Learning to do Instagram’s “Dark and Moody”

My dive into post-production techniques continues, with a wander through the realm of dark and moody photos which are popular on Instagram at the moment.

Non of the pics in this post started out that way but, after some pretty serious tweaking in Lightroom, this is the look you can end up with – a de-saturated, dark photo with soft light, flattened shadows, selective colour palates and highlighted features.

It needs to be pointed out that I’m a tourism photographer so my stock and trade is using colour and light to create appealing pictures of places people can expect to see with their own eyes. Much as I like to use this technique for personal work, I see it being more suited to editorial use, social media portfolios, and maybe fine art (me, I figure people looking for a holiday are still wanting to see the colour of the water they’ll be swimming in😉).

Soft landscapes
Giving PNG’s Asaro mudmen the treatment
Using blue split tones
editorial style

That said, I think it’s important as a professional photographer to have as many options as possible to draw from so I’ve taken some time to get my head around this style of photography.

How to get this effect: Again, there’s a dizzying array of tutorials on Yutube offering lessons, but the ones I learned the most from followed a particular photographer on Instagram and, in a short video, taught me how to replicate their work (quite amazing really. They use a photo captured by the photographer and – in a side-by-side comparison – walk you through the entire process to end up with exactly the same pic).

A few quick things I learned along the way:

  • Any dark and moody pre-set you buy will need tweaking to suit the particular photo you apply them to (I thought it was one simple click of a pre-set button and, viola, you had what they had. Nup).
  • if you’ve bought pre-sets (I think I splurged on three bundles on-line during a sugar high), go through them all and put the ones you really think you’re likely to use into a separate folder you can readily access. Out of the 150 I’ve had since lockdown, I’ve really only liked/used about five of them. As I wrote, a bit more study and practice and I’m confident of making my own and adjusting them to suit the pic.
  • I’d estimate that even if you know what you’re doing, it will take at least 15 minutes to apply this technique properly to a single photo. There are a lot of subtle adjustments involved in getting it right.
  • Big Tip: Put aside the photo you’ve just finished for a couple of days. It’s easy to lose your objectivity when you drop into this rabbit hole (I’ve come back a few days later and thought, my God, what was I thinking).
  • Certain pre-sets suit certain photos. For example, the one I used for the big tree, I learned from a single tutorial and the pre-set I copied, pasted and tweaked. But it only works on green jungle settings. I’ll need to create others for, say, portraits, interiors, seascapes as I did for the other pics in this post.
  • If you want to go down this road, you’ll need to put in the time to follow at least two of these walk-you-through-the-process tutorials to understand how it works so you can move on to creating your own pre-sets.
  • This technique should only be applied to photos where the content is strong enough to carry it and “it works”. You need to be able to say at the end of the process that the image was actually enhanced by its application.

In closing, like most of these new post-production techniques I’ve been studying, I’m glad to have this one in my toolbox though, again, as a tourism photographer I expect to use it sparingly.

If you’re interested in learning more about the technique, sign-up to my blog and drop me an e-mail. I’ll send you the bookmarked links to the tutorials I’ve used to get this far.

David’s personal blog

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A successful promotional photograph starts with knowing what you want it to say and who you want it to appeal to - before you even bring the camera to your eye.



E-mail: david@kirklandphotos.com

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