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Sadie in the Woods: Full Tutorial

In this tutorial we’re going to working though my process to create one of my favourite pictures so far, of my friend Annika’s dog Sadie, in the woods.

The first part of the tutorial was recorded from my van, while livestreaming on Facebook…. then my computer had an absolute meltdown, so I finished recording the tutorial later, without being live.

Since this is a photo for Annika, I won’t be offering the RAW file for download this time. You can of course edit along on one of your own photos, just keep in mind there’s a few elements in this photo that make the tutorial work, which won’t work with every photo:

  • Dog looking up and to the side
  • The light in the background
  • Soft ambient light on the dog from no particular direction

Loki in the Deep Dark Woods

One important thing to keep in mind when it comes to creating the “Deep dark forest” look is that it really does begin in-Camera. Which is to say that if you haven’t set up this mood in the first place, just making the photo darker and darker is not going to create the mood you want.

There are so many elements that go into creating this photo that the editing is almost the least important part of it. You need to have already considered:

  • the location
  • the light (or lack thereof)
  • the expression
  • the pose
  • the colours already present in the scene

Without these things contributing to the feeling of the “deep dark forest”, your editing is likely to not make sense.

The Next Level course goes into detail about these elements. Or, if you’re in the Learning Community, make sure you check out the Deep Dark Forest lesson that covers these elements specifically to achieve this look. 

Editing Tutorial

Here is an editing tutorial, working on the photo below. Remember, you mightn’t need to follow my exact steps – you may want 2 curves layers instead of 1. You might need to do more or less work on the greens, etc. It all depends on the photo you’re working with. Similarly, you can use many of these techniques to create other “deep dark” effects. It’s all about curves layers, darkening, and remembering where the light would naturally be hitting – even if there isn’t very much of it. 

In the tutorial below, I actually couldn’t “shape” the light as much as I sometimes might, because there was no real shaded side of Loki. Just remember that if the light wouldn’t be hitting a part of your dog, because it’s amongst the ferns, or emerging from some trees, or it’s just his face surrounded by ferns, it doesn’t make sense for those areas that should be in shadow to be bright. The more you learn about how light works, how it falls off from bright to shadow and so on, the more realistic your edits will be.


You can have a go at editing this photo too! The .TIF file acts (more or less) like a raw file, but if for some reason you can’t edit .TIF files, there is also the high-res .jpeg file.

Edit Together: Forest Sheltie

In this tutorial, we combine 3 RAW file images to create one panorama, giving Petrie enough room below his feet and space above his head for him to look into. We also use a fern overlay for some foreground blur/to add a bit more depth. You can find the files in the download folder.

This is one of those images that I came back to later in Lightroom and made some reasonable changes to, from the point where we finish the tutorial.


  • darkening the bright green branches that had been bothering me the whole time (lower highlights and exposure)
  • lower exposure a LOT around the outside of him, not including his looking direction (so a 3/4 vignette, I guess). I lowered exposure by -1.5 😱 and raised blacks +6. 
  • added +20 contrast to his face
  • removed some green colour cast from the top of his head and the camera-right side of his snout
  • lowered highlights on his white chest a little bit more
  • in the HSL panel, Hue: green +17, Sat: greens -30, luminosity: greens -25

Yess I could have achieved the same effects in PS but I couldn’t be bothered opening it there again when I knew LR could do the job I wanted anyway. 

Below: Before / After the Tutorial / After my LR edits

Edit Together: Forest Boxer

_E2A2089 _E2A2089-Edit

During this Edit-Together session, we are going to work on the lovely boxer in the woods taken by Clara Allansson (@echothewhippet). You can download the RAW file (or a .tif version) by clicking the buttons below.

Please note, the photographer has asked that the edited image not be shared on social media. If this is going to be a problem for you, edit a similar image of your own which you can then upload to your socials. 

If you’re desperate to upload to socials (???) but don’t have a similar image to work on, you can download this one of Loki which has a similar mood but is much brighter.

Please note that the Zoom DESTROYED the image quality last night, severely desaturating and removing contrast from everything. I’m literally on a chat with Zoom now to see if we can fix this.