Moody processing is a way to process an image when the light isn’t good by the standards. Meaning that there isn’t a colorful sky but instead a dramatic atmosphere with fog, rain, snow or thunderstorms.
My idea of moody processing was born around 2013/2014 when I spent most of my weekends photographing in the French Alps. The problem, however, is that this region has a lot of storms and the weather is harsh with a completely cloudy sky. These conditions made me frustrated but at the same time, I was fascinated.
I have a great interest in art and I’ve always been drawn towards paintings with a dark and dramatic atmosphere. That’s why I started developing a series of techniques in Adobe Photoshop to achieve similar results with my images.
The process begins with a base image that already has a moody atmosphere. With this image selected, I usually change its appearance by using heavy color corrections to emphasize a certain condition. For example, on rainy days I focus on dark blue with a bit of green.
When you watch a scene in the mountains during a rainy day, you can be fascinated by the subtle tones and details that are not noticeable during sunny days. The problem is that a standard DSLR, in my opinion, isn’t able to capture that essence with accuracy.
The trend of moody processing
Dark processing this is currently trending online and I’m happy about that but for me personally, it’s more than just a trend; it’s a whole different point of view.
I think many of us are tired of seeing the same pictures from the same places with the same classical good light. I’m much more fascinated by a foggy valley, a lighthouse during a storm or a popular location during a snowy day.
For example, how many pictures of Kirkjufell on Iceland have you seen taken during a foggy day or during a snow storm? I bet it’s not many. Typically, the images shared from these popular places are very similar and it’s rare that you see something different.
Photographing these places in bad weather can make the images more cinematic and more dramatic. It’s that kind of pictures that fascinates me and that’s why I try my best to exploit certain conditions and edit the images to be more enjoyable.
What to keep in mind when processing moody images
Processing moody images require software such as Adobe Photoshop. You’re able to do much in Adobe Lightroom as well but certain techniques require a more advanced software.
I go through the tools needed for this type of processing in my Dark Processing video tutorial but, as you can imagine, every image is different and have different needs.
The key is to leave enough details in the shadows and avoiding too much contrast. It’s better to have a little less contrast and more details in the shadows.
Dodging and Burning is an extremely important technique used to change the look and atmosphere of an image. For example, this lets you be gentler when darkening the darkest shadows of a mountain but more aggressive in the sky.
Visualize, capture, process
The most important thing is to have a project in mind. For me, the project usually starts at home several days, or even months, before I go out to take an image. This process involves finding a specific place and visiting it during certain conditions.
When I am in the field and have the right conditions, I shoot all the RAW files that I need to process my image.
The key factor of a moody image is, like with most other types of photography, the composition. However, the composition is even more important with this type of images than when you have good light. If you fail to have a good composition, the image won’t look great.
Let’s look at this image as an example:
Since the grassy field was rather boring and lacked any interesting subjects, I decided to go extremely close to the foreground and use the focus stacking technique. Now, imagine this scene without the flowers in the foreground: it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
Another important factor when processing moody images is the Histogram. You should keep a close eye on it in the field and in processing, and make sure you avoid clipping the shadows (underexposing or having the histogram hit the left edge). The reason is that we want to maintain as much information as possible in the shadows.
I also recommend using the light gray background in Photoshop when processing moody images. This helps your eye to see a bit more details in the shadows so you can more accurately process the image.
Fake or real?
Potentially, any image can be converted into a dark and moody one but the more things we create in Photoshop, the more artificial our image will look.
Don’t get me wrong, I use Photoshop a lot but I avoid over-processing my images and I don’t add many fake elements. The creative approach is important but there is a limit.
For example, in my processing video, I work on an image captured during the blue hour. This image was easily converted into a dark, nocturnal image but if you also want fog, rain or other elements, you simply have to wait.
Learn more about dark and moody processing
If you want a detailed step-by-step lesson where you learn exactly how I capture and process my images, make sure to have a look at my Dark Processing Masterclass. This is an in-depth course consisting of five videos where you’ll learn subjects as:
- Perspective Blending
- Panorama Stitching
- Exposure Blending
- Time Blending
- Color Grading
- Color Dodge
- … and much more
Dark Processing is one of the most popular and imitated post-processing styles among landscape photographers and this course teaches you how to overhaul and transform any landscape in an epic and cinematic scene. The course is available in both English and Spanish.