We have another Photo Premium tutorial exclusively available to Premium members today. In this tutorial, we’ll attempt to understand low-key photography, lighting basics and how to attain a low-key look in your photography without relying on post-processing. Learn more at the jump!
Low-key photography is the art of making images with a dark or black background and subjects that have little or no pure white in them.
You Don't Need Photoshop
Photoshop, for many average photographers, is not an affordable option. Maybe you're just starting out and you don't want to sink a lot of money into this hobby just yet, or the economy has not been great for you. Or maybe your one of the photographers who are a little old school.
The ability and know-how to create images you're proud to share without needing to rely on an editing program is a valuable skill set. There are a many of weekend-warrior photographers out there who rely on editing programs to "save" their photographs. Great photographers get the pictures they want with the best tool available - their brain. If you master the fundamentals of shooting and even techniques that an average snapshot-type photographer wouldn't know, you're well ahead of the pack.
Short version: know the fundamentals and get your images the way you want them while you're shooting. Use an editing program because you want to, not because you need to.
This tutorial is aimed at novices, beginners and photographers who lack access to studio equipment.
For this low-key tutorial, you'll need a few basics.
- A camera with a self-timer or remote
- A tripod or a solid surface
- An off-camera flash along with a hot shoe cord or wireless transmitter/receiver, strobe, or an external light source (eg: lamp, spotlight, flood lamp...)
- A dark or black backdrop - bedsheets or heavy muslin are good for this purpose. Just make sure the fabric is not glossy/satiny as to minimize light reflections
- A way to string your backdrop up - use a backdrop stand, a shower rod, curtain rod, clothsline or just tape it to a wall.
The following are optional:
- Diffusers: tracing paper, wax paper or translucent paper or plastic
- DIY snoot and grid
- Scraps of sheer colorful cloth, color cellophane/gels or translucent paper
The Reasons for These Ingredients
You'll need a self-timer or a remote and a tripod or stable surface because you will be working at a fairly low shutter speed, and there will be some camera shake unless you put that camera down and trigger the shutter without touching the camera.
While you can use the on-camera flash, in theory, it's limiting in how you can light your subject matter because the light will fall on your subject directly, creating very flat lighting. Unflattering is an understatement. You also run the risk of illuminating the backdrop.
You will have greater success if your flash is off-camera; the light in the image will be far more dynamic and interesting. If you don’t have that option, you can experiment with DIY lighting. Try a strong lightbulb on a lamp and a white posterboard that’s been folded to direct and reflect the light onto your subject. Play with the board to see what kind of results you get – try curving the board, folding it in half, or a trifold. It may take you a few tries to find a good setup.
While it's possible to forgo a dark backdrop, it's pretty difficult to get an evenly dark background, especially if your background wall is white, which mine is. It typically comes out gray unless you employ tricks to get around this. Because this tutorial is aimed at novices, we'll focus on the easy and simple method here.
Tune in for more
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