5 Ways to Capture Existentialism in Photography
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Use of Silhouettes
  2. Capturing Isolation
  3. Showing Scale
  4. Emphasizing Light and Shadow
  5. Creating Mystery with Abstract Patterns

Ever wondered how to infuse the essence of existentialism into photography? Take a note from Albert Camus, a leading figure of existentialism, and explore the depths of life, isolation, and the human spirit through your lens. This blog will reveal five practical ways to capture Camus-inspired existentialist photography, taking you on a journey through light, shadow, and the art of seeing. So pick up your camera and prepare to see the world anew.

Use of Silhouettes

Let's start with something simple yet powerful: silhouettes. In the world of Camus-inspired existentialist photography, silhouettes can be a potent tool to express the solitary nature of existence. But how exactly can you use them? Let's look at a few techniques.

Choose the Right Background

First, you need to find a suitable backdrop—the brighter, the better. Think of a radiant sunset or a stark, white wall. This high contrast will help your subject stand out as a silhouette, creating a striking image that speaks volumes.

Position Your Subject

Next, position your subject between your camera and the light source. Here's a tip: try to ensure that the light source isn't directly behind your subject. This will help you avoid unwanted lens flare and keep your silhouette sharp and clear.

Experiment with Shapes and Postures

Now, let's add some drama to your silhouette! Experiment with different shapes and postures. The more unique the pose, the more evocative the silhouette. For instance, a person standing alone, leaning against the wind, or perhaps reaching out for something—these simple forms can convey powerful existential themes.

Perfect Your Settings

Finally, let's talk settings. For silhouettes, you'll want to underexpose your photo. This means setting a faster shutter speed or smaller aperture —in other words, allowing less light into your lens. It might take some trial and error, but the result is worth the effort: a striking, Camus-inspired snapshot of existential solitude.

Remember, the beauty of silhouettes lies in their simplicity. They strip away details, leaving only the essence of the subject. And in this essence, we find a reflection of existentialism's core: the individual standing alone against the vastness of existence. But that's just the first step. Now, let's move on to another technique to capture the essence of existentialism in photography: isolation.

Capturing Isolation

Isolation—a core theme in existentialism, is portrayed vividly in Camus' works. To portray this in Camus-inspired existentialist photography, we must learn to capture not just the physical solitude, but also the emotional solitude. Here are some tips to help you bring out this theme in your images.

Find Solitary Subjects

Start by looking for solitary subjects. This could be a person, an object, or even a structure. The key is to find something that stands alone in its surroundings. A lone tree in a field, for instance, can be a powerful symbol of isolation.

Use Negative Space

Another effective way to emphasize isolation is by using negative space—that is, the area around your subject. By leaving a large portion of your frame empty, you draw attention to the loneliness of your subject. And remember, the negative space doesn't always have to be a blank wall or clear sky. It can be a bustling crowd or a complex landscape, as long as your subject stands alone.

Play with Perspective

Perspective can be a powerful tool in conveying isolation. By using a high or low angle, or by placing your subject at the edge of the frame, you can create a sense of distance and detachment. This can evoke feelings of isolation, helping to deepen the existentialist tone of your image.

Choose the Right Lighting

Finally, consider the role of lighting. Soft, diffused light can give your image a quiet, introspective mood, while harsh, direct light can create stark contrasts and emphasize the solitude of your subject.

In Camus-inspired existentialist photography, isolation isn't just about being alone—it's about feeling alone, even in a crowd. It's about the existential realization of our separateness from the world around us. And by capturing this theme in your images, you're not just taking a photo; you're telling a story—a story of solitude, introspection, and the human condition.

So far, we've explored silhouettes and isolation. Now, it's time to think bigger—literally. Let's delve into our next technique: showing scale.

Showing Scale

Scale, an often overlooked element in photography, can be a powerful tool in creating compelling Camus-inspired existentialist photography. It's all about providing context, putting things in perspective, and highlighting the insignificance of individual entities in the grand scheme of the universe. Here's how you can master the art of showing scale in your pictures.

Include a Familiar Object for Comparison

One of the simplest ways to show scale is to include a familiar object in your frame for comparison. This could be anything from a person or an animal, to a car or a building. By juxtaposing your subject with these familiar objects, you give your viewers a reference point, helping them understand the actual size of your subject.

Use Wide-Angle Lenses

Wide-angle lenses can exaggerate the sense of scale, making subjects appear farther apart and landscapes seem more vast. This can be a great tool for emphasizing the vastness of the world in comparison to the individual, which is a key theme in existentialist philosophy.

Play with Foreground and Background

Another way to showcase scale is by playing with the foreground and background. By placing a small subject in the foreground against a large backdrop, you can make the backdrop seem even larger, further emphasizing the existential theme of human insignificance.

