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  • Writer's pictureAnna Luna Rossi

How to Edit Dark & Moody Photos

Whether I shoot landscapes, wildlife, botanical details or travel photos, I like to give my pictures this dark and moody atmosphere that tells a special story. Through my years of being a photographer, my photography style has developed to be more focused on light and shadow contrasts, and darker tones. I like to capture dim-lit scenes, stormy and foggy weather, and I love to work with light sources to create focus on a specific part of the picture. Through simple editing tips, here's how you can create this unique style on your photos using Lightroom.

The main elements to create dark and moody photos lie in the capture itself: the light settings, the location you choose and the composition of your picture have a great impact on the atmosphere you try to convey. Choosing to shoot when the weather is moody, when the daylight decreases, or in places with low lighting are great ways to create moody photos. Keeping a minimalist composition is too. However, editing is also a main step to achieve the style you like: I use Lightroom to work on my pictures and enhance their details and contrasts.

1. Basic exposure corrections

Dark and moody editing tips in Lightroom

The first thing to think about when editing your pictures in Lightroom is the exposure. Correcting exposure is a must, and a basic editing step: if you want to work with shadowy scenes, you don't want your picture to be too dark. This is a common thing to happen when your camera's exposure settings are too low, when your sensor focuses on extremely bright subjects (the other areas become blacked out). After fixing your exposure, you can adjust the settings to lower the brightness of your photo: I usually lower my exposure and highlights to achieve a moodier look.

2. Creating contrast with shadows and whites

Dark and moody editing tips in Lightroom

My second editing step to enhance the atmosphere of the picture is creating contrast. To do so, I enhance the whites and contrasts and lower the shadows slightly: there's not only one way to do it, it depends on how your picture looks in the first place and it's up to you. This is a great way to make the main subject of your photo, i.e. where the light comes from, stand out. Make sure not to "drown" the background too much: you want to keep a good light and shadow balance to keep the natural look of your picture.

3. Editing saturation and specific colors

Dark and moody editing tips in Lightroom

Colors adjustment is a matter of personal preferences. But I like to lower the saturation of my picture to focus more on the light. I either keep the vibrancy as it is, or lower it as well. Saturation affects all the colors of the image, while vibrancy focuses only on the mid-tones. When it comes to HSL (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) edits of specific colors, I like to slightly lower the saturation of the main tones, and slightly enhance the saturation of the light tones (generally, orange or yellow). I usually work with more 'yellow' oranges and greens, and a warmer overall white balance.

4. Adjusting clarity and texture

Dark and moody editing tips in Lightroom

Dark and moody pictures call for a misty atmosphere, in my opinion. To achieve a slightly more hazy look, I like to lower the clarity of the picture. The same goes for the general texture. However, I like to adjust the texture of specific parts of my picture. If I shoot a botanical detail, I will want to enhance the texture of the part in focus. If I shoot a portrait or scenes of life, I will usually draw more clarity on eyes, faces or certain outfits and body parts. This can be done using masking in Lightroom.

5. Using masks to make local adjustments

Using masks in Lightroom can be very useful for adjusting light, contrasts, clarity and colors on specific parts of the picture. Since you have increased the contrasts, some areas of the picture can appear too bright or too dark: local adjustments are the best way to correct this. Masks can also help to add more light and clarity to the part of your photo you want to draw focus on.

These editing tips are the basis of what I do to enhance the dark and moody atmosphere of the photos I take. Editing can take a lot of work and is different for almost every picture: in the end, it's up to you to work with these tips to do your own adjustments and achieve the photography style you're looking for. Keep in mind that choosing the right subject and location and picking your camera settings accordingly are essential to create your atmosphere of choice. Stay authentic in your photography and don't try to copy exactly what others do: instead, work with the various existing tips to create your unique style!


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