Blog 8: Low key portrait photography
Hello and welcome to my newest blogpost. Today I would like to discuss “Low Key portrait photogaphy”. I reckon everybody knows what portrait photography is, but I can imagine that not everyone knows what low key means. Low key is basically shooting with insufficient lighting, bei t in the entire photograph or a part of it. I will start off with two examples of low key portrait photography and then explain how I made these photographs and how you can too!
This is example one. In this photo (yes this is me, so it’s a selfie), insufficient lighting was used to create a low key effect on the entire body. The face and the left side of my body are clearly visible while at the same time, my legs and the right side of my body has dissapeared into the blackness. This gives the photograph a very distinct look. Some might argue that it makes people look more chique or “classy”. For me, it is a great way to cover up those extra kilo’s! Ofcourse the kilo’s reappear when you switch the lights back on.. Right, moving on.
Example two. In this example, insufficient lighting was used to create a low key effect on the face. As can be seen in this photograph, the left part of the face is highlighted while the right side is lost to the shadows. The amount of face lost can be adjusted by using a reflective screen, but I will speak about that in the next part of this blog. As in any form of portrait photography, focus on the eyes is very important. People truly speak through their eyes. By the way, this slightly older, balder and leaner version of me is my brother J.
These two photographs were made in the same way. The only difference was the placing of my studioflash and the reflective screen. The easiest way for you do practice low key photography is in a dark room with the use of a single external flash and a reflective screen. If the room is dark enough, the background will not matter. However, you might want to invest in a matte black background. I usually use the following setup:
In this setup, the flash will come from your right, lighting up the face and/or body of that person. The reflective screen will cause part of the face on the dark side to show some detail as in the following example.
The reflective screen has caused this woman her eye to light up. Odd, calling my girlfriend “this woman”. Ofcourse, the intensity of the light is controlled by adjusting the power of the flash. Professional flash equipment usually has the ability to adjust the power of the flash in several steps. You will have to experiment with different light intensities to determine what works best for you. If you want to remove the detail from you dark side of your model, simply remove the reflective screen (as with my brother).
The easiest way to learn low key is just by doing. You can use any off camera flash but I strongly suggest buying one or two professional flash units as they offer more control and are more powerful. I use the Lastolite Lumen8 F400, a 400 Watt flash unit, which is sufficient for small studio’s and not more then 2 or 3 people. Needless to say, more power means more light, suitable for example for large groups of people.
Well there you have it. My 8th blogpost! I hope you enjoyed the read and if you have any further questions, don’t hasitate to ask!
Here are some more examples: