Low key portraits brings to mind subdued, moody lighting and mysterious atmosphere. Lots of shadow and dark colors create an overall dramatic effect, and this is often accentuated by the colors chosen for clothing, background and accessories or props. Lighting is crucial – you want the light to fall exactly where you require it and nowhere else.
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A lighting setup for a low key portrait is remarkably simple but can take a bit of trial and error adjusting to get right the first time you try out this technique. One light is all you need, and if you’ve got a dark ground, so much the better. The photograph above was taken on black seamless which makes for a very easy background scenario in low key portraits. Take a look at the following lighting diagram to get an idea of a possible lighting setup for a low key photograph.
One possible setup for a low key photograph.
It’s also possible to create a low key photograph on a bright background such as white seamless or a white wall. You simply have to stop any light from reaching the background. A white seamless background needs to be lit to take it white. Without light on it, it’ll typically appear as a shade of gray about 1 ½ to 2 stops under white. To force it black, you have a couple of options. If there is ambient light hitting it, simply kill this off. That may mean closing curtains or turning off any room lights. Alternatively, you could shoot at a faster shutter speed because the ambient light is controlled by the shutter speed only in this situation. If you run into issues with sync speeds, lowering ISO may give you an extra stop or two, assuming you’re not already at your camera’s lowest ISO setting. If some of the light from the flash is hitting the background, then simply move your subject further away, as light fall off obeys the inverse square law, which I’m not going to go into.
Once you have your background taken care of, all you need to do is introduce a single flash or strobe to put light on your subject where you want it. Use whatever light modifier works best to put the light where you want and restrict it from where you don’t. A grid spot or snoot may work wonders in some situations, whereas others may call for a softbox or some other light modifier. Sheets of black cardboard or strips of black gaffer tape can serve as tools to keep light from straying into areas you don’t want it to go.
The various settings to use on your light and camera will depend upon the equipment you have, the situation you’re in and the look you’re after so I won’t make any specific suggestions here other than to say a lighting ration of anything from 3:1 to 8:1 between the brightest part of the image and the darkest can produce an acceptable low key photograph. It all depends on exactly what you want to achieve.
Read more: http://www.craigfergusonimages.com/2010/10/low-key-portrait-photography/#ixzz13NfAYf1d