Monthly #BVS capture challenge - October theme is MOOD

Monthly #BVS capture challenge - October theme is MOOD

Scroll to the bottom of this article to see the behind-the-scenes set up for this feature image

New #bvs capture challenge for OCTOBER! Enter for your chance to WIN a £100 or £25 voucher

About the #bvs challenge

Our monthly challenges are open to everyone in the creative community, hosted via Instagram, co-hosted by myself (Sophie!) and some of our brand ambassadors – Anna, Suze, Matt or Patrick – plus special guest judges each month.

For each challenge we will share professional styling and photography tips and ideas that follow a monthly theme. The tips and themes explored should be useful in all still life photography - including food, product and lifestyle content.

We hope to inspire our community and be inspired ourselves – I always find it fascinating how people can interpret things differently and use the same theory in lots of different creative ways! 


Each month we shortlist four finalists and then the community votes for their winner via Instagram.  The winner will get a £100 BVS gift voucher and the runner up will receive a £25 BVS gift voucher.

Plus all winners from January - November will get the chance to be crowned the 2022 overall winner in December!


So let's introduce our October #bvs challenge and guest judge

The October 2022 challenge theme is MOOD and we're thrilled to have Cath @cathlowephoto (joining us for a second time!) as our guest judge helping Anna, Suze and I select the finalists. 


Cath is a food and portrait photographer I have admired for a while now - her style leans into fine art and is always impactful; no matter what the subject Cath creates magic and drama in every shot.  

Cath has won many awards for her food photography, three through the highly prestigious international Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year.  She works for food and drink brands, restaurants, hotels and vineyards, while also shooting food & drink in her own fully equipped home studio.

'food and drink photography endlessly fascinates me… there is no end to the play of light, shadows and textures in this delicious medium'

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Beautiful fine art still life styling by Cath Lowe using the POTTERS SHELF backdrop as the tabletop.


About our October theme - MOOD

This month we are exploring bringing in deep shadows and leaning into the moodier side of photography.

When stylists and directors talk about 'mood' we're referring to darkness and allowing there to be low-key areas in an image, whether thats the immediate shadows created naturally by pieces in the image or areas of darkness created by light-shaping in other ways, there is a choice to leave them dark or even emphasise the shadows instead of reflecting light back in and lifting the brightness.

When choosing props and backdrops it is easier to use darker options as they will of course add to the dark mood and deepen the shadows rather than a white or light backdrop which would act as a reflector, lightening everything on it, including the shadows. 

Thats not to say you can't create moody images on lighter sets (see a set up I switched between light and dark moody sets further down!) - just that it will take more consideration and probably be high contrast if you want the whites correctly exposed next to deep shadows.  (If you like this look you might like the CHIAROSCURO theme we explored in January)

In moody images you don't necessarily have to have the full spectrum of greys from white to black as you would expect in chiaroscuro captures - you might want to keep it all quite low key with just a few subtle highlights on your focal point.

How you use mood is entirely up to you! The shadows could be hard and clearly edged or soft patches of darkness that feather away gently.  Explore masking light off your set with black card both to the sides and above if you can.

As with all creative techniques there are no rules - only a few starting points or guidelines - the only marker of a 'good' capture is if it fits the brief, and that is yours to decide!

Read on for more styling, photography and editing tips for moody photography.



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Moody drinks photography for an Autumnal spiced cocktail recipe.  Shot on the DURANGO red rust effect backdrop. 


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A summery capture by Suze @gourmetglow with added drama and impact thanks to those lovely long and deep shadows.  Shot on the PESCA blush marble backdrop.


Photography tips when working with mood 

  • deepen your shadows by using black card on the dark side of your set to 'fill' in the shadows and make them darker
  • try shaping the light across your set by masking off different areas with black card
  • for longer shadows keep your light low (think about how low Autumn sunshine creates long shadows!)
  • play around with your lights to take it as low as you dare - push yourself to go a little bit darker than usual and see where it goes (lightening is an easy edit if you need to in certain areas by creating masks)


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To get the glow on these candles and create shadow across the left hand side I masked off all of the light apart from a slim channel coming across the set where the pumpkin is.  I kept the cream pumpkin slightly under-exposed so the image still feels cosy (or spooky!) . Shot on a plum version of our Paprika hand-painted backdrop.


