Low Key Photography Tips

Recently we explored the high key photography and tips and techniques used to this high key photos (High Key Photography: Tips and Examples). In today’s article, we will continue to talk about the low key photography.

So, what is low key photography? Both high key and low key photos share the concept of eliminating the composition details to focus on specific element (Understand the Basics of High Key Photography).

However, the low key photography uses the shadows and low light condition instead of the high exposed light photos.

The low key lighting using one light source on the object and in some cases you many need to use a reflector to fill the shadows if necessary (10 Useful Low light Photography Techniques).

Many of the low light photos are taken indoor in order to have full control over the low light conditions.

The Low Key Photography Gear

Unlike the high key photography, the low key photography is cheaper and can be achieved with less equipments. In order to prepare your studio or room for the low key lighting, you need to prepare the following:

  • Black backdrop background to avoid the light distraction. Also, it will help to get a dramatic appearance to the shot unlike the other color backgrounds (Maximize the Background in your Composition).
  • One soft box. the light inside the soft box can be the external camera Flash with a remote trigger
  • Reflector
Outline by L-Netz
Outline by L-Netz

How to Shoot with Low Key Lighting?

The best and easiest setup for the scene is to place the object a bit away from the backdrop. Then, you will place the light source (soft box or flash light) on on side of the object as you plan for the direction of the light. In some cases, you may need a reflector to fill the shadows on the object.

low key photography
One of the common low key lighting settings

The target behind the low key photography is to use the light on the parts of the object need to be highlighted and dark shadows to surround the light area in the shot to create dramatic atmosphere.

If you like to add few light on the background, you can use the reflector to drop some of the light on the black backdrop to reduce the contrast between the highlighted object and the rest of the shot.

And read all over by Jonathan Cohen
And read all over by Jonathan Cohen

Camera Settings for Low Key Photos

The setting behind the low key lighting is quite simple and experimental. The concept is to lower the amount of the light getting into your camera. The high shutter speed can help you get sharp low key photos with low amount of light.
While the wide aperture allows more light to get into the camera, you still need to use it to blur the far parts of the object and focus on the front parts. You can set the aperture to f/4-f/6 (Understanding Camera Exposure).

One Against Many by Ahd Photography
One Against Many by Ahd Photography

In order to decrease the camera sensitivity to light, you will need to use low ISO value such as 100. This will help the camera to discard the unwanted light (Understanding Camera ISO).

As mentioned earlier, the camera setting is practical part, you can can still try different settings in order to come up with different effects.

Outdoor Low Key Lighting

The outdoor low key lighting is more challenging because you will have less control over the light around. So, the best practice is to select the scene that can help you reduce the light in your source such as a garage, back street…etc.

Cokey Low-key by Bada Bing
Cokey Low-key by Bada Bing

The low key photography adds a lot of artistic and dramatic feel on your shot. Actually, the technique was used long time ago with the renaissance painters and artists. Practicing the different camera setting and light direction can allow your have fun with the sharp light and shadows.

If you enjoy reading this article, let us learn about your low light experience and do not forget to check the following related articles:


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This is Photographytuts editorial team. Photographytuts.com provides Photoshop tutorials for photographers, photography basics, Photoshop actions, resources, and photography marketing tips.

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