Using Color/Contrast to Set the Mood

When processing photos, two of the tools we photographers can use to really set the mood on our photographs are color (when working on color photos, obviously) and contrast. Your color grades and/or saturation levels can really set tone for an image, and the contrast/clarity likewise can really set how harsh or soft the image feels. I offer you a couple examples:

Caribou Trail, heading back into the Sawtooth Mountains outside Lutsen, MN.

This image above, I shot along the MN highway knows as Caribou Trail, northeast of Lutsen, MN. It was a gray, dreary day, and I really wanted to contrast the vibrant Fall colors against that dreary weather. As such, I went for a very contrast-y, saturated look on this image. I started out with a Fuji Provia-style filter on it, then brought certain colors up and down from there to provide the right look I wanted without (hopefully) going over the top. I went with a high contrast to really make those bright colors stand out from the shadows and dark pines. However, I didn’t want the contrast to be overly harsh, so I brought the clarity down a touch on the trees (but not the road). And lastly, I brought a little blue/cyan color grade up into the shadows to give even a touch more contrast and also help sell that this was NOT a sunny day (since the sky itself is not visible in this photo).

With this next photo, I went for a slightly different approach:

“Fall Line” - Autumn at Lutsen Mountains ski resort.

I shot this photo up at the ski resort of Lutsen Mountains. It was still a gray, dreary day here; in fact, it was fully drizzling by this point and I was getting wet. However, it also felt very calm and relaxing up there, and I wanted to convey that feeling in this photograph. As such, I went for slightly more muted color tones and less contrast than I applied in the previous image. It gives the image a very different energy than in the other photos.

Two different approaches for selling different moods. I could have processed them both very similarly to keep a more even “style”, but that wouldn’t have conveyed the different moods quite as well, I feel. Sometimes you have to let the image tell you where to go in your processing…

Anyway, I hope you all had a joyous Christmas holiday, whether or not you celebrate, and I wish you all a happy upcoming New Year.


Editing for Big Screens (& Prints) vs. Small Screens

Late afternoon sun filtering through the trees in the Superior National Forest…

One thing I’ve been noticing lately, particularly as I work on some darker images, is just how different an image can appear on a large screen or print vs. a small screen (or small print). I’ll work on an image, have it just where I want it, then post away to social media. But then when I look at how it appears in a platform like Instagram, I always have to do further edits there to get it to match what I had viewed on my computer screen. For a while I was thinking maybe I just need to calibrate my monitor, that I simply have it set too bright or something. When I do a test print and it comes out OK, though, I realized, “no, that’s not it…”

You see, when you have an image that has a lot of dark areas in it, as the one at the top of this post, all that darkness really gets compressed when viewed at small sizes (such as on smartphones), seems to completely take over the image. If I printed the image above at like a 20”x30” size, though, it would look great, with the dark and light areas being balanced just as intended; especially if the photograph is hung where it’s lit properly (more on that in a later post).

So, if you’re viewing this post on your smartphone right now, the image above might look way too dark. However, if when you get home later, you pull this up on your PC and click on the image to expand it to full-screen, you’ll see it looks much better. So this has me wondering: are images like this just bad for mobile consumption, or do I simply need to do two edits for every darker image like this; one for mobile/social media consumption, and one for web & print?

Anyway, this is just something to keep in mind for you fellow photographers out there who might be wondering, “why does my image look like crap on Instagram and when it looked great on my PC?” Yeah, you could have a monitor calibration issue, but it might also just be the type of image it is. If it’s an image with a lot of darkness in it, you might have to do a little more work on it to optimize for social media if you want it fully appreciated there.

Happy Sunday, everyone.


About the image: I shot this image while on a hike in the Superior National Forest, outside Ely, MN this past Fall. It was a beautiful hike around Dry Lake, and this section was the bit of trail that traverses the ridge between Dry Lake and Bass Lake. I would highly recommend this hike to anybody; it’s only a few miles, and the scenery is breathtaking.

Street Photos

It’s been a bit since my last post again. I’ve been pretty busy, and not much to say about it really. I did get a new gallery posted, though, which you may have already noticed. It’s a gallery of some curated street photos I’ve taken here in Minneapolis. These photos are mostly a few years old now, as most of the street photography I’ve done since has been on my smartphone and posted straight to Instagram on my “Streets of Minneapolis” account, which you can check out here. I really do need to get out on the streets with a proper camera again, though, as I enjoyed going through these images, and the quality is definitely a bit higher than what I get on my phone, even with phone cameras being as good as they are these days.

Anyway, the slideshow should be playing at the top of this post, but to get a better look at this full gallery, click here.

Thanks for stopping by.



I find myself consumed with work lately. If I’m not actively working, I’m thinking about it. This isn’t by choice, as I’m certainly not some workaholic that doesn’t know how to have a life. It’s just that we’re that busy at work. It’s fairly stressful at times, to be honest. At times like these is when I really enjoy simple, peaceful images like the one above. I just find it very calming; clears the mind a bit. What I really need, though, is another hike like the one on which I snapped this image. Nothing is more peaceful than a good hike in the Fall! I shot this on a hike around Dry Lake, just outside Ely, MN, back in late September. It was absolutely beautiful, and I’ll definitely be going back sometime.

This image is now posted over in the Autumn gallery, along with another image or two that might be new since the last time you visited. Go check ‘em out. I’ve also posted some new images, both color and black & white, over in the Minnesota Landscapes gallery. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Once again, thanks for stopping by. I appreciate all of you that choose to follow my work.


Squarespace-Unplash Partnership Revisited

I recently posted about the new relationship that Squarespace has established with Unsplash, the online, free stock image company. Well, since that time, boy has the outrage exploded on the Internet! Go look at the responses to Squarespace’s announcement on Twitter, and you’ll see a lot of angry photographers chiming in. It’ll be interesting to see how Squarespace now responds, as they haven’t really yet; at least not publicly.

From a general (non-photographer) user standpoint, I can still see both sides of this. From a photographer standpoint, though, I’ve since learned about some real concerns with the Unsplash platform. One of the big concerns is that of model releases for any images involving people (or property releases if shots were taken of/on a private property) if the image is used for commercial use. Lack of proper releases could result in huge liability issues for the photographers.

For example, take the image at the top of this post, which I pulled from Unsplash. If I used this photo for commercial purposes, and the person came to me ready to sue because she hadn’t authorized such use of her image, I could just go back to the photographer and say, “Hey, where’s the model release? Cough it up, or this lawsuit is coming your way.” Any responsible, experienced, professional photographer would hopefully have such a release in pocket to provide. However, the problem is that many of the photographers providing images to Unsplash aren’t professional photographers and often don’t even know about the need for such releases, so had never secured them from their subjects in the first place. Because of that, they’re now open to being sued.

As a business owner and/or website creator, I leave it to you to decide if the use of such service is valuable. If you’re a photographer, though, I’d caution against uploading your images to this service, as it sounds like they have everything setup to pass through all liability issues back to the photographers. I invite you to watch/listen to the interview that noted commercial photographer, Zack Arias, conducted with one of Unsplash’s founders back in January, which you can find here. He goes into great detail over a lot of these concerns with the founder. It’s an interesting conversation, and definitely leaves me a little more wary of the whole thing.