Innovative ways to add depth and mood to your images

Nothing beats the magic feeling of viewing a moody photo and feeling a sense of calm, wonder and intrigue. The light, composition and subject matter all contribute to the emotions conveyed in a photo and there is a real art to capturing beautiful deep tones in your image in a way that allows the focal area to stand out.

We are constantly amazed at the resourcefulness and ingenuity our community shows when it comes to taking incredible images with very little space, time and using whatever items are on hand. One of our favourite creators Joe @joetravellersg is very innovative when it comes to capturing moodily lit photos and we were so grateful to have him share some of his tips with us in this blog.

Still life image with tulips by Joe Oetemo

Still life image with tulips by Joe Oetemo

Shooting a moody still life

The original photo as shot by Joe

The original photo as shot by Joe

The space I use to compose still life images at home is a very small corner with an arm chair near a glass door. To create the dark background like in the image above I drape a black cloth over the back of the chair and place a wooden board on the seat to create the impression of a table.

Having to work in such a confined space means that I don’t have enough room to set up a tripod so I need to rely on having a very steady hand to take my images. I usually shoot on manual with a low F stop setting on my camera to make sure that the image is not too bright and creates a shallow depth of field which adds to the mood of the photo.

I usually experiment with a few different manual settings on my camera and then edit the finished image on my phone in Snapseed.

In this image I used the healing tool to remove the metal bar in the background of the flowers and then added more depth to my dark tones by using the curve and tune tools. The last step is to add a vignette which adds a nice frame of darkness around the image and draws the eye to the focal area in the middle.

Vibrant still life with birds and flowers

Vibrant still life with birds and flowers

Capturing mood with vintage cameras

Capturing mood with vintage cameras


Morning start vignette by Joe Oetemo

Morning start vignette by Joe Oetemo

Capturing mood on location

The original photo as shot by Joe

The original photo as shot by Joe

I often take photos while I’m out and about and trying out new cafes. I get the best results by sitting near a window in a corner where there is a wall adjacent so I can utilise the dark and light areas of the room in my photo.

To add more context to my images I will find props to use from inside the cafe such as salt and pepper shakers, utensils holder, books, magazines or my glasses. If there aren’t many props available I will sometimes place the saucer separately from the cup to help build the scene.

If the focus of my photo is the food, I will place the coffee cup at the foreground so it will be blurred when I take the shot. To add an interesting human or action element I may ask my friend or even the waiter to "lend" their hand to do something with the food or drink.

When shooting on location like this I will often just use my phone and edit the image in Snapseed.

Taking advantage of a light cafe windowsill

Taking advantage of a light cafe windowsill

Asking the barista to help out with an action shot

Asking the barista to help out with an action shot


Coffee, cookies and flowers by Joe Oetemo

Coffee, cookies and flowers by Joe Oetemo

Moody flat lay

The original photo as shot by Joe

The original photo as shot by Joe

I used the same wooden board as the make shift table top in the first image as a backdrop for my flatlay images as well. I invested in this small wooden backdrop that is about the size of an A4 piece of paper and it makes a great base for vignettes and flatlays alike.

To capture the right lighting for my moody flatlay I placed the board outdoors and used the soft morning light to get the shot before the sun gets too bright. I don’t have much time before work to do photography in the ideal light so I didn’t set up a tripod for this image, I just shot it by hand before leaving for the day.

I composed the image allowing for some negative space to allow my subject matter some breathing room, I don’t like to overcrowd my images. The soft morning light allows me to add further mood with my edit by enhancing the dark tones and adding a soft vignette.

Vibrant vegetables in a moody scene

Vibrant vegetables in a moody scene

Exquisite poached pears

Exquisite poached pears

Thank you to Joe for sharing his styling tips and original photos with us, it’s amazing to see what creative results can come from such limited space and basic equipment.

To see more of Joe’s beautiful moody photography you can follow him on Instagram at @joetravellersg