There’s something very off about these empty places. We can feel it in our bones. The hairs on the back of our necks are standing on end and our guts are telling us someone’s watching us, lurking in the shadows, just out of sight. Can you feel it too, Pandas? The eeriness? The tension? The low-key anxiety? We hope it’s not just us.
Liminal spaces exist as thresholds between one place and the next. They are the ‘in-between’ spaces like empty streets, waiting rooms, hallways, stairwells, parking lots, and airports that mark a transition between your starting point and your destination. Often, they make us feel uneasy. Unsettled. Even fearful. Especially when captured through the lens of a savvy photographer. Bored Panda has curated this list of exquisite, dreamlike, liminal weirdness to share with you how bizarre some parts of our world, near and far, really are when there’s nobody but us around.
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Photographer Dominic Sberna, from the United States, was kind enough to answer Bored Panda’s questions about the role that lighting plays in setting the mood and tone of photos. Scroll down for the interview.
Are you ready to step across the threshold into the land where nightmares and reality mix like waves in a storm? Stay close, don’t wander off, don’t get lost, and let’s go explore. Oh, but if you do find your way back safe and sound, you might want to take a dive into our previous article about liminality right here.
#1 First Post Here, Does This Count? Clouds Over St Petersburg
Image credits: G_DBarros
According to professional photographer Dominic, lighting lies at the core of photography and plays a huge role in how the image looks and feels to us, the viewers. “Lighting can make or break a mood,” he told Bored Panda.
“The tones of the image really factor in when trying to portray a specific feeling,” he explained, adding that the color palettes that photographers use can wildly change how we interpret a photograph. “Cool colors typically fall unto the bleak side, whereas warm colors are more comforting,” he said.
I was curious if the in-built flashes on cameras are any good. “I’ll always recommend to never use an on-camera flash on a DSLR camera. The flash is powerful, but that’s about it. The direction and brightness of it are extremely harsh and you should either bump up your ISO setting or use an external flash,” the photography expert suggested.
Image credits: DejectedSoul
#3 Oregon Wildfires Making It Look Straight Apocalyptic
Image credits: RavenRosie
Bored Panda asked Dominic why certain photos can make us feel uneasy or even scared. In his opinion, how we feel about an image depends a lot on who we are as individuals and how we view the world.
“Anything visual is going to evoke a feeling. What that feeling is, depends on the viewer. They could remind us of something from our past or inspire us to something we have yet to achieve. I think it all connects back to our subconscious thoughts and experiences we’ve had as individuals,” he said.
Photographer Dominic pointed out that there isn’t a single, clear-cut way to use lighting and other photography techniques to create the feeling of uneasiness in a scene. You have to take each case and evaluate it individually. In other words, experimentation and adaptability are key.
“It would really come down to the specific scene and photo,” he told Bored Panda. “I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer for that.”
#4 It Is A Portal
Image credits: Aukrust
#5 Oh No
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Image credits: reddit.com
#6 Ethereal Playground. I Saw A Bunch Of Kids Playing In The Slides And They Were Barely Visible Through The Thick Fog, You Could Only Hear Their Laughter And Scurrying Footsteps
Image credits: Annoyniket
The essence of liminal spaces is the inherent sense of transition and strangeness. These spaces are, by their design, meant for us to transition through. And it’s at the threshold, the in-between, the area where two spaces end, that bizarreness seeps through into our world from the Beyond.
According to the Aesthetics Wiki, liminal spaces combine feelings of “eeriness, nostalgia, and apprehension.” These spaces, which we pass countless times every day, can seem “sinister or uncanny” when they’re devoid of movement. When we’re alone, we can truly see how peculiar these places are… and how we’re far too small and timid to fill them up.
As the definition of liminal spaces has become broader (or, well, watered down depending on your point of view) as the idea has gained more and more traction online. As liminal spaces gain even greater meme status (i.e. popularity), they start taking on an odd nostalgic feel because they’re viewed by more and more people who find that they can relate to the aesthetic and the content of the photos.
#7 3:15 AM
Image credits: Living_Lock
#8 The Pool I Work At Kind Of Creeps Me Out When We Turn Off The Lights At Close
Image credits: cassidog
#9 Oh Yeah
Image credits: Maecenass
The Aesthetics Wiki notes that liminal spaces and their “mysterious allure” become linked to “the childhood memories and aesthetics of its fans, usually by invoking the cultural memory of the Millenial/Z generations.” There’s also an overlap between liminal spaces and the aesthetics of Hauntology, Traumacore, and the ‘After Hours’ movement. Though, to be fair, the latter emphasizes peace and tranquility. Quite the opposite of the uncanny low-key anxiety induced by liminal spaces.
Photos of transitionary places can look eerie by accident or by design. Depending on the time of the day when you take the photo, the same space can look lively and upbeat or dark, dreary, and remind you that the abyss stares back at you if you look at it for long enough.
Lightning, therefore, is a vital aspect of the liminal spaces aesthetic. Something else to keep in mind is that the presence of people radically changes how we feel about a certain area. We feel safer when there are other human beings around, going about their day. But take the same hallway or street when it’s abandoned and everything feels far more surreal. We start analyzing our individual relationship to the location, thinking about our surroundings far more than usual.
