How to Capture The Setting and Set The Mood

Pheonix, North East of Mesa
Taking a wide-angle photo is a great way to establish the setting of the story you are trying to capture through photos. Emphasize the mountains towering over your subject, make the sky and clouds appear more ominous, or give your neighborhood street the nostalgic vastness that resembles the way our minds remember them from our childhoods — larger than they actually are.

It’s easy to do. But before I tell you how, let’s look at the difference it makes in terms of telling the story…

Not A Wide-Angle Shot

Pond, Jameson Missouri
This photo of my kids is not a wide-angle shot, though it’s still beautiful. Both of the above pictures show the natural surroundings, but the emphasis of each picture is different.

  • First Photo – the mountain and the clouds tower in the distance. It isn’t just a picture of my husband and me with our hands in each others’ pockets. It’s a story about the height of the mountains in the distance, and the possibilities ahead.
  • Second Photo – this shows all the lush Missouri green around the pond at my parents’ farm. But this photo is not as much about the pond as it is about my two kids pausing to look at it.

So how easy is it to get these mood-establishing shots that emphasize setting? It takes one step . . .

1) Zoom out.

That’s it! When you zoom way out, you will start to get this slight distortion, because in order to get wider coverage, your camera will curve the view.

Of course, it requires the ability to zoom out in the first place. Distances will stretch and the proportions of items will increase as you shorten the focal length — for example from 35 mm, to 28 mm, to 24 mm, etc. The wider you go, the more distortion you get.

Here are a few more examples of how I established mood, or emphasized larger-than-life surroundings with slight wide-angle shots . . .

Tubing At Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake Tubing

Hello, Tuscon!

Hello, Tuscon!

Our Park: The Morning After Rain

The Morning After Rain

A New Pond From The Rain 2

A New Pond From The Rain

Next time you’re photographing something significant outside, try zooming all the way out to get a nostalgic setting shot.

Weekly Roundup

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  • Paperclipping Video Tutorial – Watch for it on Monday! (This is the one I previously mentioned about a method to help you finish your minibooks.) It’ll be a Member’s Only episode. If you want to read about our membership before it releases, please go here.
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Best Regards,

Host, Paperclipping

  • Jamie Leija

    i can only see one half of the sets of photos. i can see each of the themes, but only one half of the photos if that makes sense. but it might just be me!

  • Char

    Great idea. Thanks for the tip.

  • Jamie, it sounds like you just need to refresh your browser. It was probably just disrupted or slow in trying to load all the photos.

    If that doesn't work you can restart your browser, but I doubt that would be necessary.

  • donna clark

    Beautiful photos Noell! Now for a QUESTION…when you say “zoom out”, do you mean to make my lens “stick out” as far as it will go??? Sorry…….brain not computing! thanks!

  • No, it's the exact opposite. You want the lens to be as short as possible. Or another way to look at is you want to get as wide a view as you can to get more in the picture.

  • Napabagg

    As usual your photos are spectacular and tell a story!
    Thank you for the inspiiration again.
    These weren't taken with a point and shoot were they?
    Did you take photography classes?

  • Thank you! I took these pictures with my SLR, Cannon Rebel. It should apply
    to point and shoots, too, though.

    No, I've never taken a photography class. I'm sure a class would have sped
    up my learning, but I think there's plenty to learn without a class. Izzy
    initially taught me how to shoot in manual over a couple of our vacations.
    He also helped me get my initial understanding of composition. Since then
    it's been a matter of observation and analyzing what makes good photos good,
    reading website articles every once in a while, and practice. I'm still
    learning all the time.

    The nice thing is that in terms of composing the shot, the same principles
    of design that apply to scrapbooking also apply to photography. So you're
    learning and improving them both at the same time!

  • ava-j

    thank you for the update! im between cameras right now, so im so sad that i cant try out the cool tips that you share. but im learning from you until i get my old camera back..or get a new one. : )
    love watching your videos and listening to izzy too! keep up the great work you do!

  • Thank you, Ava! I hope you're able to get your hands on a camera soon!

  • Dettaowens

    Noell's pictures are fabulous, aren't they? If you want to improve your photography skills, there are lots and lots of tutorials out there on the web. Try googling your camera style or you can try this site. I learned most of my basics on line and then went to some “real” classes where I was able to build on what I learned. I still look for tutorials and read everything I can. Your local community college probably has some continuing education classes and so will your local camera stores.

  • LCSmithSAVED

    FYI – the August Challenge links to July Challenge :)

  • Changed it. Thank you!

  • Donna

    thanks Noell! I guess if I think of “zoom in” as the lens actually getting as long as it can, then it makes sense. (hard to believe i took photography in high school and got an A!!)

  • Yeah. Also: you're zooming in on the subject: getting as close to the
    subject as you can. When you zoom out you're going out as far as you can.

    — if that confused you, though, then just ignore it, lol. :)

  • Hey, your regarding concern is really so great. And the photos are really looking just amazing. But I find some photos on the half scale. So I am not understanding why they are looking like this one. Thanks for the sharing your knowledge and photos.