Dark and moody photography is a style that is characterized by rich, warm, deep colors and shadows. This type of photography often, but not always, has a dramatic, mysterious, or somber feeling.  The style can be used to capture a wide range of genres and subjects, from landscape scenes to portraits. While the dark and moody style may require some extra time to learn both the shooting and editing sides of the equation, the results are worth the effort. You’ll get photographs that have an enduring quality that can make them stand out in a sea of ordinary snapshots. If you’re looking to add a bit of drama to your photos, dark and moody photography may be the perfect style for you.  In this article, we’ll provide you with some tips and inspiration for creating dark and moody photos.

Embrace the Shadows

85 dark moody lightroom presets

Try to get used to histograms that are pushed to the left, with steep spikes in the shadow zones. This is known as a “low key” image, an image dominated by shadows , very few midtones, and just a few highlights to create the interesting parts of the image.

Remember, although it is very useful to understand the Exposure Triangle here, a “correct” exposure isn’t always perfectly in the middle of the histogram! An exposure is correct if it fits your creative vision.

Choose the Right Scenes and Locations

The dark and moody style of photography is a great match for scenes with shadows and blacks such as indoor scenes, golden hour sunsets, and woods or forests, just to name a few.  In contrast, the dark and moody style is generally not as good of a match for bright, high-key scenes with colorful elements.

Of course, this is just a general rule of thumb and the creative choices are entirely up to the photographer.  Here are a few examples of scenes that work well for the dark and moody vibe.

dark and moody photography
Photo by Lin and Jirsa (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

This is one of the subjects that is covered in the Wanderlust Workshop; be sure to check it out for more information!

dark moody portraits woodsy forest

The best tip you can remember when you are out and about during a photo shoot is, just ask yourself how the location looks and feels. It is really easy to sense the mood of a location!

Edit for the Dark and Moody Style

dark moody photo editing color grading lut

Most photos that start off with at least some good shadows can be edited to greatly enhance a dark, moody style. The best way to start? Simply darken your exposure 1.5 to 2.5 stops, and then raise your Highlights and Whites sliders.

It sounds odd, but this actually gives much better results than trying to start with a brightly exposed image and darken just the shadows. Try it! This is actually one of our favorite tricks for dark and moody photography, and it’s integrated into the Visual Flow Preset System’s Retouching Tool Pack and the Mood preset pack.

Use Flash Sparingly (if at all)

The dark and moody style of photography usually works best with a more organic, natural light approach. Not necessarily because you can’t create similarly dramatic, dark lighting conditions using flash, but because it often just doesn’t look natural.

91 dark moody lightroom presets
Warm Natural Golden Hour is Perfect for This Dark and Moody Portrait


If flash is used, it looks best when it mimics natural light. So, create an image with lots of shadows, use the highlights on the subject to catch the viewer’s attention. Last but not least, you usually want to keep the light directional but soft.

create moody autumn portrait Final before after

In the above example, you can see the natural light image on the left, and the flash added on the right. Our goal with adding flash was to imitate the look of some light filtering through the trees.

create moody autumn portrait Final before after

In editing, thanks to how the image was originally lit and exposed, it becomes easier to enhance the shadows and create a dramatic, dark and moody photo. See how to create this look with our  Rich autumn portrait video tutorial.

Don’t Be Afraid of Direct Light (Don’t Always Shoot Soft Light/Backlit)

1111a dark moody lightroom presets

In portrait photography, we often think that soft light is best, and most of the time, it is.  However, when used with intention and purpose, hard light can be beautiful too, and can match the vibe of a dark and moody photo.

So, for portraits (as well as other types of photos) consider trying direct sunlight, especially when used as side light. Alternately, when using backlight, simply use a darker exposure to accentuate the highlights around the subject. Here are some more examples…

dark and moody sunlight

dark moody photography backlit shadowy portrait

Dark and Moody Photography Inspiration

Below are more examples of dark and moody photography. Enjoy! No matter what type of portraiture subject you photograph, and even if you’re not capturing portraits at all, the dark and moody style has many possibilities…

05 lightroom presets 10 lightroom presets MoodPack After 10
Photo by Tanya Parada (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)
03 lightroom presets 08 lightroom presets MoodPack After 8
Photo by Tanya Parada (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

dark moody photography low key

dark moody photos portrait

dark moody portrait by raph nogal
Photo by Raph Nogal (Website | Wedding Maps Profile)

dark moody landscape photography


Dark and moody photos offer a unique, creative view of the world that conveys a strong message. The style of photography may not be for everybody, however, if it resonates with you then hopefully you are feeling inspired to dive in and try it!

For more information and inspiration, see this article on Wedding Maps on Dark and Moody Wedding Photography.