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Lovely soft shadows in this moody image by Anna @anna_janecka where she has also used monochromatic props to keep the colours tonal and cosy.  Shot on the ENCANTO terracotta tile effect backdrop.


Styling tips for using mood

  • for ease, choose darker props and backdrops that will add to the depth of the shadows
  • think about dark edges and corners that might benefit from a bit of texture to create light and shade in a similar tone - for example a linen in a similar colour/strength to the backdrop will add interest without leading the eye too much
  • watch how lips and rims on your props can add light, shade, shape and leading lines to your composition (like the deep-rimmed plate in my egg image at the bottom of this article - the deep shadow leads the eye to the contrasting focal point - the egg in the cup)
  • explore different amounts of contrast (and drama) in your styling and prop choices - do you want subtle mood or more emphasised light and shade?



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In this clever image Cath 

@cathlowephoto has really emphasised the form of the pears and depth in the image through deep, hard shadows.  Shot with the ARIEL deep sea green backdrop.


Suze @gourmetglow has created beautifully-deep, soft shadows in this shot making the radicchio and honey pot glow on the COPPER backdrop


Editing ideas for images with mood

  • play with both the shadows and blacks to see which adds more drama - watch out for key areas going muddy or unclear
  • a quick way to add mood and drama is to reduce the exposure on the dark side of your image with a gradient mask then remove any areas in the mask you don't want to go darker
  • be careful when playing with the contrast, structure, clarity or dehaze tools - watch the saturation going crazy too!
  • think about the whites and highlights too - do you want high contrast or subtle difference?



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A lovely, moody image by Anna @anna_janecka with the focal point perfectly exposed while still feeling warm and cosy.  Shot with the ZEST multi-coloured rust backdrop.

I hope that’s given you some ideas and inspiration to play with mood in your photography and I hope you will enter our October challenge!



How to enter 

  1. Follow all hosts and judges on Instagram - @blackvelvetstyling @anna_janecka @gourmetglow @cathlowephoto
  2. Have fun bringing mood in to your styling and photography
  3. Post between 11th - 25th October 2022 using the hashtag #BVSmood and tagging @blackvelvetstyling

Each entry will be judged on how you’ve used the technique and how you capture the essence of your subject with it.

We look forward to seeing your posts and announcing the four finalists on Instagram soon after the competition closes at midnight on the 25th October 2022.

Good luck!


Here's two moody set-ups of the same food and props on a dark and light backdrop - I think the trick to going moody on lighter backdrops may be keeping the tones warm (so the shadows don't go blue)

On the GALLEY dark wood backdrop


On the SHIRLEY white and grey marble effect backdrop


Competition Rules

Entries don’t have to include our backdrops, our monthly capture challenges are about exploring different techniques.

Entries must stay on your feed for the duration of the competition and judging period if you are a finalist.

Four finalists will be selected shortly after close and announced via our Instagram stories.

The winner and runner up will be voted for by the public via our Instagram stories, this will be live for 24hrs.

The winner and runner up will be announced via our Instagram stories soon after close.

We only need your email address to deliver the prize.  We never ask for personal or bank details via email or private messages.

No purchase necessary to enter.

No minimum order necessary on the voucher prizes.  They will be valid for 12 months.

Open worldwide.

All decisions are final.

Not in conjunction or affiliated with Instagram in anyway.


Good luck, we can't wait to see your moody captures!



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A low-key image with deep, moody shadows shot on the THOR granite effect backdrop. I love how the shadows envelope the eggs! 


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Behind the scenes on the egg image - deepening the shadows on the left with the big black board and blocking light off the set where the light would hit it the strongest - all to keep it darker, to deepen the shadows and create more impact.

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