter, timing is everything. No paparazzi shooting here.
  • Given the optimum opportunity I’ll take my shot, stop, silence, then shoot again if possible.
  • Depending on the creature the timing is different. Deer, first shot, is a waist, its the second and third that count.
  • Watch in wonder and learn. Can you learn, feel and understand how they are feeling? I think I can. When the creature is relaxed and calm, is that the shot you want, or, maybe its when they are alert with attentive ears perked. What ever the looking your waiting for, watch and learn and anticipate.
  • Now when I say “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.” can you begin to understand ?

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Post Production:

With everyone’s lives full of hustle and bustle I’m sure some of you are thinking this is mambo jumbo by now. As I was preparing my talk I was thinking the same thing maybe I should just do a standard show and tell. Well that’s not me, so lets move on to the next step.

Now let me show you how this continues to relate and what it looks like in the end. I apologize that I don’t have a 14 step action set to sell you that will create amazing results for your images, its not that simple and nor should it be, this is creative art.

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Lets start with your studio. Have you created a special place to create your art. Is your studio a place you enjoy going to and does it provide inspiration for you, or have you even thought about creating a special environment. Does music play a roll in your life and studio ? All this plays a part in how you feel about your photography. I’ve had the privilege of visiting numerous studio’s and the cream of the crop do have a special place to create their work so its fact, not fiction.


Let me walk you through a couple of my photographic opportunities and how I perceived and processed them. My processing actually begins when I’m capturing the image in the field. My mind is already thinking about how these will likely be processed, I’m also not close minded but this is my starting point.

Each photographic concept has a different starting point in the camera settings. Each subject has its own unique feel and needs to be processed that way. There are no single one action fool proof buttons here, this is art and needs that individualistic attention to detail. Here on the blog I’ve attached links to each set of images and the details in capture and processing follow the link to learn more. Each set was a study on its own.

Deer & Heron in Minnesota

Click here for more details

auto remote camera

auto remote camera
Matlock Piers

Click here for more details (coming soon)


Parc La Salle School

Mountain Sheep

Click here for more details

Two Sheep

Three sheep vertical
Leo Mole Statues

Click here for more details


Ian Tamblyn Concert Wpg., Feb 24 2012

As you work through your processing procedures and begin experiencing the joy of creating a wonderful image, you will find a persona emerge, were the hardware and software actually mean less, it becomes more important to know how the image feels. You will begin to find a style that reflects an inner you, one that is comfortable, intuitive but is understood. You must trust it when it happens, let it flow through you and learn to get out of the way, don’t clutter it with techno mumbo jumbo let it shine clearly.


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So where do your inspirations come from. I think its very important to find outside stimulants that help to fertilize your imagination and keep your creative neurons flashing.

Here are some places I go to find what I need to keep me creative:
Cirque du Soleil – the artistic sets but more so the costumes that amaze me
Theatre Productions – take a blank stage and transport me to another place and time is crazy how its created with forms and lighting.
Movies Productions – special effects and CG environments astound me
Attend art shows – art today is an unlimited canvas, explore everything you can
Inspirational websites – In the digital realms of the web the world is your oyster
Quotes – I look for quotes that inspire me.
Google an image topic – This is simply magic at your finger tips at any moment
Join and share in different communities. – The more the merrier, share and you will be rewarded 10 fold

There is no wright or wrong places to find inspiration, its what makes most sense to you and what inspires you to create your art.


Keys to Remember

Your eyes need to learn to listen before they look.
Patients pays off.
Don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot how it feels.
Be mindful of the event and while shooting be aware of how you might work it in post production.
Create a studio space that is both inviting and inspirational to you.

Be yourself !

What I’ve just expressed to you is my own personal formula on what I’ve learned over the years. To some it will appear goofy, some may like a part of it and others may find this inspirational. For those that found it amazing there are some doctors just outside the room in white jackets that want to talk to you, please have your medical cards ready.

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Thank you for your time.

Joe Kerr


Links to Reference Materials

Alan Ross Photography   Here is a link to a blog by Alan Ross who was one of Ansel Adams lab assistant. He reveals some amazing insights into Ansel Adam’s daily routines and how he perceived his art. Its a very interesting read.