Experiment with Aerial Photography

If you really want to capture the grandeur of the world, why not try aerial photography? From a bird's-eye view, people and buildings become tiny specks, and vast landscapes stretch out to the horizon. This can be a powerful way to represent the vastness of the universe and our tiny place within it.

By effectively showing scale in your photos, you can convey the existentialist theme of our insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe—a theme that's at the heart of Camus-inspired existentialist photography. Remember, it's not about making your subjects seem small—it's about putting things into perspective.

Now that we've explored silhouettes, isolation, and scale, it's time to delve into the world of light and shadow. Get ready to illuminate your photography skills in the next section.

Emphasizing Light and Shadow

Light and shadow aren't just elements of a photograph—they're the very medium in which you work as a photographer. And when it comes to Camus-inspired existentialist photography, they can be profound tools for conveying the dichotomy of existence and non-existence, presence and absence. Let's shed some light—quite literally—on how you can use these elements to your advantage.

Use Natural Light to Your Advantage

Natural light is an ever-changing, dynamic element that can dramatically alter the mood of your photographs. Early morning and late afternoon, often referred to as the "golden hours," offer soft, warm light that can lend an ethereal quality to your photographs. Conversely, the harsh midday sun can create bold contrasts and deep, dramatic shadows. Both can be used effectively in existentialist photography.

Experiment with Shadows

Shadows aren't just the absence of light—they're a powerful compositional element. They can add depth and dimension to your photos, create a sense of mystery, or even serve as the subject of your photo. For example, a solitary figure cast in shadow can be a potent symbol of existentialist themes like isolation and alienation.

Play with Contrast

Contrast—the difference between light and dark areas in a photograph—can be a powerful tool in conveying existentialist themes. High-contrast images, with stark differences between light and dark areas, can evoke feelings of conflict, tension, or imbalance. On the other hand, low-contrast images, with more subtle tonal transitions, can create a sense of ambiguity or uncertainty—both fitting moods for Camus-inspired existentialist photography.

Master the Art of Silhouette Photography

One effective way to emphasize light and shadow is through silhouette photography. By placing your subject in front of a light source and underexposing them, you can turn them into a dark outline against a brighter background. This technique can create a sense of mystery and ambiguity, as well as highlight the existential theme of the individual against the world.

Emphasizing light and shadow in your photographs can add depth and complexity, helping you express existentialist themes more effectively. Remember, in the world of Camus-inspired existentialist photography, light and shadow are more than just elements of your photos—they're powerful storytelling tools.

Having illuminated the importance of light and shadow, let's move on to our final technique for capturing existentialism in photography: creating mystery with abstract patterns. Stay tuned!

Creating Mystery with Abstract Patterns

Abstract patterns can be a striking way to infuse your photography with existentialist themes. They can provide a departure from the concrete and the literal, pushing viewers to question what they see and think more deeply about the photograph's meaning. Let's dive into how you can use these patterns to create an air of mystery and existentialism in your photography.

Finding Patterns in Everyday Life

Start by observing the world around you. Patterns can be found everywhere—in the structure of a leaf, the repetition of windows on a building, or the ripple of sand dunes. These naturally occurring patterns can produce visually intriguing images that encourage viewers to take a second look. Remember, in Camus-inspired existentialist photography, it's all about pushing boundaries and challenging perceptions.

Manipulating Patterns for Effect

Once you've found a pattern, think about how you can manipulate it to create a sense of mystery or provoke thought. Altering the perspective, focus, or lighting can make a common pattern become something entirely different. For instance, a close-up photograph of a spiral staircase can turn into an infinite loop, symbolizing the human struggle against the absurdity of existence in a Camus-inspired manner.

Breaking Patterns to Highlight Existentialist Themes

Patterns create a sense of order and predictability. Breaking that pattern can be a powerful way to highlight existentialist themes like randomness, chaos, and the unexpected. A single broken tile in a perfectly arranged mosaic, for example, can serve as a metaphor for the individual's struggle to find meaning in a seemingly ordered but ultimately indifferent universe.

Abstract patterns, when used effectively, can add a layer of complexity and intrigue to your photographs. They can engage viewers on a deeper level, prompting them to ponder the existentialist themes inherent in your work. So, the next time you're out with your camera, look beyond the obvious and seek out the abstract patterns that the world has to offer.

And there you have it: five techniques to capture existentialism in your photography. From using silhouettes and capturing isolation, to showing scale, emphasizing light and shadow, and creating mystery with abstract patterns, you're now armed with a host of strategies to bring a touch of Camus-inspired existentialist philosophy to your work. Happy shooting!

If you're inspired by the concept of existentialism in photography and want to explore more unique approaches to capturing images, check out the workshop 'Using Nature and Photography as a Form of Meditation' by louisbever. This workshop will teach you how to connect with nature and use photography as a meditative practice, which can help you discover new ways to imbue your work with existentialist themes.