Capturing a mood in your iPhone photos can be the difference between a good image and a great one. Landscapes are forever changing, and the same scene can look very different depending on when and how you photograph it. To capture a landscape at its atmospheric and dramatic best, there are a number of things you should consider, both at the time of shooting and in post-processing. In this tutorial you’ll discover 11 great ways to give your iPhone landscape photography a truly moody feel.
1. Shoot In Low Light
Lighting is key to creating a good photo – and in this case, less is more.
As wonderful as a view can look on a beautiful sunny day, it’s when those blue skies are nowhere to be seen that you’re likely to capture the best moody landscape pictures.
Think about the time of day that you’re going to be out taking photos. Aim for times when there’s less light, such as early mornings, so that you avoid the harsh glare of the daytime sunshine.
In the early hours you’ll benefit from the gradually increasing light. And a glimpse of first light creeping into your shots in the right place can really enhance the feel.
You can of course also shoot during early evening, although you’ll be racing against fading light and there’s less promise of the wonderfully mood-enhancing early morning mist.
2. Chase Some Fog
For the moodiest of moody images, you can’t beat some lovely fog. As a fog lover, nothing gets me out of the house quicker than drawing back the curtains to reveal a surprise foggy morning.
Fog to me as an adult is what snow was to me as a child – although I still get excited by the white stuff too.
Rather than just relying on chance, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of finding fog in your area.
It sounds obvious, but check the weather forecast, and check the forecast for a variety of accessible locations. Fog can often be quite localized and after a while you’ll notice a pattern of finding those fog hotspots.
Get to know your top fog locations so at the first sign of it you’ll know where to head. The fog often doesn’t stay around long, so it’s important to get out early and head straight to the best places.
Top spots for fog include valleys, forests, over water and fields, and it’s often well worth the effort of heading up for some hill fog.
3. Shoot In Bad Weather
When you’re out in the rain, the temptation is to keep your iPhone tucked away safely in your pocket.
But the next time you’re out in this kind of weather, consider those great landscape shots you could be getting.
Water and iPhones don’t mix well, so be careful not to get your phone wet if you’re shooting in a heavy downpour.
If you’re worried about your damaging your phone, you could invest in a waterproof case such as the Lifeproof case. Or if you have someone to accompany you they’d make a very handy umbrella assistant!
Alternatively, how about shooting from the inside out? If you have a nice view through your house or car window, taking a photo through raindrop-covered glass gives a great moody and slightly abstract feel to a landscape.
4. Make The Most Of Heavy Clouds
Heavy skies add amazing atmosphere to a shot. Big thick clouds will emphasize the bleakness of a landscape, creating incredible drama in your photos.
Dark skies make a great backdrop for a subject in your landscape shots.
Try capturing a lonesome tree, a human figure, or another strong subject with the dark clouds behind.
Or try making the clouds themselves the focus of your shot, giving over the majority of the frame to them.
5. Lose Yourself In A Forest
Look for interesting groups of trees or individual trees with character. I came across this group of twisted trees deep within a plantation of poker straight fir trees.
Be sure to explore woods and forests when you’re out in the landscape. You might be surprised by what you find!
The forest can be made to look quite different depending on the angle you choose to shoot from. Try getting down low and shooting up to give a great sense of scale for tall trees.
Remember to think about exposure (image brightness) when shooting up into a bright sky. After tapping to set focus on the most important part of the scene, swipe up or down to adjust the exposure.
If you want to see color and detail in the tree tops and trunks, you might need to increase the exposure. If you want to create a dark silhouette of the trees, you’ll probably need to reduce the exposure.
6. Find A Lonely Tree
The evocative image of a lonely tree is a great centre piece to a moody landscape shot.
For a classic minimalist landscape shot, think about the direction that you take the shot from in order to eliminate background distractions.
Try getting down low to make distant objects drop below the horizon. In the photo above, getting down low dropped distant houses out of sight and allowed me to add some interesting foreground detail.
