Photography tips: Low Key Photography

Today I am going to talk about Low Key Photography. I love low key effect, You can make beautiful artistic pictures ANYWHERE. What you will need is a DSLR camera, a model, and a flash (+wireless flash trigger) and that is it, you can pretty much blacken the background almost anywhere. But how to do it? Let's dive into it:

Q: What is a low key image?

A: Where the background is totally black and you do not see anything apart from the subject.

Low key refers to a style of photography that utilizes predominantly dark tones to create a dramatic looking image.

The key here is not just to create a dark photo but to use our lighting very selectively so that only those specific portions of the photo are illuminated. The shadows created by the speedlite are the ones that define the mood of the entire photograph.

The trick: manipulating your lighting and the positioning of your model so those shadows fall in just the right spots to create the look you want.

I will explain to you how I created this picture that can be seen here.

Position the model away from any background. You do not want to have any reflection.

Place the speedlite close to your subject. Mine was next to her right, slightly higher then the model. I used one single speedlite with a Flash Diffuser Light Softbox, which breaks down the hard light from the flash and creates a softer light on the model's face or body.

Exposure settings :

set your camera to Manual mode.

Shutter speed :

Set you shutter speed at least 200 or 350 even can be higher (depends on the sync speed of your speedlite)

ISO settings :

Set at 100 or 200. If your flash is stronger you can use lower ISO settings.

Speedlite settings :

You can use pretty much any speedlite unless it got a master and a slave mode on it. The higher is the power of the flash the more lighter is the subject. Adjust it to your liking.

These were my settings when I took this picture:

ISO: 100

Shutter Speed: 1/250

Aperture: f/16

Focal length: 50mm

The final result is that the model looks like she is in a very dark location. With low key photography you can create studio effect.

If you got use to how to work with one flash then you can add one more or even two more to lighten up different parts of the model.


Low key lighting is a dramatic way of enhancing the contrast in a photo.

When you can use a camera, coordinate all of these things above, and get them working in harmony, that’s when magic starts to happen.

By the way painters recognized the power of low key lighting long before the photographers came around.

Painter : Elisabetta Sirani Retrato, Title: Beatrice Cenci, Year: 1662

Feel free to leave a comment below with a link to your low key shots along with a quick explanation of your lighting setup and camera settings.

#anettelek #anettelekphotography #photography #tips #lowkey #dallas #portrait

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