Can you Capture Mood Photographing a Sculpture?

Photographers often have images of sculptures of famous and historic people, monuments and even commissioned art works. Most of what I’ve seen are well lit, typically an afternoon sun during a visit to a park. The subject is positioned in a balanced position among flowers or trees sometimes with friends and relative near by.

The Bean, in down town Chicago's Millennium Park.

The Bean, in down town Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Have you ever shot sculpture thinking of it as a model ? Why not ? Look at it this way, each subject will hold its pose for you indefinitely and never complain. They are usually in ideal settings giving beautiful backdrops, even better having a natural light environment where you control the time, light and weather, you can return to your studio check your images and re-shoot with your improvements even a year later. Lastly some of these famous people would charge you a small fortune in modeling fees, of course some are no longer with us and some are just iconic symbols.

Chicago Millennium Park, The Bean Sculpture.

Selecting the right spot with a well contrasted background and in this case a strategic refection.

Here is a suggestion on how to get started. Find a subject that your interested in and it doesn’t have to be a human figure. Go to it and look at it from every different angle you can imagine and take shots from all these locations. Return to your studio and look at each one, find your favorite and ask these questions:

  • What is in the back ground?
  • Should I move closer or further away?
  • Would a slight elevation change make the composition better?
  • What time of day gives you the best light for the subject?
  • What weather condition would best suit a mood for this subject?
  • Would a secondary light source enhance the subject?

Lets detail this out a bit further:

  • The Background – Examine your image looking closely at whats behind and around the subject. Less is more in most cases so find a contiguous fill that has good neutral contrast. Remember that depth of field can change the look of this field as well as texture, light and shadows. Will the change of season offer a different more appealing contrast. Time has no limitation to this subject.
Chicago Millennimum Park, The Bean Sculpture.

Standing further back revealed this gull trying to hatch this egg, placing him with a contrasting background of a darker building with its geometric window pattern.

  • Foot Zooming – If your happy with the angle of your composition how does that change if you stand closer and even further away. Image compression is seldom considered so try it out and see how it changes this type of imagery.
Leo Mole sculpture garden Winnipeg, Manitoba.

This frog at the foot of the statue was a great opportunity. The pond refection was the motivator, shot from a mono-pod at arms length and a remote trigger release allowed for an uninterrupted refection of blue sky with no people.

  • Elevation Changes – You have the perfect spot that best suites your composition and background but what happens if you just do an elevation change. Most people will shoot from eye level, the human tripod height. Get low and see what you have, maybe bring a small step ladder and see what change that brings to the composition. Most viewers will comment on images that have this slight variation.
Cancun, Mexico, Iles Desmure

Looking up to the angle in the clouds was a must do. The light from behind gives the viewer a sense of the angle not knowing we’re present as she looks down and prays to the crosses below.

  • Time of Day – We’re all aware of the golden hour but is it the best light for your subject. Does it cast the best shadow lines to enhance the character, is morning or sunset best. It maybe that a time later in the morning or earlier in the evening is best remember the sun moves in an arch across the sky what is the optimum time. Also don’t forget that the seasonal changes will cast shadows differently as well.
Leo Mole Sculpture garden in Winnipeg.

High noon gave this sculpture a nice highlight across her entire body. It also allowed the camera settings to be closed down so as to not blow out any highlights and create this high contrast dark background.

  • The Weather – All types of weather will add another variation to the lighting of your subject. Could an over cast day suite your subject even better or a rain or actual down pour have a positive effect, never know till you try. Fog has an amazing effect and a capture during a snow storm can be effective as well.
Leo Mole Sculpture Garden, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Taken after an afternoon rain, broken clouds allowed just enough light to cast off the wet concrete patio illuminating her face under a dappled lit background.

  • Additional Light – Adding a secondary light source can add a real sense of drama to a sculpture. A controlled highlight of soft colour during a rain is very special. A night shoot with a start lit sky and specially crafted light painting can be spectacular, this is very popular in advertizing today.
Leo Mole Sculpture Garden, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Why does the rain make everything greener, because its wet. Great time to shoot in a garden. The Honeysuckle vine cascaded down to her face gives this a real garden of Eden mood. Broken skies allow many different lighting opportunities.

