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Low key photography can produce some impactful photos, but taking a great image requires special techniques and composition skills. This type of photography is a picture-taking style that heavily features dark tones and colors. It may be entirely black and white or contain skin and hair tonesbut rarely more color than that. Most of this photography features a single subject set against a dark background, with lighting coming from a single direction. High key photography is the fundamental opposite of low key photography in that it focuses on extremely bright images with little to no shadows.


Low Key photography is one of the most challenging forms of photography, for any range of shooters. We often see people getting mixed up between Low Key and High Key. Therefore, to set things straight, and cast away any shadows of doubt, we have decided to focus our attention on initially describing the low key meaning and how it differs from high photography too.

Low key is the art lowering the exposure to create more shadows while creatively concealing and revealing details.

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The one thing we particularly like about low key photography is the ability it holds to add drama and hard-hitting emotion within a shot. Camera Tripod or steady surface One light source natural or artificial Black background or dark setting. Individual camera settings will depend on you as a photographer, this is under your control. We recommend for low key that you start with a low F-stop i.

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For low key shots, depending on what source of light you are working with, it is best to use faster shutter speeds — especially if using triggers. To get the best out of your Low Key shot, you need to bear in mind illumination and elimination. Check out these examples below: In the first image, you can see the image before post-production with some background elements still shining through.

In order to obtain high contrast in your low key images, side lighting your subject will work much more effectively than illuminating front on. Certainly, within portraiture photography, you may discover your subject has a strong personal opinion or preference regarding which side or angle they would prefer you to shoot from. If they have a distinctive marking, scar, birthmark, or blemish that they wish to disguise, low key photography works extremely effectively.

When lighting from the side, you will have to experiment with angles and reposition your light, depending on how it falls. If one side of your subject is completely dark, this is called split lighting. However, most low key photographers opt for the Rembrandt lightingnamed after the Dutch painter, where a triangle of light falls on the broad side of the subject.

This style of lighting will also create a catch light in the eye of the darker side of the face, making the image look more effective.

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Altering the position of your subject, as well as the light, can add some interesting shapes to your photography. As a photographer, you are often told to avoid harsh shadows, particularly in portraiture.

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Low Key photography is a perfect chance to break these rules and create your own boundaries or contradictions. This can be done by manipulating and positioning your subject and light, so that your shadows fall in the right place; this will ensure you obtain that dramatic, dark and hard-hitting imagery that you are seeking.

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Low Key photography is extremely effective at adding emphasis on texture, depth and contrast; consider nature shots, animal photography, and portraiture shots. It can be used to emphasise textures such as hair or movement in the skin.

Low key photography: how to embrace more artistic shadows

Use it to draw attention to specific key details — like the lines and creases within aged skin or detail within rough-textured fabrics or objects. Consider manipulating low key photography when shooting abstract body shapes; it really helps to define and highlight shape and form. It is a wonderful way to artistically celebrate the curves and lines of the body in boudoir photography.

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Highlighting body form can also be a useful skill if you are interested in shooting commercial fitness and health shots. Low key photography teaches us manipulation of light to draw attention to a specific part of the subject. By keeping large amounts of shadows, you can add depth to the figure, making muscles look larger and more defined. Using low key lighting when photographing objects can create some beautifully abstract shots. By illuminating certain areas, you could either distort the subject or, draw attention to a specific element. For example, this shot has been deed to make the golf ball look larger than we would expect, and the light highlighting the grooves makes it seem more abstract and unusual.

The light in this image of the violin perfectly complements its key features whilst adding an element of class. So, as you can low key photography can be used within many other other than portraiture. The key with animal low key photography is to make sure that your subject is softly lit in front of a dark, shadowed background. Low Key animal photography can be achieved in post-editing, so long as your depth of field is shallow enough to throw the background out of focus.

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You can then edit the contrast and shadows to create a dramatic shot. And of course, you can practice these techniques at home with your pets first, before coming face to face with a tiger. Low key photography is the perfect beginning to understanding light and is certainly a skill you can implement through all aspects of your photographs.

We hope this piece on Low Key photography at iPhotography has left you with plenty of room for thought. Here are some beginner tips and tricks to get your well on your way to your first paint powder photo shoot! Do you use 2 photo editors? Many photographers benefit from editing in multiple software. See how Lightroom and Luminar can make your photographs better. Guarantee Privacy Disclaimer Affiliate Program. Low Key Photography Camera Settings Before you start out on your shoot, you will need: Camera Tripod or steady surface One light source natural or artificial Black background or dark setting.

Low Key Photography Low Key Settings and Lighting Individual camera settings will depend on you as a photographer, this is under your control. Low Key Photography. What Others Are Reading.

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Low Key photography is one of the most challenging forms of photography, for any range of shooters.