#10 I Feel Like I Really Want To Be There
Image credits: whiskeysplotches
#11 Are You Sure You Can’t Hold It Until Morning?
Image credits: bangbangbatarang
#12 I Think I Found A Level Fun Entrance
Image credits: xtra-big-frog
Though not present in the photos in this list, photo-editing and post-processing can also help create an atmosphere of unease. Playing around with the lightning, the shadows, the hues, can alter how we feel about the same space. Playful and cheery and quickly become dreamlike or even subtly dangerous with the flick of a few computer buttons, a handful of mouse clicks.
#13 No Power
Image credits: ackeeandsaltfish
#14 My Town’s Library Is Under Construction, So They’re Using An Old Grocery Store As The Temporary Library
Image credits: pooshins
#15 The Sky Is Falling
Image credits: emshlaf
Some time ago, my colleague, Liucija, spoke to a couple of fans of the liminal space aesthetics about the phenomenon. According to teacher and blogger Lillie Marshall, she’s been fascinated by the idea of liminal spaces ever since she was a little kid.
“I loved thinking and writing about them. So much of our lives are spent in these in-between spaces, and yet we so often ignore them. Once you can see the importance and beauty of liminal spaces, it makes it much easier to be in the moment and enjoy the journey as much as the destination,” she told Bored Panda.
#16 Day 926 Since The Pandemic Began
Image credits: Coopscw
#17 Kolmanskop Ghost Town In Namibia
Image credits: James_Sunder11
#18 Beach Walk To Nowhere
Image credits: interstellarpolice
“Liminality can exist in physical space, time, and states of being, and refers to that in-between moment where you’re between two things,” Lillie shared what the term means to her. “It is a sometimes uncomfortable—but extremely important—era of transformation and shifting. Often we get impatient with these transitional spaces, but they are KEY, and are beautiful and profound if you allow yourself to truly be in them and understand their magical gifts.”
#19 You Are Waiting For A Train
Image credits: daysofyore444
#20 The Attic Of An Abandoned House I Visited
Image credits: BadCharacter
#21 Playground At Girlfriends’ Apartment Gives Off Weird Smell
Image credits: ScotchtapeCabbage
Meanwhile, tabletop RPG designer and software engineer Rob Justice opened up to Bored Panda that he’s been a fan of liminal spaces, or “the space between spaces” as he calls them, even before he’d heard of the term.
“I was looking through old pictures on my phone and realized I’d taken a few liminal space pictures myself over the years. Just places that felt unique or odd to me. It’s always weird to realize you’re a fan of something before you know what it is,” he said.
#22 Photo I Took Of A Quiet Street At Night
Image credits: Maxsposure
#23 Harbor Glow
Image credits: krugerlive
#24 Carlsbad Caverns National Park Snack Bar
Image credits: Salty_Douglass327
In Rob’s opinion, transitionary places have a “strangely powerful” effect on the human psyche. “The feeling of being between two places is an uncanny feeling, whether it’s literal or psychological,” he said.
“It’s stressful but there is something comforting knowing that it’s temporary,” he said about transitions from two points. “I think that’s where people find themselves drawn to liminal pictures. It’s temporary places made permanent.”
Image credits: green_left_hand
#26 Why Does It Have To End?
Image credits: NicorXX
#27 Very Odd Looking Bathroom
Image credits: PagChomp6
#28 How Relaxing
Image credits: Liminal Spaces
#29 Marienplatz U-Bahn Station
Image credits: reddit.com
#30 The Fog Makes The Funfair On The Meadows Seem A Little Creepy
Image credits: docju
Image credits: KevlarYarmulke
#32 I Smell Metal And Mold
Image credits: 1kingtorulethem
#33 Very Liminal-Looking Indoor Pool Area At The Place I’m Staying For A Vacation
Image credits: Psychological-Gap-87
#34 Figure Y’all Would Like This One, A Computer Shop In My Hometown. Untouched Seemingly Since 2002
Image credits: sharpieblamer
#35 O-O-Oh-Omega Mart, You Have No Idea What’s In Store For You
Image credits: Darkshreaders3
#36 Local Town Hall
Image credits: DrPl4typus
#37 Laundromat I Pass While Driving
Image credits: dasooey1
Image credits: betobetobetobeto
#39 Hoping This Works, 4AM At The Rec Center
Image credits: Bronz3
#40 The 5AM Ferry From Seattle
Image credits: currentlyinbiochem
#41 Permanently Closed
Image credits: Exuv1a
#42 I Have A Sleep Disorder, And One Of My Hobbies Is Taking Photos At Night With Film
Image credits: SpencerKayR
#43 A Bowling Alley I Went To Last Night. My Girlfriend And I Were The Only Customers
Image credits: glassesflue
#44 If Someone Wondered, The Location Is Holiday Inn London Heathrow T4
Image credits: ThiccBeans__69
#45 Gone Shopping
Image credits: klepn
#46 It’s Not Your Birthday
Image credits: NotMyBurner24-7
#47 I’ve Been Going For Days Now. It Smells Like Must And Old Bedding. I Think I’m On A Ship
Image credits: JumboJimboJohnson
#48 Took A Ferry Tonight
Image credits: HyprTrash
#49 Can You Hear The Buzzing?
