I don't have any humans to pose.
I have a playground with a swing which rotates to and fro. I also have children's toys and clothes and shoes.

I wish to create a scene which shows that a child "was" swinging "happily".

To demonstrate this, I placed a doll fallen on the ground near the moving swing and one of the child's slippers.

Later on I realized that this kind of setup very obviously showed that the child had either been kidnapped, or she had gone to her home crying.

How can I show "happiness" with the things I have listed above?
What kind of setup demonstrates "happiness"?

  • While I have a strong image in my head of the photo you made initially (the kidnapping one), could you still upload it so people can offer better suggestions? – Saaru Lindestøkke Sep 21 '14 at 13:45
  • @BartArondson I would have already done it if I had it. But after taking the photo I realized that I had forgotten to put the SD card in the camera. The photo wasn't "saved". – Aquarius_Girl Sep 21 '14 at 14:38
  • Use a dog and a tennis ball. – Raphael Sep 21 '14 at 18:03
  • 3
    Is the doll smiling? Put it in the swing. – Kenster Sep 21 '14 at 18:25
  • 1
    @Kenster: +1, but can be very creepy, too ;-). – TFuto Oct 3 '14 at 17:25

Create a nice and aesthetic environment which waits for the child who is just about to arrive. Don't try to capture happiness showing sometime after, without the kid.

This should put a happiness in a very near future. You could use some welcoming signs as well. Use warm colors, bright lights, softer contrasts and lower picture temperature.

You can also use a ribbon around your clean and orderly setup so it suggests this being a present of some kind or the opening of this place, you know the ribbon, that is later cut by someone.

You can use a cake, too, by the way. :-)

Use shallow DOF, making this a bit dreamy, a bit idealistic, but don't overdo it. Don't move the swing if empty.

Make the environment flawless, clean, spotless, very pleasing for the eyes. The viewer then will associate his/her happiness from childhood when he/she was in such a setup. (If you do an after-type of image, the viewer will associate with this leaving this place, unhappiness, loss.)

Good luck.

  • 1
    +1 Setting it up to show anticipation is a clever way to frame it - it's an emotion that is very accessible and easy to visualize. It may be stepping a bit too closely to party rather than playground, but that's really up to the OP. Regardless, great advice if it's right for them. – Mitch Goshorn Oct 3 '14 at 22:18

I think you are going in the wrong direction, a picture with an obvious element missing draws attention to the fact that element is missing and you'll have a really hard time going from "missing child" to "fun" :-)

If you can't get a child to model for you an adult sitting on the swing with a playful expression can look very "fun" - if you can't get a model at all you can always use yourself, a tripod and your camera's timer.

If you must do this without any human a smiling stuffed animal sitting on the swing can probably work, especially if it looks like it's swinging (maybe, can't be sure without trying to take that photo)

  • 1
    The stuffed animal may still, to me, evoke a sense of "being left behind". Bottom line, I think the OP will be hard pressed to evoke positivity and fun with no people in the playground so I'd agree with your recommendation to get someone - anyone - to pose. – thomasrutter Sep 22 '14 at 2:33
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    I think a bright, clean, happy-looking stuffed animal can avoid the "left behind" feeling, if photographed at level or from below. Photographed from above places the animal in "our" world and may seem "left behind." Level with, or from below, may help you feel like you're in the animal's world where it's not out of place. Overall, definitely a tricky situation to handle. – Kyle Oct 3 '14 at 18:04

How about shooting from a low angle, perhaps almost under the swing? Imagine you were able to capture the moment from under the person as they leaped off the swing. Creative use of motion blur can imply movement, some direct lens flare implies a happy, sunny day, and the bottom of the doll can simulate the dark form of a person jumping off.


I think lighting could be an important part to this equation. in general, high-key images are much more bright and happy than a "normal" exposure or something low-key (which would likely create a more negative mood).


You could also try photographing all your objects thrown in the air, with the swing at it's top point and the sunlight coming into the lens. You'll probably need a reflector or fill flash to illuminate the objects.

I'm seeing it as a mixture between the surrealistic image by Salvador Dali where he has water and cats floating through the air and the Sony Bravia ad with the bouncing balls.

I hope it's clear what I mean. Let me know if you need a clarifying sketch/diagram.


Consider the twitter stream Faces in Things, which imbues simple objects with emotional states simply by "seeing" eyes and a mouth in certain objects. No humans needed to convey a feeling.


I would recommend a couple of things

  1. Use smiling animals, try to avoid human looking dolls (just a personal opinion)
  2. Change the temperature of the shot to be more warm. Yellows and oranges are often associated with happiness.
  3. Try to avoid a lot of shadows in the shot that point toward the direction of the camera/viewer. e.g. better to have shadows from the swingset going towards the background rather than towards the camera. (use artificial lighting if possible)
  4. Try to incorporate other physical elements in the shot that will add more to the shot. Simply having an isolated swingset with a couple of dolls can imply abandonment and/or isolation.
  5. Try different things! I find that often if I can't find any great ideas while planning the shot, just giving it a go will work!

Best of luck! :)

(keep in mind this is partially just personal opinion)

Stefan Mladjenovic

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