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 Integrates Use of Unsplash Images

(not my image)

(not my image)

We Squarespace users got an email from them this week, letting us know about their new feature of integrating the use of free Unsplash images within their service. For those of you that aren’t current customers, here’s their online article describing the new feature.

This is an an interesting and potentially very useful new feature. For those not familiar with Unsplash, as I wasn’t before being notified of this new integration, they’re a stock image service like Getty or iStock (which is now also owned by Getty), except that their images are totally free to use for both non-commercial and commercial use. The only real exception to free use that I can see after reading through their FAQ and terms is that you can’t turn around try to offer your own stock photo service by offering photos you got from their site. Other than that, use away, including any modifications you see fit.

For photographers such as myself, this feature probably won’t be used much, as we typically tend to use our own images. However, for anyone else building a site that isn’t a photographer and can’t afford to pay for professional photography, this is a very powerful new feature, as these people now have access to a ton of imagery to bolster the visual impact of their site without breaking the bank. Look at the image I posted at the top of this blog post, which I grabbed from this Unsplash integration - pretty cool, powerful image, and I got this from barely scrolling down the first main page that pops up when I clicked on the search pane in Squarespace’s add-image tool. If I were writing a blog post about mountaineering or simply looking for a decent header image for my outdoor-based website, this would be a very cool image to be able to use for free.

Now, as a photographer, many of my fellow photographers might suggest that I should be upset by this, that it’s devaluing our work, making it harder for us to get paid. I totally get that. On the other hand, as a technologist, I can see the immense value in this, as this would be a VERY handy asset to have in place when building a website for a potential client, as the sky’s the limit when it comes to free imagery they can use for their site. I could build them a site and charge them a lower fee because I only have to charge them for my time and output, and not extra for my or anyone else’s photography that costs some real $$. At any rate, any photographer who has a problem with this model would have to take it up with Unsplash and the photographers who supply them, as Squarespace is just providing a free service to its users that’s made available to them.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. As a photographer, how do you feel about such services? Valuable exposure and a chance to share your work with the world, or cheap manipulation that devalues your work? For the rest of you, what value do you find in such a service?

Also, for the photographer crowd, here’s an article about a photographer who unleashed his photo archive onto Unleashed, detailing how it lead to more work for him. Take from it what you will.