On the previous page, we saw scenes with characters attract our interest more quickly than empty environments. 

But we also saw, by comparing carparks, that some environments can be more interesting than others, or can be presented in a more interesting way.

So how much emotion can we get out of the world by itself, with no people?

Let's look at some landscapes and see how they make us feel.

Bruges Moonlight, 1910 by Charles Warren Eaton
How do you feel when looking at this image?
Plain near Auvers by Van Gogh
How do you feel when looking at this image?
  • The painting of the trees at night maybe feels spooky, ominous, lonely, isolated, creepy, haunting.
  • The painting of the fields in the day maybe feels open, fresh, bright, happy, optimistic, hopeful, lively.

Why is that?

What is similar and different about each of these images?


  • Both are landscapes
  • Both are swirly, in motion


  • Night vs day
  • Dark vs light
  • Monochrome vs colourful
  • Dull vs vibrant
  • Vertical vs horizontal lines

The differences in emotional effect are created mostly by colour, contrast, and vibrancy or energy.

Let's call this mood

We can call this emotional effect mood.

While people can certainly have moods, in this lesson we're going to use the word to describe general atmosphere rather than specific character emotions.

Moody mountain photo
How do you feel when looking at this image?
How do you feel when looking at this image?

What's the mood of each image?

  • The image of the mountain maybe feels intimidating, inspiring, adventurous, threatening, glorious, hopeful.
  • In contrast, the image of the ocean maybe feels calm, soothing, restful, thoughtful, serene, lonely, relaxed.

Notice how neither image is intrinsically positive or negative in mood—each could be seen as upbeat or downbeat depending on the viewer.

However, the mountain image emotions all have an 'active' quality—they pull us towards or push us away from the image.

In contrast, the ocean image emotions have a kind of 'passive' quality—they leave us floating.

Why does one image feel 'active' and the other feels 'passive'?

What is similar and what is different?


  • Both are landscapes
  • Both have a portrait orientation
  • Both guide your eye up the frame (following the path to the peak, or the white caps to the horizon)


  • Angular vs flat
  • Triangles vs rectangles
  • Dark vs light
  • High contrast vs low contrast
  • Warm tones vs cool tones
  • Strong motion vs subtle motion

The image with strong lines and lots of contrast creates a kind of visual motion, actively pulling our eyes, which in turn creates a sense of energy, whereas the image with broad regions and lower contrast has less visual motion, which produces a sense of calm.

The Electric State Simon Stalenhag mound
How do you feel when looking at this image?
Mateusz Urbanowicz storefront 3
How do you feel when looking at this image?

What is the mood of each image?

  • The post-apocalyptic container tower maybe feels spooky, haunting, threatening, desolate, fragile, sinister...
  • Or it could feel defiant, hopeful, safe, depending on how you respond to some of the details. But either way, the emotions are probably kind of 'dark'.
  • The Tokyo shop is more straightforward: cute, happy, comforting, appealing, delightful, cosy, fun. All 'light' emotions.

By now you can probably figure out why this is the case.

How are the images similar and different?


  • Both are buildings
  • Both are empty of people
  • Both are basically trapezoids in the middle of the frame


  • Dark vs bright
  • Dull vs colourful
  • Cool tones vs warm tones
  • Desolate background vs isolated image
  • Few signs of life (pickups, flag) vs lots of little signs of life (signs, flags, plants)
  • Big empty scale vs small intimate scale

So a big part of the mood is created by tone, particularly colour and brightness. It's reinforced by size and scale, distance, colour, texture, as well lots of little content details that imply a world that is either in decay or full of life.

(Though can you imagine a way to make the container tower image look cute and comfy? Or a way to make the Tokyo store grim and desolate?)

What have we learned on this page?

  • We respond emotionally to environments, whether natural or manmade.
  • We can call this emotional atmosphere mood.
  • The mood is less to do with the content (trees, fields, ocean, and buildings can all have different moods—though the details are important).
  • It has much more to do with the tonal qualities of the description (light, dark, hard, soft, warm, cool).
  • As well as the energy or motion of the piece (which comes from shapes, lines, proportion, rhythm).


So we know the world can be made emotionally expressive.

What happens when we introduce characters?