How To Add Mood And Mystery To Your Photos In Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
How To Add Mood And Mystery To Your Photos In Lightroom Classic

Editor's note: This month only – 50% off five classic photography ebooks! Click here to get the deal. Thanks for reading, Andrew.

Adding a mood and mystery to your photos starts with the way you shoot them. You can add mystery by using shallow depth of field, shadows and shooting in evocative light. That’s the foundation, then you can build on it in Lightroom Classic using masks and through color grading. We’ll explore those techniques in this article.

Learn more: How To Create A Sense Of Mystery In Your Photos

Adding mood and mystery with the Shadows slider

Take a look at the two photos below. Which seems more moody and mysterious to you?

Mood and mystery in photography
Mood and mystery in photography

Hopefully the first photo. The reason? It’s because you can’t see into the shadows. And when you can’t see into the shadows, it engages the viewer’s imagination and piques curiosity. The view doesn’t know what’s in the shadows and has to use their imagination to fill the gaps.

The only difference between the two photos is that I set Shadows to -100 for the first, and to +100 for the second. The second photo shows more shadow detail, but less feeling. If you’re used to the HDR way of thinking, where nobody likes a good shadow, then this may seem strange at first.

That’s the power of the Shadows slider for you. You don’t have to set it to -100 for every photo (I used +100 and -100 to make the difference between the two examples clear). Every photo is different. Experiment and see what gives the best result for you, depending on what you want to achieve.

Adding mood and mystery with masks

Take a look at the portraits below. Which seems more moody and mysterious to you?

Moody and mysterious portrait

Hopefully it’s the second one (right). You can see the reason why. The background is darker, giving deeper shadows and a darker, moodier feel.

This is easy to do in Lightroom Classic with any photo that has a clearly defined subject. Go to the Masks panel then Create New Mask > Select Background. The AI takes care of the rest. Here’s the mask for the above portrait.

Lightroom Classic mask

Then move the Exposure slider left to make the background darker. For a more subtle effect, you can move the Shadows slider instead.

This technique works even better with portraits that have dark backgrounds already.

Moody and mysterious portraits

Let me give you another example, a portrait that needed more work to get the effect I visualised (see below). The final version is on the right. The version on the left is without masks.

Portrait developed in Lightroom Classic

I applied four Linear Gradient masks to get the effect.

Lightroom Classic masks
Lightroom Classic masks

I used Linear Gradients instead of the Select Subject / Select Background technique because it helped me shape the light to emphasize the way it’s coming through the trees from above the model.

Learn more: How To Use The Lightroom Classic Masks Panel

Adding mood and mystery with color grading

Another tool for adding mood and mystery to your photos is color grading. The photos below show what a difference it makes. The first has all the ingredients for mood and mystery – a great location, lots of shadows and moody lighting.

Photo of a blacksmith at work

Here’s the same photo, but color graded.

Color graded photo

To get this affect I went to the Color Grading panel and added blue to the shadows and orange to the highlights (you can see the settings below). The idea is add mood and mystery by using the natural color contrast between blue and orange.

Color Grading panel Lightroom Classic

Color grading is a cinematic effect, which means it’s a great technique to use with photos of people. Here are three versions a portrait that show how you use it. Again, we have a moody, mysterious location, plenty of shadows, a blurred background and an enigmatic expression from the model. I used masks to darken the background and applied color grading. This is the first portrait, which isn’t color graded.

Mysterious portrait developed in Lightroom Classic

Then I graded it with blue shadows and orange highlights.

Color graded portrait

I graded the final version (above) with teal shadows and orange highlights, a color combination used in cinema.

Color graded portrait

Not all photos benefit from color grading, and it’s fine if you don’t like the effect. Don’t forget this is subjective. Experiment with the techniques suggested in this article and see what works for you.

Learn more: How To Color Grade Photos In Lightroom Classic

Adding mood and mystery by converting to black and white

Another way to add mood and mystery to your photos is to convert them to black and white. Let me give you an example. You can see two versions of the same photo below. One in color, and the other black and white.

Photo converted to black and white in Lightroom Classic

The timeless nature of black and white means it’s great for creating moody images. You can see in the above example that I darkened the shadows in the mono version, adding to the mood.

You can have fun with your black and white conversions and send them to plugins to open up more developing possibilities. Here are two more versions of this photo, both created in the Exposure X plugin.

Black and white in Exposure X

Learn more: How To Develop Better Black And White Photos In Lightroom Classic

Summing up

Hopefully these techniques have given you some ideas for adding mood and mystery to your own photos in Lightroom Classic. You can keep it simple by focusing on emphasizing shadows using the Shadows slider and masks. Once that’s done, ask yourself if you can add more mood and mystery by color grading the photo or converting it to black and white.

Introducing Lightroom Classic ebookThanks for reading. You can get more great articles and tips about Lightroom Classic and photography in my popular Mastering Photography email newsletter. Join today and I’ll send you my ebook Introducing Lightroom Classic and 47 PhotoTips cards. Over 30,000 photographers subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.

Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module ebook

More great Lightroom Classic tips, tricks and tutorials!

1 comment

Paco June 26, 2024 - 10:31 am

¡Lo que estoy aprendiendo con tus consejos!
Gracias, Andrew.


Leave a Comment