Using light to evoke emotion and enhance the mood of your images

Altering the lighting to add mood to an image is the perfect way to enhance the feeling of a moment and tell an emotive story to your audience. Adding mood is not just about making an image dark, it’s about playing with the lights and the darks of your scene, the shadows and the contrast, and the props you use. In this blog, Barbora Kurcova from @herinternest shows us how she creates mood and drama in her images to take us on a journey. Her simple yet sophisticated approach to image creating adds a depth to her images which is simply beautiful.

In the moody moment

This image, despite its dark and moody ambience, evokes such a cosy and happy mood. It captures the spirit of the holidays and how it feels to slow down and live in the moment. The beautiful light highlighting the hands and the small wreath tells a personal story of the small rituals we have and the moments we celebrate.

Slowing down and making traditions with Barbora. Source:  @herinternest

Slowing down and making traditions with Barbora. Source: @herinternest

The original photo as shot by Barbora

The original photo as shot by Barbora

How Barbora brought this image to life

To achieve a bit of a dramatic look I always take the picture close to the window so I have one source of natural light. In this instance I am sitting on the floor under the window (on the left), and there is a kitchen table next to me (on the right). Since I am sitting pretty much “under” the window and only my hands are up, almost at the window level, I can control which areas of the photo will be brightened up without too much editing. I also decided to leave the material used for creating the wreaths and some of the half finished/unfinished ones to lay around to give you an idea of the activity happening, not just the object itself. And to add a bit of Christmas mood and cheerfulness into really moody shot, I decided to wear red skirt and cosy woollen socks. The imperfection of the skirt set up and the rolled socks give the photo much more humble, human feeling I think.

This was taken before I bought a clever tripod, so I just had the basic cheapest one, so to get the height, I have a chair on the table with three shoe boxes on it (I am keeping the same boxes now for 2 years as they fit just great) and then I put the tripod vertically on the top of the chair-box construction and stick the tripod legs in the back of the chair. It balances quite nicely and allows me to have both hand in the frame. You can do the same with your phone, just tape it with a paper tape to the broomstick! I used my Olympus PEN E-PL7 camera with a 17mm lens.

With this setting and the dark Norwegian winters, I almost didn't edit this one at all. When I set my camera, I always underexpose, so I take it one step darker as that way you don't loose the details if you want to edit later. I am really lazy when it comes to editing and rather spend the time faffing around, so I use VSCO and use mostly filter A6, here on 2,5, Exposure plus 0.4, Sharpen plus 7,7 (I tend to oversharpen my photos in editing if there is such a thing and make them just teeny tiny brighter then I would like to as I always notice, especially with the moody shots, that Instagram makes them less sharp and darker, slightly, but it matters to me. And that is it, I don't think normal eye will see much difference between edited and not.


Capturing the mood

This is such a surreal and thought provoking image. The double exposed bed scene brings an early morning dreamlike sense and makes us wonder what you are dreaming of and what your observant self is thinking.

Double exposed Barbora. Source:  @herinternest

Double exposed Barbora. Source: @herinternest

The original photo as shot by Barbora

The original photo as shot by Barbora

How Barbora brought this image to life

This was very spontaneous idea when I came to the bedroom and there was this strange light on the wall (I am still not sure where it came from). So I put my camera in front of the bed in the bedroom, the window is on the right with some sunlight on the wall.

I used my cheap tripod as you need to stabilise your camera for double exposure, but you can use a shelf or chair which I sometimes use too. And I used Olympus PEN-EPL7 camera with 17mm lens and the in-built function of double exposure in the camera. So that way you take one photo first, second photo right after and the camera puts them over each other. I use my phone with the Olympus app as a remote and hide it somewhere under the duvet.

In terms of editing, I will tell you a secret here. It was a first time I tried double exposure and the result was way too bright for my style so I had to edit it a bit more then I would like to. Usually the editing takes away from the quality but here it was fine as the whole photo has a bit of a imperfect, ghostly feeling. For this one I used very random filter in VSCO called 08 legacy on 5,6 which gave it more contrast, took the exposure down -2,2, contrast +0,5, saturation +1, sharpen +12 (which didn't make much difference anyway but gave me a bit more detail on the blouse).


The moody flatlay

This flatlay is simply beautiful and I think the moodiness and darkness adds to its beauty. The juxtaposing of the real flowers, the paper flowers and the vintage bag all work perfectly together. The placement of your hand at the bottom anchors the flatlay and it’s elegant position adds to the composition’s beauty and brings a human element.

A beautiful moody arrangement. Source:  @herinternest

A beautiful moody arrangement. Source: @herinternest

The before image as shot by Barbora.

The before image as shot by Barbora.

How Barbora brought this image to life

Again, this was just by the window with the light coming from the top. To decide where the light is suppose to be coming from, think about the shadows. If the light would be coming from the bottom, the hand would be dark as it would shade itself and the flowers would not get enough light in the end. The backdrop here is actually just a footstool which is big enough to work as a background. But I also have a collection of wallpaper which I collected as leftovers from work, you can use nice wrapping paper or even paint your own background.

I get mostly inspired by situations or objects I have and then the idea clicks in my head. Here I wanted some fun idea for the #cs_bagspill challenge so I used my old vintage floral purse, leftovers from dying bouquet, paper flowers I kept from previous project and even some pink crystals to finish off the visual expression. I really often just collect things around the house and make it work. I wanted it to look like the flowers are growing from the bag so that is where I started to build the composition and then was working my way up. Everything is pointing upwards so you really feel like the bag is blooming.

With ths image I have used similar equipment as before, tripod on the table and chair, Olympus PEN E-PL7 and 17mm lens with timer. When taking photos with my hands like this when camera is easy to reach, I set the timer on multiple shots, so it takes 10 shots with 0,5s in-between. That way I can easily re-position the hand a bit to find the best one later on. I really pay a lot of attention to the hand position in my photograph as they can say a lot and here I wanted a bit more elegant, sort of old times feeling.

I said earlier I always use A6 in VSCO which I really do, but not here either. I usually try to find filter which does the job for me but doesn't change the colours, just helps to get the contrast and exposure right so then I just manually tweak it tiny bit. Here I used J4 on +6.0 and that was it and it worked perfectly. And then I used Snapseed to erase some of the lint on the sofa which I didn't see until I looked on the photo later. I very rarely photoshop something, but this is super easy healing tool so I removed a couple of white dots.


Thank you to Barbora for sharing these wonderfully moody tips and original photos with us. Barbora is our guest mentor for our June lighting challenge #cs_inthemood running from 10-16 June 2019. To see more of Barbora’s beautiful moody photography you can follow her on Instagram @herinternest