Low-key photography is a terrific challenge for both the novice and the experienced. It is a very simple technique that brings instant drama to an image but could take a lifetime to master. Like most other forms of photography, it is all about illumination and elimination. Low-Key by Mo Dube (Shadow Stalker)
A low-key image is one that contains predominantly dark tones and colours. Like high-key images, they convey atmosphere and mood. But where a high-key image feels airy and light, a low-key is usually dramatic and full of mystery. And where high-key lighting over-lights the subject to reduce contrast, low-key lighting creates striking contrasts through reduced lighting. Shadows are now the primary element of the composition.
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To create a low-key image, all you need is your camera and one light source. Depending on the results you are looking for, you might also make use of a fill light or reflector. If you are lucky enough to have your own photo studio, fabulous, this will give you a reason to use it. If you don't, no worries, you don't need one. This shot was inspired by the way the computer monitor lit the photographer's hand:
Camera Settings – The only setting that should absolutely stay constant is the ISO. Set it to 100 (or as low as your camera will let you) and never move it. Keeping your ISO low will give you good image quality, keeping it both dark and noise-free. Then it is just a matter of adjusting the shutter speed and aperture to achieve the desired effect for the light you've chosen. Lighting – Choice of light is all up to the photographer. You have only one key light so the only choices you have to make now are direction and strength. The only ‘rule' you should impose on yourself when shooting low-key is to never allow light to reach your background. I know, never say never. But unless you have a particular reason to add texture there, don't do it. This is called ‘contamination'. Following is a very basic studio light setup for low-key photography. Remember that direction and intensity are all up to you but avoid lighting the background. And don't be afraid of back lighting! It can produce some spectacular results.