If you’ve been around the photography world for a while, or you’ve been Instagram binging some days, you’ll see low-key photographs for sure, specially around this time of the year, as we are all a little bit moodier and light is more unavailable.
What is low-key photography exactly?
We say a photograph is low-key when we have mostly shadows and dark tones using light and highlights to emphasize specific areas of the picture. Photographers use this technique to create moody pictures, with some mistery, drama and lots of contrast. Think about painting, when you see a painting with sfumato, chiaroscuro… you have more dimensión and the atmosphere changes and becomes so hard and dramatic.
We have to be careful when we shoot this kind of pictures, as there is a difference between underexposed and low-key. If we have most of the histogram down to the darks (left side of the chart) with no whites, and no highlights, our picture will be underexposed, in contrast with this (even if the difference is subtle) you’ll have a nice curve with information in whites and highlights when you work with a low-key style.
How can I achieve that type of curve?
Low-key photography is not easy to do correctly even if the results can be incredible. That’s the main reason you’ll like to try this technique and try to master it. The main key will be controling the light and the shadows.
As the main tones and colours are gonna be blacks and dark ones, we’ll try to work with a low ISO and a dark background will be a MUST. Again, everything is about controlling the light, so if we’re shooting inside, we’ll need to do it almost in complete darkness, using flashes, rim lights and reflectors to bounce the light where we want it to be. In case we’re shooting outside, we’ll have to do it at night and again, look for ways to lit only our subject, or the parts we want to be lit. Also, you’ve to be careful with your aperture, as you know the lowest the number (more open) more ambient light hits the sensor. Then, we’ll need to be careful with it and set it in a way that the light narrows down and is not all over the place.
If you’re working with some flash lights and modifiers, it’ll be way easier to direct and control the light, making it work the way you want, as we know artificial light is easier to manipulate, control and wrap around our subject the way we want it. If we use barn doors on our flash, we can make some really nice rim lights to portray our subject.
Also, this technique works incredibly with backlights to make nice silhouettes where you can only see the contour of the subject and your mind has to figure out the rest. This will be extrahard as it’s supereasy to mess up and underexpose the image, but those pictures are incredibly beautiful!
Now is your time to try! If you’ve any doubts don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below!