So why can’t sculpture portray a mood, well of course it can and creating it is a lot of fun and in some cases takes a lot of skill and practice. Try it out.

Leo Mole Gardens, Winnipeg, MB

Orion looking toward the skies which just so happened to be broken clouds allowing a variety of lighting opportunities. The light at this moment was defused as clouds moved by.

Leo Mole Sculpture Garden

Post production can help to create many different moods.

Building a Photographic Brand

Branding a collection “Vintage Reproduction Imagery” one pearl at a time.

This journey started a little more than a year ago. I was commissioned to do a project at the new Fox & Fiddle Restaurant in Winnipeg. They requested vintage images of Winnipeg to match their historic building site. Image files were acquired through an archives service and the body of work chosen was from the iconic Winnipeg photographer, L.B. Foote. Foote was a prolific Winnipeg photographer who accumulated the largest collection of photo’s from the early history of Winnipeg’s business districts, but, he also shot sporting teams and clubs including some macabre murder scenes for the press. He became the city’s photographer of choice for official visits by dignitaries like King George & Queen Elizabeth from their respective reigns.

1914 Winnipeg Auto Club

1914 Winnipeg Auto Club

I completed this commission by creating 14 individual collages panels of images in tones that matched their decor of black & white marble. The three foot high panels were printed on a vintage smooth texture paper that added further detail and dimension to the project. After its completion I thought it would be an interesting study to take some current images and try to replicate this early look and feel. Of course it had to have an element of artistic interpretation that could be uniquely defined for a body of work, a canned sepia like tint on a B&W image would not suffice. The oysters seed had been planted and now the creative juices needed to bring it to life to see if a pearl could be created.

When I began the study I quickly realize that ultimately I wanted to create a baseline formula that could be applied to most any composition then hand detailed and finished specific to the image. This was completely different from my past works which were very individualistic, time and software intensive and very difficult to reproduce if a collection was required.

As luck would have it I received a call to submit ideas for a provincial commission. They were looking for iconic vintage architectural builds with a bit of a grunge look in an updated contemporary perspective. I accepted the challenge and proceeded to explore and shoot a specific collection for the project. I submitted a set of 20 images for consideration, each was prepared to specifications based on the decor and the specific boardroom requirements. Further consultations, discussions and additional fine tuning secured the project. In the end we selected and produced a set of 4, one off, digitally hand coloured pieces. Each image was digitally mastered and printed on French cold press art paper with a hand torn dappled edge. The prints were mounted and matted in a custom pewter shallow shadow box frame produced by master framer Barry Striemer.

This triptych depicts the essence of the growing culture of the City of Winnipeg during the late 19th century. The historic and stoic entrance of the Winnipeg Law Courts building emits a sense of strength. The turret above portrays justice with its view points overlooking the land to the North, South, East and West. The Land Titles entrance emits grace and style giving settlers a sense of honor as they approach these grand doors applying for  land titles.

This triptych depicts the essence of the growing culture of the City of Winnipeg during the late 19th century. The historic and stoic entrance of the Winnipeg Law Courts building emits a sense of strength. The turret above portrays justice with its view points overlooking the land to the North, South, East and West. The Land Titles entrance emits grace and style giving settlers a sense of honor as they approach these grand doors applying for
land titles.

At the unveiling in the Civil Service Commission boardroom, Corporate Office Administrator Pauline Gagnon and Deputy Minister Debra Woodgate were enamored with the finished look and feel of the images. They were deeply touched when they learned of the accompanying story lines behind each image. Not only were the images appealing but the story behind each image gave it an additional depth and relevancy they had not expected. Deputy Minister Debra Woodgate requested that a gallery tag accompany each image completing the instillation. It was an important commission for me in my development and these details are part of who I am. The first stage of the pearls development was now cast.