Fog can also be your friend for removing background distractions. It hides objects in the distance, giving you a lovely clean background behind your subject.
A good technique is to take several shots as you approach a lonely tree. This can achieve quite different looks. The following two images were taken in quick succession.
The first makes use of a path to draw your eye past the distant lonely tree:
And then I got a bit closer, allowing the tree to dominate the composition:
7. Include People In The Shot
Placing people in your landscape photos has the benefit of both adding a sense of scale and enhancing the mood.
Body language is great for portraying a mood. Figures with a downcast head, staring into the distance, or braced against the elements all bring an extra moodiness and story to an image.
Silhouettes work well in moody landscape shots as they add a sense of mystery and drama to the picture.
To create a silhouette, shoot toward the light, and reduce the exposure until the subject appears as a dark shape against the brighter background.
Make the most of people creeping into shot – natural stances are great. Work with capturing candid moments, and consider using burst mode on the camera when people are moving – you’ll then be able to select the best image later.
If you have a willing volunteer, you could encourage them to position themselves in a pose to create a certain feel and tell a story with your image.
8. Add Some Foreground Interest
Don’t just think about the bigger picture. Bring something into the foreground of your image to enhance the mood.
Look out for interesting dead plants, spider webs, feathers, etc. that you can use to add interest and a certain atmosphere to your shot.
Focussing on something close also allows you to create a shallow depth of field. This gives you a blurred background, adding an extra sense of mystery to your landscape.
Fences also work well in the foreground. The focal point of the barbed wire fence in the shot below gives a nice blurred effect to the tree in the distance.
9. Look For Interesting Structures
Make an effort to stop and look at things you’d usually pass by, such as pylons lined up across a field, derelict buildings, or remnants of old fences.
These subjects will add a strong focal point to your image, and they can help you tell a more interesting story about the landscape.
Think about how you can best place these objects within your composition for a moody end result.
10. Tone Down The Color
Muted tones have a wonderfully moody feel. Low light, forests and foggy days are great for getting shots with naturally dulled colors.
But also think about reducing the saturation of the final image in post-processing.
Most editing apps allow you to change basic settings such as saturation, tint, contrast and brightness levels. The free Snapseed app is a great place to start.
In the photo below, the editing allows just a hint of color to come through, while also ensuring the image doesn’t become too dark, and allowing the trees in the foreground to be highlighted.
The muted colors of this edit transport us deep into the dark forest, creating a wonderfully moody atmosphere.
11. Add Some Texture
The benefit of editing your images to enhance the mood can’t be stressed enough, and one of my favorite ways to add atmosphere is to apply textures to my images.
Working with the various texture overlays in these apps will add a wonderful rawness to your photos, often creating a final image with the appearance of a painting.
The result can be quite dramatic, such as the example above which really suits the dead tree in this landscape.
Or you can keep the textures more subtle, which is what I did to enhance the windswept tree on the open hillside below.
Creating moody and emotive landscape photos is immensely rewarding. And their beauty and atmosphere is guaranteed to draw the viewer in.
Many of these tips for creating moody images make use of low light conditions. Remember, when shooting in low light you’ll need to pay particular attention to keeping your iPhone steady in order to avoid camera shake.
For sharp images, consider using an iPhone tripod to keep your camera steady. Another good tip is to simply hold your iPhone against something as you take the shot. For example, place it on top of a fencepost or against a tree to help steady it.
Always pay attention to the image exposure before you press the shutter. Swiping up or down on the screen allows you to adjust the brightness to capture the detail and mood that you desire.
And don’t forget to enhance the atmosphere of your photos in post-processing. I nearly always edit my landscape photos in some way to enhance the mood, from simple color and lighting adjustments to beautiful and dramatic textures.
Whatever landscape you’re photographing, always pay attention to the light and mood that you’re capturing in your images. It really will make all the difference to your photos.