Low Key Photography

Low key photography is dark in colors and having lots of black. This result is opposite of high key photography. Atmosphere created by these photographs have dramatic and mysterious effect. The look and result is bulky and heavy.



As we know, most of normal pictures contain average tonality, which falls from 0% to 100% on a scale of grey. Here, we consider lightest part of the image as 0% and darkest part as 100% black. An average image contains full tonal range within this scale.

However, in case of a low key photography, mid tone of this average tonality is shifted towards darker side of the scale and the result is dark and black in colors with high contrast. There is a small high light area, which does not occupy much of a space in photograph.



Background in this type of low key photography is either black or dark grey. Subject also is dark in color. If we consider it in form of black and white photography, it is a result of black subject shot on a black background.

Low key photography requires a lager room so that no unwanted light is bounced back on the subject from walls. If we are shooting in a small room, then we can use black curtains on walls. Choose black or dark colored back drop. Subject also should be dark in color. Main light should be oblique and directional. Use medium large or spot light as a light source. As the light is placed at an angle, it will form dense shadows. High light is created which should occupy very little area of the image, and even the mid tone should look like a shadow area.

Keep the subject away from the back ground so that we can control light from spilling on the back ground. Should we need to record details in shadow area, use white large reflector but be sure that the reflector is not opening up the shadow details too much. If we want to remove unwanted details, then we should use black reflectors.

For most of low key photography, we can use only one light. If we are following the exposure readings of camera light meter, then under expose the setting by 1 f stop. However, the high light in the photograph must be exposed as a correct high light, and it should not be under exposed. Otherwise, the end result will look like an under exposed frame.

(Read more about exposure.)

The overall result is masculine and strong. However, even a female model can be shot for a low key photography. This technique is very effective in nude photography, when we want to hide some parts of the body of the model.

Low key photography works well in product photography, where we want to show the richness of a product. A black pen or a black watch on a black background looks expensive and exclusive. Same thing applies for a car. These types of photographs have good appeal as a poster. It also works well for a portrait of a man. However, low key photography rarely work in other genre of photography. We have to be very careful for food and child photography in low key.



There has to be some small white or spectacular high light area in the image, which is the indication of proper exposure, so that the result does not look like under exposed image. Low key photography is opposite to high key photography.

Go to high key photography from low key photography

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