The Power of Moody Images
Moody processing is a way to process an image when the light isn’t good by the standards. Meaning that there are no colorful skies but instead a dramatic atmosphere with to fog, rain, snow or thunderstorms.
My idea of moody processing was born around 2013/2014 when I used to spend most of my weekends in the French Alps and photographing those areas. The problem, however, is that region has a lot of storms and the weather is often 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. Because of this, 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 from the beginning. With this image selected, I usually change its appearance by using heavy color corrections to emphasize a certain condition. For example, for 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
At the moment, this type of processing is trending on the web and I’m happy about that but for me personally, moody processing is 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 is 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 a software such as Adobe Photoshop. While you’re able to do much in Adobe Lightroom as well, certain techniques require a more advanced software. I go through the tools needed for this type of processing in my 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 are so helpful to change the look and atmosphere of an image. For example, this lets me be more gentle with the darkest shadows of a mountain and more aggressive in darkening the sky.
Visualize, Capture, Process
The most important thing is to have a project in mind. For me, the project usually starts at home 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, with this type of images, the composition is even more important than having good light. If you fail to have a good composition, the image won’t look great, no matter how good the light is.
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 for an extreme focus stacking. Imagine this scene without the flowers in the foreground, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.
The histogram is another important factor when working with moody images. Avoid clipping the shadows (underexposing or having the histogram hit the left edge) as we want to maintain as much information as possible in the shadows.
Lastly, you also need to process the images on a calibrated monitor (this can be done with the Datacolor Spyder5Pro or Spyder5Express). I also recommend using the light gray display 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 moody one but the more things we create in Photoshop, the more our image will look artificial. Don’t get me wrong, I use Photoshop a lot but I avoid overprocessing my images and I don’t add many fake elements. The creative approach is important but there are limits. 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.
The creative approach is important but there are limits. 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.