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When it comes to exposure, there’s no one size fits all, perfect correct exposure. You can expose dark, light and everything in between according to your subject matter and your creative vision.
When a photo contains more dark tones and colours than any other, it’s called a low key image or exposure. And when done well, it can be beautifully dramatic, moody and mysterious!
This week the array of beautiful low key imagery jumped out at me from our Grad’s Group, so it was only natural it should be the subject of this week’s highlights reel of inspiring Grad images!
And the best bit? If you’ve got a severe lack of light – whether it’s because you live in a cave or you’re enduring a dark winter – all you need is a tiny pocket of low light to explore low key photography!
Related: Low Light Photography Tips
Read on and learn 6 brilliant ways to use dramatic natural light!
This stunning portrait was created using a combination of dark colours, low light, and a position near a window with soft gentle light filtering through.
By positioning them at a 90 degree angle to the light source, the shadows on the left are maintained, which adds depth and conveys a quiet moment.
For this shot she’s lit directly front on, but Kirsty took it at a 90 degree angle to her daughter, enabling her to create some directional shadows. Stunning!
In this shot, the subjects are positioned at a 45 degree angle to thelight source instead so you see more shadows back left, whilst you see some detail in the shadows directly behind them. It’s still a low key image however, as you can see the tones are mostly dark.
Related: Dramatic Natural Light Portraits
This was shot near windows, in soft mid-tone to high key light. But Sue created a low key image simply by adding a black backdrop.
Notice she’s exposed for the brightest part of her subject’s skin but the predominantly dark colours throughout ensures a low key image.
The moral of the story? You don’t need to underexpose to create a low key image. It’s all about the surrounding colours, tones and light.
Believe it or not, this shot was lit exactly the same as the one above. The light source is in the same position in relation to the subject, the surrounding colours and tones and dark, the strength of the light is very similar, and both subjects are exposed for the brightest part of their skin.
The only difference is in this shot, Morvern’s little one is facing the light, whereas in Sue’s image her subject is positioned so that she’s side lit.
Expose for the light or the colours in the sky at dawn or dusk, let your subjects appear in silhouette either fully or partially, and create a beautiful low key silhouette shot.
The settings? You can do this using an aperture of around f/2.2, shutter speed around 1/250 and an ISO to balance (start with 320 and tweak if required, bearing in mind your settings are dependent on the ambient light you have at the time, so there’s no one size fits all exposure setting).
Related: Sunset Silhouette Photos
The garden is a fantastic and unexpected place to find low key light, regardless of the time of day. Little pockets of soft, low light can be found in between foliage.
Try capturing flora by shooting directly down into the darkness. This works especially well if the earth is dark, whether it’s soil or bark chips.
If you’d like to try macro photography, we have a fantastic beginners guide to get you started. You don’t even need a dedicated macro lens… check out our macro gear guide to discover how you can start taking macro photos with as little as $20.
Even without any macro gear at all, you can take shots like this with a good sharp lens, getting in as close as your lens will focus. Choose a narrow aperture of say f/7.1 to compensate for the small depth of field you’re afforded when up close.
Related: Macro Photography Beginners Guide
Look for well defined, hard light shadows to create unexpected low light imagery. The subject doesn’t have to be a person either… any shadow if well defined and interesting can be a subject within itself if you pay attention to the surroundings and your composition.
Patterns made by the shadows also make a surprising and creative image.
Related: Shadow Photography Tutorial
There’s just something about low key food photography that makes your mouth water, and that’s a sign of a good food photo! I mean, isn’t that the sole purpose? To make you wanna eat it?
So are you inspired? We delve deep into the topic of low and high key imagery in our Advanced Photography Course, so if you’re already shooting in manual mode, but craving higher level tech skills, a deeper understanding of lighting, and more artistic compositional skills…
…this course is the natural next step, and it’s starting again soon. Jump on our wait list to be notified when we go on sale!
Our 8 Week Enthusiast Photography Course is starting again SOON! You'll learn how to get the most from your DSLR & take photos you LOVE!