Friday, September 10, 2010

Low Key Photography

I wasn’t really aware of the fact that I had a thing for low key photography…until recently when I was sharing and discussing some of my work with a couple of fellow photographers when one of them pointed out that a lot of my shots had predominantly dark backgrounds and intense & focused lights. I realized that subconsciously I had developed this habit of squeezing the aperture to the fullest on getting the slightest chance of it, and it was actually giving decent results. It was then when it came to me that my portfolio needs to have an exclusive section on “Low Key Shots” (

Low key shots are those which have a lot of dark areas. Low key photography is predominantly characterized by subdued lights and underexposed details, which may either be achieved by means of a subtle and subdued light over the entire frame, or intense lights only in some areas. High key photographs on the other hand are overexposed and have a lot of bright areas. High key shots look dreamy and happy, while low key shots look dramatic and mysterious.

Low key photography relies heavily on the play of shadows and absence of details. It is important to allow light not to fall everywhere in the frame, at the same time the highlights and borders of the subjects need to be lit nicely.

The following photograph was taken with a set of three off camera lights in place. One from camera left high, one from camera right low, and one from the model’s left side snooted a low, almost on the floor.

And its not that we need a full fledged studio setup like one discussed above to shoot good dramatic shots. In a recent trip to Hampi, a friend picked up these two cute little kitties and it looked like a great photo opportunity. But it’s not always that I am lucky enough to have my strobes and stands and umbrellas to make it a good shot. This photograph had to be taken in the available daylight. I asked her to move to a place where sunlight would actually light up only the kitties and not her. Usually wall corners, edges of sheds, etc can be useful in such circumstances.

If investing in external flashes is not on your list right now, you may also consider having any light with a thick sheet wrapped with silver paper to direct light. I got a number of decent shots with such DIY arrangements. This photo was taken with such a setup.

The Wandering Viewfinder

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