Image credits: Helpful_Broccoli
#50 The Hotel I Am Staying In Feels Like Stagnant In Time; As I Wander The Empty And Slowly Putrefying Halls I Feel As Though I Am In Limbo
Image credits: DesuTronv43
Image credits: YQWQ
#52 It Looks Familiar But Also Unrecognizable
Image credits: AIex2006
#53 Empty Office Space Looks Unreal
Image credits: LaughySapphyGem
#54 Mom Is Coming To Pick Me Up, Right?
Image credits: _Atoms_Apple
#55 I Can’t Remember Which Door Is Mine, Guess I’ll Have To Try Them All
Image credits: pro-crastin8or
#56 This View Of The Hyatt Regency Houston At Noon On A Sunny Day
Image credits: EvanElevenRoden
#57 Eerily Quiet In Cubicle Land
Image credits: maceman_89
#58 I Think I’m Understanding The Meaning
Image credits: iDomBMX
#59 An IKEA That’s Been Cleared Of Furniture
Image credits: Lopadopalis
#60 I’ve Been Taking Pictures Like This For Years Trying To Capture An Inexpressible Feeling
Image credits: reddit.com
#61 You Fell Asleep In The Bathroom Stall
Image credits: 113_113_113
#62 The Tram In My City
Image credits: Ziadmones778
#63 I Thought Y’all Would Like To See It
Image credits: UltraLuis447
#64 I Do Wedding Video And I Always Take Pictures Of The Empty Venues After Everyone Leaves. Extra Weirdness Courtesy Of The Broken Glass Over My Phone’s Camera
Image credits: SubjectC
#65 What Does This Picture Make You Feel?
Image credits: Sticky_H
#66 My City’s Governor Is Closing Our Old Mall In A Few Weeks. Went In Today And Not A Single Person Was There
Image credits: Xx_notFBI_xX
#67 This Place Was Kind Of Like A Maze
Image credits: Delphoxqueen2
#68 The Train Leaves In 40 Minutes, Might As Well Grab A Coke
Image credits: artemis_tau
#69 Taken In Times Square Today, And Almost No One In Sight. Very Eerie
Image credits: Elazaar
#70 I’m So Terribly Afraid To Choose Which Way To Go. I’ve Never Seen This Writing On The Floor Before
Image credits: RudeTurnip
#71 Hotel I Was In
Image credits: wunderknd
#72 My Girlfriend Works In A Bingo Hall And Sent Me This
Image credits: snecko
#73 Employees Only
Image credits: NeighborhoodNo8586
#74 I Feel Like I’m Forgetting Something
Image credits: julzgoolz
#75 My First “Liminal” Experience
Image credits: WarierFrance
#76 Just Took This Photo, Felt Like It Belonged Here
Image credits: SimonIsTired
#77 Welcome To The Mall
Image credits: 90377Sedna
#78 Now What
Image credits: principle_fbundle
#79 Execution Chamber In The Montana State Prison
Image credits: neednewcamera
Image credits: OkRecordMe
#81 We Are Gathered Here Today
Image credits: Phobos1928
#82 Pictures From Today. Hurricane Harvey Is Definitely Taking A Toll
Image credits: lutheransouthacademy
#83 The Laundromat At 10 PM
Image credits: HTFCirno2000
#84 Waiting For A Train That Never Comes
Image credits: Gian_Key
#85 Arrived To My Hotel. Not Many People Staying Here
Image credits: Oscar-mondaca
#86 Happy Birthday, Blow Out Your Candles
Image credits: pro-crastin8or
#87 Stairway To Nothing
Image credits: _azur3
#88 The Back Of A Spirit Halloween Location I Was At
Image credits: _Oral-B_
#89 Anyone Down To Grab A Slice? On Me
Image credits: nickpaternostro2
#90 Summer Camp Shut Down Because Of Covid. I Went There Every Summer. Seeing It Like This Made Me Feel As If I Phased Into Another Reality
Image credits: YeeHawTheCat
#91 Floor 143
Image credits: foxbosun
#92 This Unoperational Escalator Leading To A Black Void
Image credits: jfe235
#93 Arcade In The Local Dead Mall
Image credits: puppyfawn
#94 I Found It Eerie How The Light Cast Across The Chairs. It Was Very Intriguing Seeing A Place Intended For Hundreds Of People Filled With Just One, Me
Image credits: SatelliteSkinn
#95 This Entire House
Image credits: peter-s
#96 Found This At A Truck Stop
Image credits: Garliccanister
#97 Abandoned Thai Military Meeting Room
Image credits: THE_MATT_222
#98 As Kids, Spending The Weekend With Grandma, We Would Fight Over Who Had To Sleep In The Mirror Room
Image credits: layinbrix
#99 Gates Of Darkness
Image credits: AnonymousNeverKnown
#100 Come, Sit With Me
Image credits: deltarray