How to create mood in your styled photos

A and moody image can invoke a sense of romance and mystery, even when created with most basic of props. Aside from the traditional photographic rules, nailing mood comes down to two distinct things – colour and lighting.

But let me step you through the basics of creating a moody image!

1. Pick your props

Firstly, what is the theme of your image? As a visual communicator, my very first brief to myself is, ‘What is the story I am telling?’ For example, today I am feeling cold and miserable (it’s Melbourne – whatcha gonna do?), so I want to invoke a sense of warmth and tropicality to my image to convey my desire to be sitting on a beach drinking a Mai Tai and being fanned by a giant palm frond by a very attractive man. As you do. Enter a vase and a Monstera frond. Here is the raw image


When creating something and moody it’s important not to use overly bright colours in your props, so stick to white, blacks, greys & neutrals as a rule. Raw materials are fab!

2. Backgrounds are key

I have two pieces of thin MDF board that I picked up at Bunnings and painted with chalkboard paint (not full black – having a hint of green/grey is important as you don’t want to completely suck the light out!) and I use these as my little studio. I set them up directly against my window to encourage as much natural light as possible.

3. Cropping

For a classic composition, use the traditional rule of thirds. Use your camera or editing software (or when you get used to it, your natural eye), to slice your image into 9 squares, and position your focal point within 1-2 of these thirds, or the centre.

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Note how the focal point of the image above (the vase & frond) is positioned within the left two thirds of the frame?  This is visually pleasing.


As far I am concerned, this is the most important thing when creating something moody!  Your light should never be bright and cheerful, nor should it be so dark you can’t make out the shapes in the image.  It should ideally play off the props in interesting ways, be as natural as possible, and create shadow & depth where needed.  The example image is quite bright due to the time of day & angle of the light when captured, so I use Photoshop or editing software on my phone to adjust the light to my requirements. 

Monstera frond 2.jpg

In most instances, I use Photoshop to tone down the brightness, amp up the contrast, and lower the saturation of the images.  This helps the natural highlights shine through.

5. Clarify & Sharpen

Once I’ve got the light to the level I need it, it’s time to make the final adjustments!  I use the VSCO app religiously, as their filters are fab (try C1!!) and their adjustment tools are second to none for a phone-based app.  Import your image and make some final tweaks using their clarify & sharpen tools (be careful not to overdo it as they can come out looking a bit ‘not real’), and play around with the shadows & highlights if you need to.

monstera frond.jpg

6. Time to post!

You’re done, so be your beautiful self and caption that moody image as only you can!  And don’t forget to hashtag – the key to all good Insta posts!