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.