Do you want to know how to create happy photos? The type of photos with lots of positive vibes, the type of photo that makes your viewer smile?
You’ve come to the right place.
Because in this article, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about creating stunning photos–that have a lightness and happiness you’re going to love.
Let’s get started.
1. Look for Expressions on Your Subject’s Faces to Lighten the Mood
The absolute easiest way to capture photos that convey a sense of happiness…
…is to capture subjects that are looking happy.
So whenever you’re out and about, search for subjects that are in a good mood. You might capture people who are laughing exuberantly, or you might go for a low-key subject with a slight smile; either way, you want to find people with lovely expressions on their faces.
Of course, you can always ask people to pose for you–most people automatically smile when the camera is pointed at them–but this tends to result in more artificial-seeming images. So I recommend going for authentic, candid shots whenever possible.
If you’re doing a portrait session and you’re struggling to capture happy emotions, then it can help to put away the camera for a minute and just talk with your subject. Ask them what they like and what makes them excited. Only then, once their face starts to light up, should you pull out your camera and take a few snaps.
Note that kids are often a great candidate for happy-go-lucky photos, simply because they tend to be so enthusiastic.
So always be on the lookout for positive emotions.
And happy photos will come naturally.
2. Shoot Up Into the Sky for a High-Key Look
Here’s an easy way to give your photos a brighter, airier look:
Shoot into the sky.
You see, while dark tones tend to make your images more dramatic and intense, it’s the light tones that will give your photos some positive vibes.
And some of the lightest tones are found in the sky.
This is especially true on cloudy days, when the horizon is blanketed by clouds. On days like that, it’s quite easy to achieve a lovely high-key image like this:
All you have to do is get down low, so that your subject is framed against the sky.
Then overexpose the image slightly, in order to keep things looking nice and bright.
Finally, take your shot (though I recommend checking the LCD to confirm that you’ve nailed the image!). If things are still looking a bit too dark, use a bit of exposure compensation to increase the brightness.
3. Use Overcast Skies to Give Your Photos a Sense of Airiness
If you want to capture a particular mood in your images, then I recommend you pay careful attention to the light.
Because mood is often all about light. Different types of light are what create some of the most interesting moods.
While you can capture happy images with any light (as long as you use it correctly), my favorite light for cheerful, upbeat images is heavily overcast.
This is because cloudy light is deeply diffused. It’ll give your subjects a wonderfully soft glow–one that’s perfect for all sorts of stunning images.
Plus, cloudy light is good for making colors pop, which can add to the cheerful aspect of your photos (though note that you can also do this in post-processing, which I explain in the next section).
Personally, I like the heaviest clouds the best. Heavier clouds take the soft glow effect all the way, whereas a partly cloudy day may still offer some unpleasantly hard light that just doesn’t look good.
So make it a habit to check the sky before going out to shoot. It may seem frustrating at first–but you’ll eventually come to appreciate the power of a cloudy day.
4. Use Post-Processing to Make Your Colors Really Pop
If you don’t spend much time post-processing your photos…
…then I suggest you start now.
Because post-processing is one of the easiest ways to take your images to the next level. Especially if you want photos with positive vibes.
In particular, you can use post-processing to enhance the colors in your images. You can make them much more vibrant, and much more striking–just with a few sliders.
Now, if you want to boost the colors in your photos, you can use pretty much any standard photo-editing software out there.
All you have to do is find the color-editing sliders.
For basic color adjustments, boosting the Saturation or the Vibrance sliders will do the trick; saturation will enhance every color equally, while vibrance will target non-skin tones and less-saturated colors.
If you’d like to boost individual colors, you can use more targeted color adjustments, such as those offered in Lightroom’s HSL panel.
Just find the colors in your image you’d like to enhance, push up the relevant sliders, and–voila!–your image will look so much more interesting.
When it comes to adding a cheerful vibe to your images, I recommend adding saturation to the most interesting colors–though be careful not to overdo things. It’s easy to boost the colors too much, resulting in a garish, unpleasant effect.
But as long as you keep your adjustments fairly minor, you’ll do just fine–and you’ll end up with some wonderful results.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Overexpose Slightly to Convey Positive Vibes
I’ve already talked about the value of overexposing slightly in your high-key images.
But did you know that overexposure can be beneficial?
You see, while most photographers try to avoid overexposing their images, there are times when an overexposed image can really convey positive, happy vibes, like this:
Technically, the image has lost some detail in the highlights. But this is intentional, and it adds a sense of happiness to the image–which viewers really love.
Now, you don’t want to overexpose too much. Significant overexposure will blow out too much detail in the highlights, resulting in an image that just doesn’t work.
But if you overexpose carefully, you’ll get a lovely shot, one with that extra injection of happiness.
Also note that you can add this sense of brightness via post-processing. If you boost the whites, for instance, you can often get a similar type of image. And you can do it without sacrificing detail in the image (after all, post-processing is generally non-destructive).
6. Take Photos that Include Lots of Movement to Add Energy
Some images with positive vibes are very low energy, very low key.
And they work well.
But other images with positive vibes…
…have a lot of energy.
In fact, in a lot of cases, energy contributes to an upbeat photo. The sense of energy comes through the image and gives it a wonderful glow.
How do you convey energy in your images?
Well, the first way is to show movement. Show people running, jumping, playing. Show animals hopping around in a carefree manner.
But I also recommend you try to show compositional movement–which involves incorporating lines and curves into your images. This kind of movement will pull the eye through the frame, giving a different sense of energy to the photo.
(Though if you can add both types of energy into the same photo, even better!)
Note that shooting fast-moving subjects will require a quick shutter speed, one that’s snappy enough to freeze your subjects in motion. This often means a shutter speed of at least 1/500s (for moving people), and even 1/2000s–for moving cars, flying birds, and other high-speed subjects.
Movement adds energy! Just make sure you dial in the camera settings you need to pull it off.
6 Tips for Wonderfully Upbeat, Happy Photos: The Next Step
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know all about capturing images with positive vibes.
You know how to use overexposure to create a bright, airy look.
You know how to shoot against the sky for a lovely, high-key background.
You know how to make your colors pop.
And much more!
So get out and start taking some images with positive vibes.
I guarantee that they’ll make you (and viewers!) smile.
Yes! By following the six tips laid out in this article, you should be able to capture happy photos with ease. It doesn’t take much–just make sure you have the right light, and make sure your subject is having a good time!
To capture upbeat photos, I recommend shooting subjects that look like they’re having fun (and you can help this along by interacting enthusiastically with them). Shoot on cloudy days, for some nice, soft light. Enhance the colors of the shot in post-processing, so that you get a shot that’s especially powerful.
Try shooting subjects with happy expressions. Get your subject to laugh, smile, or shout! You can also shoot against a bright sky for a brighter, happier photo overall.
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.