I knew then the processing formula was on the right track but I had to refine it to be able to produce a series or collection of work. The second hybrid set was of the historic “Grants Mill”. There were six images created which I posted on my facebook site back in early Feb., 2013 to receive feed back. The collection garnered some very positive comments but as I viewed it on line I felt it just wasn’t quite there yet, to contrived, it didn’t feel it was truly part of the story of the image set. So I went back to the drawing board and over a period of 6-7 weeks it became much more distinctive and refined.

The oldest flower mill in western Canada.

The oldest flower mill in western Canada.

Grants Mill 2

Detail of Grants Mill in Winnipeg, MB., Canada

Searching through my archives I found a collection of images taken in the east Kooteny Mtns. a few years back. The images were filled with local history and an infinite amount of detail to challenge this concept. Processing this set I could feel it brought me closer to what I was looking for. The diversity of the images combined with this developing formula had me convinced it was doable. A tweak here, a push there and they came out with a sense and sensibility of character and in some cases with very little intervention. Still each image required specific details that can only be done by hand. I cherished the individualistic nature of this process as it allows me to delve deeply into each image and pull out the intimacies as I remembered capturing them. Within each image there is a dappled light created by a canopy of mature fir and cedar trees that is a significant part of the charm of this area. The technique handled this with a grace befitting these hallowed intimate landscapes. Of this set of approximately 70 images I submitted 5 into a local photo competition to be adjudicated and receive feed back. The critique was very interesting culminating with two images winning awards of first and second place in the senior colour print category. One image one became the “Image of the Month” in the competition. The members of the photographic association recognize and expressed interest in the style and feel of these images. This has help build credence for establishing this branded style for a collection. The pearl is gaining momentum in its growth.

Situated in the East Kootenay Mtns of BC.

Situated in the East Kootenay Mtns of BC.

Situated in the East Kootenay Mtns of BC.

Earl’s place was a favorite haunt for me, I learned that Hollywood loved it to as 3-4 movies were shot here at Earl’s house.

To test the waters further I introduced some other genres and one I have is a good collection of are wildlife images. Would the concept work with a set of imagery that has a completely different set of demands in post production. I tried it with different types of subjects, light and background looks. It worked well but it takes some extra tweaking to bring out the details of the individual animal species in their environments but over all I was happy with the results.

Capture near Jasper Alberta.

Capture near Jasper Alberta.

Taken in northern Alberta this moose was most interested in me at this point.

Taken in northern Alberta this moose was most interested in me at this point.

How about portraiture? I had planed to shoot at an event called “Doors Open” hosted by the Winnipeg Historical Society. During this event certain historical sites are open to the public to view and some locations provided actors in period costume reenacting events pertinent to that facility. Perfect setting for this style of vintage processing I thought. Camera in hand I specifically shot for the project and they turned out decidedly better than expected. Each photo creating a real effective ambiance, enhanced by special lighting treatments I had planed. Its always in the lighting, details and ambiance.

This ghostly murderer returns from the dead once a year.

This ghostly murderer returns from the dead once a year.

Criminal clergy never entered these hallowed walls.

Most criminal clergy never entered these hallowed walls.

Youthful innocents, not always as it appears from the darken shadows looms danger.

Youthful innocents, not always as it appears from the darken shadows looms danger.

I’ve continue to experiment with this technique to include on stage performance images. Here, with a few minor tweaks it becomes a very effective grunge look for current bands, musicians and dancers. This processing pearl has been created but it is has a constant flux of evolution.

"Almost Birds"

“Almost Birds”
Jared Kist

"Almost Birds"

“Almost Birds”

So why go through this process and what does it mean. It means now I can effectively create an identifiable pictorialist portfolio of work that I know, trust and enjoy. I can assemble a consistent look for an exhibition or portfolio request based on this technical style in any genre of imagery. It is a concept and look that I can now promote and market to different end users. It has become a branded collection by Joe Kerr and CSCS Digital Imaging. My oyster has relinquished a pearl.

Parliment Builds in Ottawa Guard House, Ottawa

An interesting sidebar, I’ve been encouraged to teach this and other techniques in an up coming workshop series. Worth the time and efforts, you bet.