Low Key Photography Tips for Beginners

Low Key Photography Tips for Beginners

Low key photography implies using only a key light that can be modified with a simple reflector or a fill light. As a result, the focus falls on the subject and shadows remain in the dark part of the image. With low key lighting, you can create suspense and estrangement atmosphere. This technique is often used in horror and film noir genres.

23 Low Key Photography Tips

Having found out the answer to the question "What is low key photography?" and understanding all the nuances of this genre, you can make your photo portfolio eye-catching and attractive to the viewers. Keep reading these guidelines to achieve incredible results!

1. Don't Be Limited to Black and White Photography

low key photography color

Often, low- and high-tone photographs are supposed to be black and white only. But this method is not limited to black&white photography. Sometimes the color scheme really brings your photos to life. So it's worth experimenting with various colors.

2. Experiment with Light Direction

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Elimination and illumination are essential elements of successful lowkey photography. Since the visible part of the picture is very small, you must carefully plan the direction of the light. So, it is important to take into account the areas of light and dark.

By experimenting with light, you can enhance your image with unique shapes. When trying low key photography poses during your photo shoot, take some photos when the subject is not looking at the camera. Shooting from the side is great for abstract scenes.

3. Try to Achieve a Dark Background

low key photography dark background

For a successful low key photo, you need to create a dark background. The most popular and most universal is the black background.

Control the darkness of the background by placing the subject as close as possible. The background will be darker if it receives less light. Also, you need to make sure that the isolated light source is flattering towards the main object.

4. Use a Static Object First

low key photography static object

If you are taking your first steps in low key photography and have never worked in this genre before, then you should start by taking pictures of products or other items, such as an apple or a doll. This type of photography is not limited to portraits and you can go much further.

You can use this approach if you need to emphasize the object, demonstrate its advantages, and present it in a winning light. Shooting in low key light conditions is great for commercial purposes as well as portraits.

5. Prepare the Required Gear

low key photography gear

Preparing for low key shooting, you should gather some basic equipment. The list includes:

Full-frame camera - Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Fast camera lens - Canon 85mm f/1.8

Tripod - 60-Inch Lightweight Tripod

Camera flash - Neewer TT560 Flash Speedlite

Light source camera - AmScope LED-144W-ZK Ring Light Illuminator

Dark background - Emart 6 x 9 ft Photography Backdrop Background

Umbrella - Emart Photography Umbrella Lighting Kit

6. Use External Flash

low key photography flash

An external flash Neewer TT560 is one of the most suitable for this type of shooting. To avoid mistakes and understand how to use this piece of gear in the best way, you should check out some flash photography tips.

Light bounced from a wall or ceiling looks the most flattering. You can also use a diffuser to make the light softer. This is especially important for studio low key portrait photography.

When using a flash, its power should be kept as low as possible. If you shoot without a flash, then it is worth trying to increase the shutter speed and decrease the aperture.

7. Prepare Camera Settings

low key photography camera settings

If we talk about low key photography settings, the experienced shooters recommend using a wide aperture and low ISO. Set the ISO to 100 to eliminate noise and make your images look dark. Then set the shutter speed, aperture and depth of field and start shooting. If it is necessary, adjust these parameters based on the lighting you chose.

The aperture can be f/1.4 or f/1.8 (it is recommended to set a lower number). If you are using a wide aperture then the shutter speed can be quite fast, e.g. 1/160 seconds. However, you should be careful and vary the shutter speed with your light source in mind.

8. Brighten Your Subject

low key photography in lightroom

A successful low key photo implies that your subject is the only bright element against a dark background. You may need to brighten the subject a little more, especially if you worked without a flash! For this, adjust the Exposure, Highlights, and Whites in Lightroom or Photoshop.

9. Adjust White Balance

low key photography white balance

Photographers specializing in this genre often keep the WB off. If you shoot with a flash, it may turn out too cool and if you use indoor lighting, it may be too warm. That’s why you should ensure that you checked and adjusted white balance during image processing in Ps.

10. Reduce Noise

low key photography noise reduction

Noise is a common problem those engaged in low key photography have to deal with. Even though it is recommended to keep the ISO low, sometimes you can’t but raise it. Remember that you should reduce noise carefully since it distorts an image. Use it only if it’s necessary.

11. Play with the Colors

low key photography color contrast

If your photo has both cool and warm tones, you can adjust the colors using the HSL panel in Lightroom or Photoshop or address product retouching service and specify your needs. Don’t be scared to change the colors and make an unusual and playful contrast between cool and warm areas of your low key photo.

12. Add a Vignette

low key photography vignette

Low key images, especially portraits, are perfect for applying the vignette effect. The Radial Filter in Photoshop helps you create it. It works even better than the Vignette Tool as with this filter, you can easily manage the areas where you want the effect to appear.

