Creativity Exercise: Low Key Images

This week we’re going to go over to the dark side and make low key images. Low key images use predominately dark tones, dark or black backgrounds and have very high contrast through reduced lighting, thus creating a dramatic looking image. They are easily shot within a studio with studio lights, but it can all be done with window light and without any fancy equipment! 

To create a low key image, all you need is your camera and one light source, in our case it will be a window. The easiest way to shoot this is with two separate adjoining rooms, one that is bright and one that is dark. Open all the blinds and curtains in your light room and close them all in your dark room, trying not to let in any natural light. Place your subject in the dark room somewhere in front of the light coming through from your bright room. If you have a door separating the rooms it makes it easier to control how much light you let into your dark room, but it’s not necessary. 

You can use the same set up as above using only one room with a window. You still want the room to be relatively dark, so will need the light to be just right. Use the blinds and curtains to your advantage to help control the light. Play around with the amount of light you let in and the placement of your subject until the shadows fall as you want them. 

low-key-photography-set-up-diagram.jpg

(ignore my chicken scratch drawing!)

Unless you want light in the background for texture or interest, try to keep from any light hitting the background. Although you can make adjustments in post production, it’s much easier and quicker if you get it right in camera.  

Remember that the intent isn’t to produce a dark or underexposed image, but rather to use the light very purposely and selectively to light only specific portions of the image. You want the shadows to become the primary element of the composition. 

To avoid letting in too much light, set your ISO as low as you can and your shutter speed as fast as you can. Start shooting wide open and adjust your aperture as necessary to get the look you want. 

Converting your images to black and white will intensify your shadows and highlight the effect, but colour works just as well, especially with really rich, bold tones. 

You may find it easier to start with still life to play with the light and your settings to get it just right before adding in little people. 

We'd love to see what you capture so be sure to share your images with us on IG by tagging #unscriptedmentoring. 

Have fun, and happy shooting!

-Jenny