(Editor’s Note: We welcome this guest post from Sarah Driscoll. Sarah is a photographer, educator and co-founder of Unraveled Academy. The photographs in this post are by Sarah and students of the school.)
Light. Mysterious, captivating, can’t-look-away light is truly the muse for any photographer. When we are first learning and honing on our photography skills, light is something we study most. I remember when I was first learning how to shoot in manual, I would find myself entranced by all different kinds of light, watching as it danced upon the floor or wall or someone’s face. The more you grow as an artist, the more you begin to understand which kind of light draws you in most. In time, that light often defines your work and is present throughout much of it. One kind of light that is deeply adored is moody light.
Defining “moody light” is somewhat tricky. At Unraveled Academy, we consider a moody image to be one where the light and composition work together and result in an image that often gives the impression of mystery or intensity. A skilled photographer does not create a moody image by accident but rather uses their available light and subject to create it with intention.
Here are our top three tips for finding moody light in your home.
Look for interesting diffusers
During sunrise and sunset, if you are lucky, you will have beams of light shooting through the windows of your home. While this intense light — often referred to as “golden hour” — can create beautiful, warm, vibrant images, it can also be used for moody images when utilized well.
Consider putting down the blinds or pulling a lace curtain or blanket over the window where the light is streaming through. Put your subject in an area that harbors both intense shadows and light contrast. Watch as the light creates lines and shapes over your subject and capture the intensity of the shadows. Use composition to enhance the lines and shapes that the light and diffuser make.
Tip: Be certain to meter for the highlights. When shooting in contrasting light with deep shadows, it can be easy to blow your highlights.
Wait for blue hour
If you are not in love with the warmth that golden hour brings, wait for blue hour to shoot. Blue hour takes places just after sunset or just before sunrise and is a period of twilight where the sky ranges from blue to dark blue. If you struggle with warm skin tones during golden hour or are drawn to cooler tones, blue hour may become your muse instead. With that said, keep in mind that while the quality of light is moody, there’s not a whole lot of light coming through and you will likely have to shoot at a high ISO with a low shutter speed.
Blue hour only lasts about 30 to 40 minutes, so move quickly. It’s a short window but the deep and grainy depth that accompanies images taken during blue hour is often worth it.
Tip: If you are finding your hands are a bit too shaky and the light is a bit too low in blue hour, consider investing in a tripod.
Don’t be afraid of artificial light
Let’s be real — moody, natural light isn’t always easy to come by. The good news: With a lamp, night light, flashlight or phone and creative spirit, you can create moody light on your own.
Tip: Only use one source to increase the overall intensity and quality of that specific light. Turn off overhead or any additional light (even if it is just seeping in from the hallway). You want to be able to decide exactly how you want that one light source to fall and manipulate it as fully as possible.
Now that you know three of the best ways to get moody light in your home, it is time to play. Trial and error is always essential in photography. You want to move your subject around in the available light and find various ways to use it. Never stay still or stagnant. Always keep trying new compositions. Sometimes, you will set out to use the light in one way and find that you are suddenly in love with using it in another way. Be open to the surprises.
Unraveled Academy is a photography school and community where every photographer is welcome — no matter their story or skill level. With jam-packed courses from industry experts, networking opportunities, access to mentors and an inclusive, nurturing community, we offer artists a place to grow and create without fear of judgment and become masters of their own unique, creative journeys.