13. Fix Backdrop Pleats or Wrinkles

low key photography shadows and blacks sliders

If you are taking low key photos in a studio, you need to create a flawless black background without any wrinkles. To get an even background, adjust the Shadows and Blacks sliders until all the wrinkles disappear from your background. Remember that these are serious adjustments and can also affect the subject. After this, you may have to use the Adjustment Brush to get some details back.

14. Use the Rembrandt Lighting Technique

low key photography rembrandt lighting

While practicing low key photography, you should try to use Rembrandt lighting in photography technique, which was named after the Dutch artist. With such lighting, a triangle of light falls on the ‘dark’ side of your subject’s cheek. The result usually looks very captivating.

15. Don`t Avoid Sharp Shadows for Dramatic Portraits

low key photography harsh shadows

Low key photography is a perfect technique to cross the traditional boundaries and play a bit with harsh shadows, especially in a portrait. You can create your own limits and contrast using necessary camera settings for portraits. You can do it by manipulating and placing your subject and light source in the way that the shadows fall in the correct place.

16. Adding Emphasis on Texture

low key photography texture

Low key photography is very effective at emphasizing texture, depth, and contrast. Try taking photos of nature, animals, and portraits. You can emphasize such textures as hair or movement on the skin. You can use it to highlight main details such as the lines and creases of aged skin or details on textured fabrics or objects.

17. Highlighting Body Form

low key photography nude

The low key shooting technique is widely-used in boudoir and nude photography, because it artistically defines the natural shape of the body. Your subjects will feel more relaxed if they know that the focus is on angles and curves, especially if they want to stay anonymous and don’t feel like showing their faces.

18. Use Low Key for Pet Photography

low key photography pet

Low key photography is the best technique to show the essence of an animal, its temper and mood at the moment of shooting. This genre perfectly suits capturing wildlife and can turn even a bad photo into a more attractive and interesting shot.

Moreover, you can create a low key photo at the post-editing stage by blurring the background in a photo. Choose one of the pet photography ideas to produce spectacular images.

19. Experiment with Candles or Torches

low key photography candles lighting

Another way out of how to create low key photographs is to use the shadow created by candles or torches. This relatively cheap and simple method produces lighting that will create a mysterious or romantic atmosphere. To create a really good shot, you’d better use a tripod to stabilize the image and to spread the candles evenly over the room.

20. Take Landscape Photos

low key photography landscapes

Shooting landscapes using low key photography technique is not as popular practice as low key portraiture. But if you want to create original landscape photos, do not exclude this genre from your favorite ones.

Capture the clouds to create a magnificent photo. They will light up the sky and create dynamic light effects on the surface. Never be afraid to try something new and learn these landscape photography tips for unusual lowkey photography results.

21. Use Macro Photography

low key photography macro photography

Macro photography is one more genre that will effectively work with low key photography techniques. Take a look at macro photography ideas to get some inspiration. You cannot brighten the subjects for a low key macro photo by only one flash because they are usually relatively small.

Make sure to get rid of natural light and only then brighten up the subject of the photo. To get a mesmerizing low key photo, handle your camera in a manual mode, then choose the lowest ISO and small aperture. Use the average shutter speed, at which a camera and flash can synchronize.

Low Key Photography Freebies

Do not forget about free image editing tools that will allow you to achieve even more attractive lowkey photography outcome. They will help you create a special tone and extraordinary effect.

Elegant Vintage

photoshop vintage freebie for low key photography photoshop vintage freebie for low key photography

Vintage action is designed to create exquisite photos with fading effects. Whatever the subjects of your photo are, Vintage Ps action will add some special glow to the images. Use it for low key photography, wedding, or portrait images.

Aged Black and White

photoshop black and white freebie for low key photography photoshop black and white freebie for low key photography

Portrait photos are an important part of your professional portfolio. Create a particular mood, focus on the slightest details, and personalize your low key photo using the action.

Dramatic Portrait

photoshop portrait freebie for low key photography photoshop portrait freebie for low key photography

Have you ever thought about “What is low key photography”? It is all about playing with light to create real masterpieces. Dramatic Portrait action will serve this purpose effectively (especially when it comes to portrait images).

Using this tool you can improve colors, smooth the model’s skin, make the eyes brighter and the hair thicker – do everything that will make a subject more attractive. This Photoshop action is great for editing all kinds of portraits.

Sepia Fantasy

lightroom sepia freebie for low key photography lightroom sepia freebie for low key photography

This preset improves your low key photo by adding a special mood to it. Sepia preset makes your shot warmer and decreases exposure. Try different settings to pick on the most appropriate one.

Perfect Newborn

lightroom sepia freebie for low key photography lightroom sepia freebie for low key photography

This is possibly the best Lightroom preset for creating cute pictures of newborn children. Do not hesitate to apply it to low key photograph as well. It will help create an extraordinary atmosphere, highlight kids’ emotionality and natural charm.

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