A joyful bride and groom holding hands walk together amidst a scenic backdrop with palm trees, symbolizing the start of their shared journey in life.

My Editing Style: Light + Airy Meets Dark + Moody

I’ve been asked about my style countless times over the years, and I’ve always had a little trouble describing it. I usually just pull out my phone and show some examples.

That being said, it’s something that I’ve spent a long time thinking about. I figured that I would try to put it all down here, sort of like a modern artist’s statement:

Two distinct editing styles have arisen over the years — light & airy and dark & moody. I don’t wholly identify with either, but my work definitely shares qualities with both.

A bride in a long sleeve wedding dress holding a bouquet.
LIGHT + AIRY
A bride in a long sleeve wedding dress holding a bouquet.
MY EDIT
A bride in a long sleeve wedding dress holding a bouquet.
DARK + MOODY

The light & airy style tends to exaggerate highlights and desaturate portions of the color spectrum. The dark & moody look tends to prioritize shadows and add an earthy hue to everything.

Additionally, light & airy edits often lean towards the cooler side while dark & moody ones typically gravitate towards a warmer tone.

So, what’s my style? I describe it as punchy, polished, and timeless. It’s vibrant and true-to-life with lush hues and clean skin tones. It’s like taking the brightness of the light & airy aesthetic and combining it with the dimension of the dark & moody version.

A couple kissing on rocks in the ocean during their maternity session.
LIGHT + AIRY
A couple kissing on rocks in the ocean during their engagement session.
MY EDIT
A couple kissing on rocks in the ocean during their engagement session.
DARK + MOODY

Both the light & airy and dark & moody photos (pictured above) were edited with well-known “one-click” presets that are extremely popular within the photographer community.

Consequently, the resulting styles have become extremely prominent in the industry as a whole. And there is a bit of a line in the sand when it comes to identifying an individual photographer’s style.

When it comes to my own work, I prefer a happy middle of the two. I could never find a specific preset that did everything that I wanted, so I ended up creating my own. I think of them as starting points; they evolve with each & every session.

A bride and groom kissing in a tropical garden.
LIGHT + AIRY
A bride and groom kissing in a tropical garden.
MY EDIT
A bride and groom kissing in a tropical garden.
DARK + MOODY

Many of my specific editing techniques are derived from the darkroom: dodging, burning, and color channel adjustments. I LOVE the contrast of warm and cool — especially when it comes to the highlights and shadows.

The range of tones and character of light can only be adjusted so much in post-production. The biggest factor is how the photo was taken in the first place. And that involves a countless amount of decisions & variables.

Personally, I always try to maximize the amount of information in an image. In bright light, I’ll underexpose to retain all of the highlights. In dark light, I overexpose slightly to keep some detail in the shadows. The direction of the light is also a major factor in all of this. Sometimes you can control it, and sometimes you just have to roll with it.

An engaged couple dancing in front of a fountain.
LIGHT + AIRY
An engaged couple dancing in front of a fountain.
MY EDIT
An engaged couple dancing in front of a fountain.
DARK + MOODY

All in all, I love a golden, sun-kissed vibe with rich greens for outdoor & nature sessions and a warm, romantic tone for indoor & nighttime photos. The best of all is soft natural light, especially near sunset. (They call it “magic hour” for a reason!)

In addition to all of that, my style is full of juxtaposition and balanced composition. I look to surrounding scenery to frame and complement my subjects. It’s that symbiotic relationship that gives context and adds a sense of place and time.

It’s a beautiful thing when all of the elements coalesce and work in harmony together. And sometimes that happens in the least expected of ways. That’s my favorite — finding beauty in unusual places.

A bride and groom walking down a path at sunset.
LIGHT + AIRY
A bride and groom walking down a path at sunset.
MY EDIT
A bride and groom walking down a path at sunset.
DARK + MOODY
A group of bridesmaids and groomsmen in purple dresses.
LIGHT + AIRY
A group of bridesmaids and groomsmen in pink dresses.
MY EDIT
A group of bridesmaids and groomsmen in burgundy dresses.
DARK + MOODY
An engaged couple kissing on a bridge in front of a building.
LIGHT + AIRY
An engaged couple kissing on a bridge in front of a building.
MY EDIT
An engaged couple kissing on a bridge in front of a building.
DARK + MOODY

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3 Comments

  1. This is the editing style I’m going for but struggled to find presets and or tutorials on how to edit this way. If you could share some pointers I’d be forever grateful

    1. Hi Kaylee,

      The first thing that I would recommend is examining your shooting style. I always try to nail exposure in camera to preserve both the highlights and the shadows. So in a super bright environment, that usually means underexposing by a stop or two. In darker settings, that might mean overexposing a bit. But really it depends on your subject(s) and the primary focus of the scene.

      When it comes to editing, I apply a light tone curve to boost contrast. From there, I start going down the list of tone & presence settings. I generally bump shadows and then adjust the highlights no more than plus or minus 20 in either direction. I typically bump vibrance 10-20 points and decrease saturation by about 20%.

      Then I go to town on the HSL panel. I dial in every channel individually based on the colors & lighting of the individual session. This stage takes into account white balance, environment, skin tone, wardrobe color, and all of that good stuff. My goal is always to keep colors accurate but to balance them out a bit so that they’re flattering across the board.

      I also usually add in a smidge of split toning, with cooler shadows and warmer midtones and highlights. I do that in very tiny amounts. It’s not super noticeable but I think it gives everything a really nice finishing touch.

      All of that put together gives me really consistent results. 🙂

    2. P.S. If you’re looking for presets that will help you get started then I highly recommend Mastin Labs. Their Portra set is especially great and gives you a fantastic base point. I would definitely play around with all of the sliders and dial some of those defaults down a bit. I also think that’s a good idea in general (with or without a preset) to help you better understand what each setting really does and how you may adjust each one individually to best serve your photos.

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