A few years ago I started a personal photography project. Creative play is hugely important when we are called to create for work also, and since most of my photography is light and bright, I wanted to challenge myself to learn something different.
I think it's fair to say I have established over the years that I love to photograph flowers. So I chose to use them as my subject matter for this project, knowing how much I love them anyway - but with darker mood than my usual style. I am not finished with this project, and as I mentioned over on Instagram recently, it is sometimes important to follow a project through until it is done, even if it takes years. I will certainly write a blog post on it later, but for now I wanted to share a little about capturing and editing moody photographs.
As with any kind of photography, light is most important. I am sure it goes without saying, less light is better when it comes to moody photographs. To capture enough light on the flowers but not much on the backdrop, I have been playing with distance from the light source (in this case, the full height windows in front and to the side of the area I am using, just in front of the pink cupboard below) and setting the camera to let in the right amount of light as I take the photograph.
I position my subject quite a long way from the light source. Too close and the whole scene is bright, but at this distance, the flowers catch enough light to be highlighted against the (huge) backdrop I am using without lighting the backdrop too. Actually this is a new backdrop - a compromise which means I can keep the studio walls white but still play with moody photography.
a quick note on camera settings
I took these photos on a fairly dark, cloudy day. The four images below give a quick example of how I adjust the shutter speed to let in the right amount of light. The ISO is set to 800 and the lens is a fixed 28mm. I adjust the shutter speed until it captures the look I want. Clockwise from top left, the shutter was set to 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000 and 1/2000. I am not using a tripod for these photos as all these speeds are fast enough to hand hold the camera without motion blur being a problem.
I chose to use 1/1000 - bottom left below - as I am looking for a darker feel, though arguably that or 1/500 would be fine. The fastest and slowest shutter speeds aren't quite right, one under exposing and one over exposing. If completely manual photography is something your working towards, try semi-auto settings to begin with. I often shoot using shutter priority when I am capturing moments in a rush!.
editing moody photographs
I have found the edit of moody photography to be relatively straightforward. The workflow is the same as with any of my edits, the moodiness however does mean the overall editing is fairly simple as I don't have to worry so much about over blown highlights and fixing areas with selective edits.
In fact, the edit on these images took only a few minutes. If you are looking for a basic workflow, you can follow the one in this post. It doesn't matter if you are using apps or editing software on a computer, the workflow is still the same.
The main difference with moody photographs is how we editing the light. In contradiction to my usual edit, I am not touching the brightness or contrast. Having set the camera before taking the photo, I am happy with the exposure.
I do however increase the highlights and whites just a touch. I don't want to darken the shadows, so leave contrast alone, but I do want to make the highlights just the tiny bit brighter.
I turned the temperature down just a touch. I also desaturated certain colours. This is a matter of taste - I like to desaturate the green / yellows. I also increase the luminance of them and the reds which highlights the hellebores a touch.
I also reduce the noise as using a higher ISO inevitably leads to a little grain in the photograph.
Of course editing is all a matter of personal style and taste. I know many photographs who shoot moody images also add a little vignetting which darkens the edges and corners of the frame, this can be very effective.
The grid of four photos above are unedited, the rest of the photos in this post have the same edit should you wish to compare.
I have to say I am really enjoying this project. Finding time to play is not always easy, yet is usually worth the effort. Even when there are no photographs worth sharing, I am learning new things. It has also got me through a few cases of creative block, simply by stepping away from the usual and pursuing something different. I can thoroughly recommend it!