What You Need to Capture Moody Portraits
In 4 Easy Steps
I have been a self taught photographer for quite a while now, practicing many different styles and finally figuring out that my passion is moody visuals, mainly self portraits. In a few easy steps, with some basic elements, I will tell you how you can capture a moody portrait.
1. Lighting and Shadows
Knowing lighting and shadow in yours photos, or the lack of, and knowing when to use them is very important. Depending on the mood you are trying to achieve, light and shadows will play a big role in achieving that. Personally, I go for more shadowy, low lit lighting in my portraits, which can be easily achieved with a lamp or two or even candles. The use of shadows in photos automatically make them look and feel moody. If you are going for a lighter, softer mood, replace that with lots of lighting and minimal shadows. Experiment and play around with the lighting to see what you like.
2. Color or Black and White?
Black and white photos are just automatically moodier than photos that have color because the light and shadow part is already there, but photos with color can be just as, if not moodier. I personally like my portraits to be in color, and with a little bit of preparation before you shoot and some knowledge of how to edit tones and hues afterwards, getting the colors in your photos to look moody is very simple.
Since my photos are usually on the darker side, I reach for darker, rich tones-dark reds, washed out yellows, subtle greens, soft blues, browns, any earthy tones, and lots of black. Though you can just go into photoshop and change the color of something, make it easier on yourself and consciously choose colors before you shoot so that the work is already done. Once you take your photos you can go into the editing room and make some quick light, shadow, hue and tone adjustments if needed. If you are going for a lighter mood, do the opposite. Pick very bright and colorful tones along with your bright lighting.
How you pose yourself or the model is very important when you want to take a moody portrait. In my portraits, I don’t smile for the camera. I tend to keep a blank expression because that usually reads the best when you want your portraits to look moody without over exaggerating facial expressions. Another great trick is to close your eyes. You don’t have to worry about where you are looking, you don’t have to think about how your face looks, just close your eyes. Play around with having hair covering some of the face, or hands reaching toward something—all of these look great while the persons eyes are closed.
Another thing to keep in mind when you are taking moodier portraits is to watch body language. If you are trying to convey something specific in your portrait, use body language to get your message across without having to say it. For example, if you wanted to take a photo of a model in an elegant, long dress, with moody lighting and colors, you’re probably not going to want them to sit straight on, legs crossed, giving a cheesy smile, right? Your model and their poses need to compliment the mood and all of the elements you have chosen or it will not look the way you want.
One of the biggest reasons why people don’t take photos when they really want to is because they feel like their location is not good enough or will not go with the mood they want, and I am here to tell you that you do not need extravagant locations and spaces to take beautiful photos. Most of my portraits are just in my living room or kitchen at 3 AM when I get inspired to take photos. I don’t go out looking for the perfect location forever. I work with what I have and I still get great photos.
For one of my portraits, I wanted it to have a specific color throughout the photo. I don’t have a studio or any backdrops, so I just took some plain red Christmas wrapping paper and taped it to my wall as a background, put on a red shirt and I was done. I didn’t need to buy anything expensive or leave my house for an editorial style, moody portrait, which was actually the best one I had ever taken at that point.
Get creative with your places and spaces, use lighting and shadows, play with colors and tones, and have fun getting moody.