Personal Project | Low-Key Photography

Personal Project

Low Key Photography

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What is Low Key Photography?

Low key photography is a style of photography that uses mostly dark tones. This style of photography brings instant drama to an image. Most of the time photographers don’t like shadows in an image but in low key photography shadows become your best-friend.

Low Key Photography and I

My first attempt at low key photography was last year when my sister went to get her picture taken by a photographer who uses this style. He had the room completely dark and had several light sources pointed at her. After he took the picture he went into Photoshop and painted portions of the image that were not completely dark. I am a very good observer and payed attention to everything that he did. Why? Because I was going to go home and do the same thing.

Here is her image from the photographer (I don’t remember who he is). He gave her a low resolution image so the quality will be terrible.

low key photography

I went home and placed a black sheet over my window in order for the room to be completely dark. I also used a black sheet as my back drop. I took my daughter and placed her on her boppy pillow. Next, I took my lamp and placed in different places to create the image that I was looking for. It was so hard because I had no idea what settings I needed to use to have a proper low key images but I faked the funk until I got what I thought looked good. I went into Photoshop like he did and darkened the areas that needed to be darken and this is what I got for my first attempt.

I tried several times to recreate these with different objects but I was having a hard time and it’s because I didn’t understand what to do with my settings.

Fast forward to a little over a year…

In my efforts to master my craft I have read and watched tons of tutorials on photography and in my studies I came across low-key photography. I read all about it and realized that many other photographers used a different technique in creating their low key images and I wanted to know more! But I couldn’t even try to create those images because I didn’t have a speed-lite 🙁

I wanted to purchase a speed-lite but they were out of my price range and I really had no use for them since I end not to like the look of flash in my images. I mentioned that price to my sister and she spoke to a photographer friend of hers who suggested an off-market brand of flashes that are reasonably priced. I looked it up, read the reviews, watched a few tutorials and then purchased my first speed-lite. I was so excited to try low key photography again especially since I had a product shoot to do for YUMS.

What you don’t need for this technique:

  • A dark room

What you need:

  • An off-camera light source
  • A trigger
  • Lots of patience (for me at least)

The camera settings required for this technique:

  • ISO 100
  • Aperture that will produce a dark screen when you capture an image without flash (f5.6 – f11)
  • Shutter speed will be set at the highest speed that will still allow you camera and speed-lite to communicate

I tried this in my home and was having no luck because the light from my speed-lite was bouncing off my walls. I took it outdoors and had a real hard time making my screen completely black in harsh sunlight so we moved to the shade and I was able to get most of my scene completely black. These are the images that I got from this attempt.

Low key Photography

My speed-lite was at 1/2 power and full power is 1/1. As you can see the light on her face is really harsh. I like the image but I don’t like it at the same time. I still had to go into Photoshop and darken areas that still showed light.

I posted the image to a Facebook photography group and asked for some advice and this is what I was able to do with there advice.

Low key Photography

This image was taken in my living room in the middle of the day. I did not have to darken any areas once I opened the image into Photoshop. The frustration was over and I can go on with my life, lol. My speed-lite was at 1/128 power which is the lowest power on my speed-lite.

Afterwards I took my newly found skill and took it to photographing the head-wear I received from YUMS.

All of this would have been so much easier if my flash bracket fit on my flash stand. I had to hold the flash and it was hard for me to remember what angle I was holding the flash to have consistency throughout the images but oh well.

I like this technique and will create more low key portraits.


Happy Viewing!!

-Alekandra A.

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