Low Key Lighting Technique

Low-key lighting is a style of lighting for photographyfilm or television. It is a necessary element in creating a chiaroscuro effect. Traditional photographic lightingthree-point lighting uses a key light, a fill light, and a back light for illumination. Low-key lighting often uses only one key light, optionally controlled with a fill light or a simple reflector. It is a necessary element in creating a chiaroscuro effect. Traditional photographic lightingthree-point lighting uses a key light, a fill light, and a back light for illumination. Low-key lighting often uses only one key light, optionally controlled with a fill light or a simple reflector.

Low key light accentuates the contours of an object by throwing areas into shade while a fill light or reflector may illuminate the shadow areas to control contrast. The relative strength of key-to-fill, known as the lighting ratio, can be measured using a light meter. Low key lighting has a higher lighting ratio, e.g. 8:1, than high-key lighting, which can approach 1:1.  (Source : Wikipedia)

Being interested with this kind of photography technique, i learn how to make a photo with dramatic mood. Low key refers to a style of photography that utilizes predominantly dark tones to create a dramatic looking image. Some people call it moody light as well. For low key shots, the camera settings can actually vary quite widely. The trick is to minimize the light entering the camera while not making everything too dark.

Camera Nikon D90
Exposure 0.004 sec (1/250)
Aperture f/2.0
Focal Length 50 mm
Focal Length 50.4 mm
Exposure Bias 0 EV
Flash No Flash

Here we see a nice solid black background and one primary light source. I used available light from left side of image. From the Flickr properties we can see that the exposure is at 1/250 sec, the aperture is f/2.0 and the ISO is at 100. Normally an ISO that low would produce an image that’s too dark under anything but decently bright conditions but here dark is exactly what the photographer wanted.

The bonus of shooting at ISO 100 is that the image quality stays high and void of color noise, which has a tendency to really stand out against a black background. Let’s take a look at one more image and see if we spot any similarities.

Camera Nikon D90
Exposure 0.003 sec (1/320)
Aperture f/3.2
Focal Length 50 mm
Focal Length 50.4 mm
Exposure Bias 0 EV
Flash No Flash

As you can see, even though this image is brighter, it was actually shot at 1/320 sec, significantly faster than the previous image. Although the aperture is letting in less light at f/3.2, the ISO is the same and it looks like there’s more available light in the scene. The extra light enables the photographer to shoot at a faster shutter speed while still pulling in plenty of detail.

The primary takeaway from these two images is to try your best to keep your ISO around 100-200 to keep the image both dark and noise-free. You’ll have to then play with your exposure and aperture to achieve the desired effect for your particular lighting setup.


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