How I Photographed This Dark and Dramatic Fashion Series

Have you ever wondered what went into creating a moody fashion shoot? In this article, go behind the scenes of a fashion shoot I did using a darker aesthetic and mood.

Personally, my favorite kind of shoots to do are for dark and dramatic photos. I just love the high-contrast light, and the endless expressions and emotions that it connects me with. As photographers we have the ability to really mold the light around our subjects, and in darker images we can selectively bring attention to the places we want our viewers to focus on. For this shoot, I wanted to focus on the model's clothes and the way her expressions interacted with it. 

The Inspiration

When I begin to plan a shoot, the first thing I do is search the web and collect a series of images that I am inspired by. From those references, I create a mood board. The mood board consists of images that were inspired by the lighting, pose, colors, or emotion. For this shoot, the first thing I focused on was my lighting. I knew I wanted the images to have focused and shaped light, with a dark ambient exposure. So the person that came to mind was Lindsay Adler's work. The way she sculpts light and puts focus on the subject was the perfect match for the kind of style I was trying to create.

The next person on my list of inspiration was the work of Clay Cook. In his particular set of images, I loved the set building and the dramatic posing he incorporated. The emotion in his images were reflected by the use of a colder color grade.

When it comes to my shoots, I definitely could not do it without the guidance of these amazing photographers and their images. Now that we established my mindset for the shoot, let's dive right into the equipment that I used.

The Equipment 

The Setup

The setup for all of these shots was done in the middle of my living room. For this series, I wanted to create a layered effect to give the images depth. So I put up one nine-foot blue gravity backdrop and then taped a mini backdrop onto the back of that to help frame the subject in the composition. 

Camera Settings

The camera settings I chose for this series were all based on my mood board pictures. I opted with a deep f/8 aperture to achieve a more gritty and dramatic look. I wanted to bring out the texture in the backdrops and also accentuate the model's features. My other consideration was that I wanted the ambient exposure dark, so to do that, I knocked down my ISO to 100 and raised my shutter speed to 1/250 s.


In order to match my vision, I knew my lighting would help me do that. The first thing that you might notice is that the overall tone of the images are blue, however the models skin tone remains warm. To accomplish this, I set my white balance to 2500 Kelvin to make the ambient effect cold, then on top of my key light, I placed a CTO warming gel. In order to keep my exposure consistent throughout the series, I chose to go with constant lights so I could see what I was getting before I took the picture, and I was able to focus on the model's poses and expressions. In order to have a darker ambient, but still maintain details in the shadows, I placed a mini LS-20 light in the back on a boom stand as a subtle hair light and added a 2x2-foot white piece of foam core in the front of the model to bounce some light back into her face. Lastly, I placed my 5-in-1 reflector on the right side of the model to create a shadow and maintain the dramatic vibe.

The Final Results

This shoot would not be possible without the amazing crew and effort. I hope you enjoyed this breakdown. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Team Credits - Photographer, Retouch: Eli Dreyfuss | Model: Nora Douglas | Makeup: Shayna Plotkin
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Robert Altman's picture

Really nice images - an inspiration! I think dark/moody is the way to go with smaller spaces and more limited equipment- in addition to being interesting to look at. High key images are really hard to craft well unless you have a lot of strobes and a bigger studio...

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Thanks for the comment! Good insight as well! Makes sense.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

Four speedlights with flasbbenders on the wall and a large umbrella as main light works fine for me:)
Need to fix the floor in post but I think that's common whatever.

Norman Straw's picture

Here is my latest work.
I love moody fashion shoots.
Only twoo lights used and custom background made by me.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Damn! These are great! Thanks for sharing!

Norman Straw's picture

Thank you :-) That’s an honor for me to read that from you!

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

A pleasure! Keep up the good work!

Andy Barnham's picture

Loving the background, which is often an underrated part of a shot. How did you make it?

Norman Straw's picture

Yess background is really importaint! I just bought ordinary material backdrop and painted it with wall paint. Paint must be with some kind of a rubber because it can’t be stiff when it dries. I choosed twoo simmilar colors custom made for me. One little bit darker than other and painted with brush and roller.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture


Morten Nielsen's picture

Love the images - this moody aesthetic has always been a favorite of mine. Very inspirational article, really makes me want to shoot more portraits (been shooting mostly food recently). Heres one i shot last year.

Eli Dreyfuss's picture

Amazing! Glad to hear! Im writing up an article now on a guide to shooting low light portraits! Stay tuned!

AC KO's picture

The images are nice.

What concerns me is that too many photographers don’t secure their light stands with sandbags or other weighted items. I see the backdrop being secured with a single sandbag, but nothing else.

It’s too easy for a model, assistant, photographer, and others on set (in a small home studio location) to inadvertently trip over a stand, cord, and other things to be injured or causes property damages to occur. This is professional negligence!

Using sandbags and other safety protocols helps keeps your photography area safe from accidents.