Ep 56: Jazz and blues: How to create mood in your images

Ep 56 episode art

How do you create images that evoke emotion and tell a story?

You don’t want to clutter your images with lots of content. Sometimes, it’s the subtle nuances that can speak volumes. Some of the most powerful images in the world are those that can convey a profound feeling with a simple snap.

In this episode, Gina and Valerie discuss the steps you need to take to produce moody and memorable images, ranging from the setting, lighting, emotion and much more.

#ginachallenge #pressure

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Show notes

Listener question

stink eyed santa lighting practise

Question from Matt Zahn‎
I woke up early this morning and decided to work on single speedlight high speed sync. I used a wooden Stink Eyed Santa as my model (above). He was great. Never complained or took a break. I was playing with the Odin TTL flash receiver and trigger settings and manual camera settings for a bit before I got some looks. I don’t have a light meter yet so it was chimp it in time. How many of you can look at a scene and know almost immediately where your settings need to be with flash? How long did it take you to get to that level?

Shoutouts to the community

dragon fly on a river
Above from Steele Carins

The dragonfly was patience, laying in the river, base of camera just above water level. And he kept chasing others away, then coming back. Very hard to keep still at that shutter speed with the water buffeting me.


family on a crosswalk
Above from Phil Enn‎

Wide angle family shot, Sanctuary Cove, Qld. Speedlight and portable Softbox off to the side. This would be the pick of the shoot!


family portrait grandmother and granddaughters
Above from Mandy Miller

#ginachallenge #familysizenocheese I’m a week late. But. My long suffering children and their paternal grandmother who all do the victorian-no-smiling-thing down to a tee! (with my Leibowitzian backdrop-with-edges-showing-thing going on)

I love the reflected light (I seldom shoot through), but I have a home-made diffuser (a bit of silky fabric that covers the front to break up the light a wee bit more). I also sometimes close the umbrella down from its extended position a bit to make a more directional light – which I did here.

How to create moody images

Natural elements

  • long exposures in the middle of the day
  • dusk and dawn
  • extreme weather
  • rain
  • fog
  • smoke
  • backlit
  • cloud porn

Lens choice

Long lens can make your image look more intimate because they make everything appear closer than they are in real life. If you want to create an intimate portrait, use a long lens.

Wide lens makes everything look wide and spacious or bigger than it really. If you want to create a spacious or more aloof feel, go for a wider lens.


Pose and vibe can be manufactured or real.

If I’m ever photographing a wedding or speeches, I try and focus on the person who is most likely to show emotion, e.g. the mother or father crying as they give their daughter away on her wedding day.

Or mood can be created by emotional subject matter such as … 12 year old Brazilian playing the violin at his teacher’s funeral. The teacher had helped him escape poverty and violence through music.

Looking away from camera can be far more powerful than looking at the camera.

Getting the performance: working with actors vs real people and lifestyle


Shoot in a way that reflects your personality. How a photographer sees is unique to them.

For natural light look for:

  • strong lighting styles
  • morning
  • dusk
  • high contrast
  • back lit
  • side lighting
  • high contrast lighting
  • use a black cutter to add drama
  • expose for highlights to increase contrast in an image


  • shutter speed to reduce ambient light in a photo
  • modifiers to give shot a distinct look
  • long exposure + flash for a surreal look.

Shooting style

  • say less in your image and let the viewer fill in the blanks
  • powerful images
  • a lonely path with a single shoe on it
  • an empty room with a lamp knocked over or curtains blowing in the wind
  • minimalist
  • use scale (tiny image in an imposing landscape)

Post-production techniques

  • colour vs B&W
  • contrast
  • tone
  • crop
  • Lightroom

Subject matter

  • Anything that will cause an emotional reaction in YOU
  • Shoot things that matter to you
Promo image for mini series Better Man
Above: Promotional Image I shot for the mini-series Better Man, about the last convicted Australian to be hung in Singapore. (SBS)


Bryan Brown as lawyer in Better Man
Above: I shot actor Bryan Brown playing a lawyer defending the accused in Better Man (SBS)


Moody image of actor Firass Dirani
Above: I used hard lighting and grungy post production to capture a dark mood in this image of Australian actor Firass Dirani.


Ceila Ireland in Wentworth
Above: Sometimes mood can be captured with an expression like this portrait I shot of Celia Ireland, playing an inmate in the hit television series Wentworth.


Early morning sydney harbour bridge lightrom post production
Above: Early morning light combined with editing in Lightroom added to the mood of this image I photographed in Sydney.


image of a little girl in Viareggio Italy
Above: I used scale, combined with hard light and pose to create this moody image of a little girl in Viareggio, Italy.


Men walking up stairs in Ragusa Sicily
Above: I love that we will never really know what is going on in this image that I shot in Ragusa Sicily.


In my mind they are both Mafia Dons having a very serious conversation about taking down Vinnie Delsanto… but in reality they might be talking about the last episode of Real Housewives.

Cyclist in Ragusa Sicily backlit
Above: Ragusa Sicily, I used backlighting to create mood and mystery in this shot.


narrow depth of field long exposure lamps
Above: Narrow depth of field and long exposure adds mood.


Luke Deslandes shot with shallow depth of field and dramatic lighting
Above: Luke Deslandes. This image was shot using shallow depth of field and dramatic lighting to create mood.


Ginas assistant Robert Hay shot on a bright sunny day
Above: I photographed my assistant, Robert Hay at midday on a bright sunny day.


Tokyo street scene rainy view mcgyver hack takeout container lid
Above: I created a rainy view look in Tokyo using a plastic takeout container lid.



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