Moody landscape photography

The lone Buttermere tree at sunrise on a moody morning

Moody landscape photography is equally as popular as bright and colourful landscapes because let’s face it, the weather doesn’t always play ball when you’re out shooting. In this short guide we’ll take a look at some of the key elements of shooting moody landscapes, as well as an editing technique that’s guaranteed to make your moody landscapes more dramatic than ever before.

For me, living and working in the UK means that shooting moody landscapes is simply something I have to live with due to the changeable weather conditions; it’s not uncommon to see several types of weather in a single day. But rather than seeing it as a problem, it’s actually something I enjoy and absolutely love being out shooting when the conditions are just right for some natural drama.  

Weather for moody landscapes

Sunset at Hope Cove in South Devon

As long as it’s not a bright sunny day without a single cloud in the sky, you can often shoot moody landscapes with the right filters and exposure techniques. Of course, naturally moodier conditions will always make life easier, and you can beat a good storm in the distance to fill a sky with drama.

Roach End Barn, Peak District

Changeable weather, where it could be stormy one minute and bright sunshine the next always works well because you can often benefit from brightly lit areas of a scene set against an ultra-moody and naturally underexposed sky. The potential for incredible colour at sunrise and sunset can also be high – in the image above the weather was exactly that at sunset, and it certainly lent itself to the location perfectly.

Controlling sky detail

Nisi Filters Medium Graduated Filter review

Neutral density graduated filters (ND grads), are essential for landscape photography in general if you don’t want to constantly shoot HDR or split Raw to maintain to sky detail. And for moody landscape photography, you’ll always get the best results possible using these filters.

ND grads feature a light blocking layer at the top that graduates to no effect in the centre of the filter leaving the foreground area unaffected. They simply reduce the amount of light entering the top of the lens, which is usually the sky, causing the top part of the scene to be underexposed and captured with detail. Grads are available in a variety of light blocking strengths, and also graduations.

ND grad options include hard for straighter horizons, medium for those with elements such as trees above the horizon and soft for more hilly and mountainous locations. With ND grads it’s useful to have a selection of light blocking strengths and graduations, but what you need will depend entirely on the types of landscapes you shoot and the overall darkening effect you’re aiming for. 

Editing for moody landscape photography

Editing moody landscape photography can take many different forms and doesn’t necessarily require an equally moody editing approach. Although there’s no denying that accentuating the mood and drama of scenes with Photoshop using techniques such as desaturation and the matte effect are a great start.

Perfect light moodiness

Winskill Stones lone tree in the Yorkshire Dales at sunset

When thinking about moody landscapes it’s easy to assume that the approach focuses only on days where the weather moody and/or changeable. In reality, even ‘perfect’ sunrises and sunsets bursting with colour can provide opportunities for moody landscape photography.

The key to shooting moody images when the conditions are favourable comes down to exposure and the way images are edited. By exposing for highlights to maintain detail you’ll naturally capture darker and moodier shots, and if shadows are clipping too much because of high contrast you can also shoot HDR to capture detail throughout the shadows, mid-tones and highlights. 

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To take a look at more of my landscape photography click here

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