Conceptual Photo Challenge: Photographing Mystery

The Merriam-Webster definition of mystery is: “something not understood or beyond understanding; enigma”. Let’s keep that definition in mind as we try to create images that evoke a sense of mystery, that make the viewer curious and draw them into the image.

Using Light to Create Mystery

The lighting in a photograph dramatically influences the overall feeling of an image. Photographs can be loosely put into three categories of light: high key, mid key, and low key.

A high key image is predominantly bright highlights and usually has flat lighting. While there may be some mid-tones and light shadows, the image is mostly highlights. The images tend to be light, airy, optimistic and positive.

A middle key image uses a lot of mid-tones and just a few balanced highlights and shadows.

A low key image is dimly lit and has a lot of shadows and directional light. The images have a moody, dramatic, mysterious quality. Low key lighting is perfect for creating a sense of mystery.

How to Photography the Idea of Mystery

If you are feeling a little stuck on what you can photograph that has an air of mystery, begin with brainstorming. Write a list of things that you find mysterious, and then find one of them to photograph. Things like old library stacks, abandoned buildings, a solitary person sitting on a bench, the interior of a church, a cat in a dark room, and so on.

Another strategy is to go on a photowalk, being fully present to your surroundings and looking for things that leave you feeling a sense of mystery and curiosity.

Strategies for Enhancing Mystery

All of the following ideas can be used to create an image with mystery, or to enhance a mysterious image.

  1. Fog or haze or shadows, anything that obscures part of a scene.

2. Dark colors, especially black, purple, and deep reds.

3. People who seem to be involved in a story of some sort, when an image raises a lot of questions in the viewer’s mind. These questions can be raised by what the subject is doing in the image, or by an expression on the subject’s face. The image below raises lots of questions without any clear answers.

4. Silhouettes and shapes can also create a sense of mystery.

5. Images with a lot of space, especially dark space, can evoke mystery.

6. Motion blur can add a sense of mystery to an image. The image below, even though it is high key, has a mysterious quality to it.

#MindfulPhotoChallenge Day 24

Create an image with a sense of mystery, that invites the viewer to linger and ponder.

Share your images on Instagram with #mindfulphotochallenge and/or #RefocusPhotoChallenge, and tag me @ goodhartphotography.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like:

  • My full color 30-Day Photography Challenge Workbook here on Amazon.
  • My Photography Articles Listed and Sorted by Type here
  • My Mindful Photography Workshop here
  • My “A Gossamer Thread” Newsletter about photography/creativity, productivity, and joy here

Photo credits: Evie-S, Henry-Be, JD-Mason, Johny-Goerend, Klara-Kulikova, Malicki-M-Beser, Matthew Henry, Milan-Malkomes, Tyler-Chandler.