Emotion & Perception in photography

Water balloons floating in water

Water balloons itchin' for a fight

“You never know when you’re making a memory.” Rickie Lee Jones quotes (American Singer and Song Writer)


Please buy my Mom’s pictures. Each one of them is a great memory for us.”

My daughter wrote this note and put it in front of the baskets of matted prints and photo cards I was trying to sell at a crafts show last December. At first I was a little embarrassed, thinking it wasn’t professional. It probably isn’t professional to have a child’s handwritten sign begging people to buy my work. But she’s absolutely right. Each photo is a memory. Photographs evoke emotions from your viewers, too.

Lifeguard stand at Ferry Beach, Saco, Maine

Lifeguard stand at Ferry Beach, Saco, Maine

The other night I was visiting a friend, showing her my card catalog and telling her about my plans to sell the cards and prints in various local shops. I have been a photographer for over twenty five years. From the darkroom to digital, it seems that a camera has been my companion for the better part of my life. At last count, I have nearly thirty thousand digital images in my computer and many boxes of prints and negatives and slides. The number seems unbelievable, but the reality is that each image is a second of my life. My friend, as she was looking through my photographs, pulled them out as she sorted through, commenting on each. For each, I had something to add, my story of that moment.



One image she liked is of a lifeguard stand at the beach, on a stormy, gray skied day. When she pulled it out, I sighed – ugh – I don’t really like that shot. Every time I see it I think it’s too dark and dreary. But she said “Yes, but I’ve been on the beach on a day like that, many of us have.” And I remember that day. Joe and Nola and I had gone to Ferry Beach state park in Saco. It was late May, the day before my birthday. I wanted desperately to be in the sunshine on the beach, having just this small amount of time to spend there. My disappointment comes through in my feelings about the photograph. My friend has a different connection with the image, one of good memories walking with her mother on the beach on days like that. It’s one image but holds different emotions for both the photographer and the viewer.


Minutes after taking the shot of the lifeguard stand alone, Nola climbed up to it. I recall taking off her wet sneakers. She loves the beach, no matter what the weather, and cannot stay away from the water. As we were leaving, I spotted these blue chairs in the dune grass. This image is one of the ones I sell most. People seem to connect to two empty chairs, and I think that it’s more about the possibility of sitting with a friend and having a leisurely few moments. Or is that just my perception?

Two blue chairs in dune grass

Two blue chairs in dune grass

A photography instructor told me something about this that has clung to me as no other lesson about photography has. He told me that each individual who sees your photograph will see it through the eyes of their own experiences and quoted an unknown author.

“For me, photographs take their power from memory and emotion. A picture tells its own story, shaped by the mood or insights of the person you are at the time you see it. It becomes layered with the past and the present.”




Though not technically perfect, these are some of my favorite images because of the emotions I connect with them. When I look back on some of the images I have, seeing the other photos from that day can clarify my feelings about that particular image. One image captures one moment – that moment – and tries to tell a story. Each story is interpreted by the viewer through their own lens, the lens of their life and their experiences.

As a photographer, do you ever disregard a photo that is a good image, but evokes uncomfortable emotions in you? Do you ever just fall in love with a shot that isn’t perfect but because of your memory of the moment, it becomes one of your favorites?


Here are some great quotes about the emotional aspect of photography and its connection to memories.

“Photography, alone of the arts, seems perfected to serve the desire humans have for a moment – this very moment – to stay.”
Sam Abell quotes

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”
Dorothea Lange quotes (American documentary photographer, 1895-1965)

“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.”
Ernst Haas quotes

“Whether he is an artist or not, the photographer is a joyous sensualist, for the simple reason that the eye traffics in feelings, not in thoughts.”
Walker Evans quotes (American Photographer. 1903-1975)

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
Aaron Siskind quotes

“Art is not what you see,but what you make others see.”- Edgar Degas

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