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How to Use Moody Interior Photography

We've noticed an uptick lately in interior photographs that are darker than usual, and featuring high contrast between shadow and light. The look is very compelling, and it gives the photos a moody, realistic look when compared to the almost-too-bright interior photos we often see featured in publication.


We spoke with our in-house photographer Madeline Harper and resident stylist Leigh Gill, for their take on the trend, how to decide if it's right for your portfolio, and how to pull it off (including how to communicate with your photographer).



Defining Moody Photography


First, let's define what we're talking about here. It's pretty subjective, but it's also something that you know when you see it. Scroll through your Instagram feed for a few minutes and you'll likely come across an image that stands out as looking darker than the rest. They’re reminiscent of still-life photos that mimic paintings by Dutch masters, but in this case, we're talking about applying it to the work of interior designers. Often, there is strong contrast between light and shadows and it feels more editorial and dramatic than light and bright.



Of course, there is a technical definition, too. "Moodier photos focus on shadows and depth, and aren't overexposed," says Madeline. "They tend to evoke a more emotional response, rather than focus on the technical light. They capture the light as it appears in person."


Consider the two images Madeline captured in the IDCO Lake House kitchen. They are both lovely in their own right, but clearly very different! One easily highlights the details in the room (the veining on the backsplash, the shine of the faucet, and the textures of the pieces on the open shelf) while the darker one shows fewer individual details, rather, it conveys the mood of the space.



When to Use Moody Photography


The main consideration for trying it out is whether this style is reflective of your design personality. Study the images that you are most drawn to: Are there similarities in the colors, textures, and shapes to your own work? If so, a similar photographic style could also translate well in your portfolio.

"If you are creating spaces that are bright and preppy, this may not be the best method of editing to showcase your designs," says Madeline. "But if you have really rich, textured rooms this could be a great fit." The high contrast between light and shadow works best when there are equally dramatic points of contrast. Think sculptural furnishings and lighting, highly tactile fabrics, and a variety of textures in the space. Our stylist, Leigh, has this to say: "This style best lends itself to spaces that are already a little moody, or even serious."


Design: Pierce & Ward | Photo: Olivia Pierce


How to Use Moody Photography


Both Leigh and Madeline suggest easing into this style, especially if your previous photographs are all of the light and bright variety. “You wouldn’t want the moodier photography to be too noticeably different than your other work,” says Leigh. Instead, work with your photographer to capture a little of both. Get plenty of bright, detailed shots, and add a few detail photos that feature dramatic direct light.


We do caution against using the look exclusively, especially in your online portfolio. While it certainly evokes a mood, it can make it difficult to see the details of your work in the photos, which could be frustrating for potential clients. Instead, choose some lighter photos that show off your skills, and mix in the darker, moodier photos to convey the feeling you hope your work represents.



Design: Katie Monkhouse | Photo: Bess Friday


Talking to your Photographer or Stylist


If you have an established relationship with a photographer, be open about your ideas, but be willing to make a change, if necessary. “It’s always best to use a photographer who has experience capturing what you want to portray,” says Leigh. And at the very least, offer examples of photos that you would like to emulate before you book a session.


“To achieve this look, a photographer will shoot a little underexposed to get those dramatic shadows,” explains Madeline. “They’ll be less concerned with how pure white is appearing, and will instead focus on pulling out the black in the image.”


This style often relies heavily on natural light, but it can be achieved using artificial methods -- another detail to discuss with your photographer. If there isn’t enough natural light, do they have the equipment needed to simulate it? Keep in mind, long streaks of light are more common in certain times of year, and at the beginning or end of the day, so a scouting visit may be required to determine if the project you have in mind is a good fit or not.

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