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03-28-2019, 10:30 PM - 6 Likes   #1
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Low Key photography

I was astounded to discover (apparently) that there is no "low key" thread on these forums! Yes, low key often ends up black and white but it *doesn't have to be*. More often than not, low key involves one (or more) OCF ("Off Camera Flash") light source but natural light works too and even on-camera flash can do the trick. What is "low key"? "Usually one main light, or ‘key’ light, falls on your subject and the background fades to black. It’s all about the highlights and shadows and how they define the shapes in your composition." (taken from this intro article). Want to learn Manual mode? This will get you there!

Here are a few examples I've taken myself, mostly in a room FULL of mid day, sunny spring time, ambient light! It's a great way to keep ISO low (for best IQ), and still end up with something contrasty and dramatic.

Shot with K3 ii + 18-135 WR, handheld (ISO 100, 1/160th, f11 or so) and a single Yongnuo YN585EX on my only tripod, fired with a cheap FM trigger pair I bought off of amazon:











This was probably the most challenging of this set. My dining room table, awash in mid-day sunlight, and a lit, black, oil lamp.




---------- Post added 03-28-19 at 10:34 PM ----------

One of my "local super model" shot with natural light (no flash), in a brightly lit room. ("Spot" metering is your friend!)

K-70 + Sigma 30mm f1.4:



One of my work boots, bouncing a flash (on camera) off the closest wall. K3 ii + 18-135 WR (some heavy PP in Darktable):



03-28-2019, 10:38 PM - 3 Likes   #2
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03-28-2019, 10:40 PM - 11 Likes   #3
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03-28-2019, 10:44 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by clackers Quote
NICE! Both are fine examples but the second one... yeah! Is that one light or many?

03-28-2019, 10:53 PM - 2 Likes   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by Oktyabr Quote
NICE! Both are fine examples but the second one... yeah! Is that one light or many?
Thanks, Oktyabr, it's one light, because there's a window back and to the side, so it's coming across her torso.
03-29-2019, 02:14 AM - 5 Likes   #6
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This is a great thread idea. I do like the low key images. Does this one fit - a darkened alley on a rainy day.


03-29-2019, 04:21 AM - 4 Likes   #7
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I guess this counts as low key :-).
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03-29-2019, 07:02 AM - 5 Likes   #8
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How about this one? Or does the subtle background texture make it not a "low key" image?

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03-29-2019, 07:21 AM - 7 Likes   #9
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Taken almost a decade ago in the DeSoto Wildlife Refuge, shortly before sunset. The last rays of the day were isolating a little patch of wildflowers and the background foliage was in shadow. "Metering for the highlights" naturally made a low key image.

Pentax 67; SMC 55/4; Fuji 160C film; home developed with Unicolor chemical kit.
03-29-2019, 07:54 AM - 1 Like   #10
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I think any image that uses dark (or completely black) areas to define the shape of the subject matter is technically "low key". Instead of being perfectly exposed, from corner to corner, the dark regions are often very under exposed, drawing attention to what's left, which is usually properly exposed. Even some classic painters used such technique, long before the invention of the camera.

Here is another one I did of my cat "Misha", in natural sunlight. Taken in some sort of auto mode, her white patches were almost overblown straight out of camera. I put the camera on full manual and tried a few shots. Finally iso 100, 1/160, and f7.1 gave me sort of the look I was after. I really wanted her eye that was in shadow to *just* be barely visible, without blowing out the highlights on her sunny side. Are there still hotspots? Yes, but as any one who has animals know, it can be tricky to get them to hold still for more than one or two shots




---------- Post added 03-29-19 at 08:01 AM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by Sluggo Quote

Taken almost a decade ago in the DeSoto Wildlife Refuge, shortly before sunset. The last rays of the day were isolating a little patch of wildflowers and the background foliage was in shadow. "Metering for the highlights" naturally made a low key image.

Pentax 67; SMC 55/4; Fuji 160C film; home developed with Unicolor chemical kit.
Nice! That's how I stumbled across it... trying to learn spot metering and exposure lock.
03-29-2019, 08:16 AM - 2 Likes   #11
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Good idea!
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03-29-2019, 08:20 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Sluggo Quote

Taken almost a decade ago in the DeSoto Wildlife Refuge, shortly before sunset. The last rays of the day were isolating a little patch of wildflowers and the background foliage was in shadow. "Metering for the highlights" naturally made a low key image.

Pentax 67; SMC 55/4; Fuji 160C film; home developed with Unicolor chemical kit.
Beautiful!
03-29-2019, 08:43 AM - 6 Likes   #13
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I do a fair amount of low-key work, but seldom with flash. The above was done with a dun-colored cardboard background with the sole light being that coming from a ceiling fixture in a hall some distance away. Secondary highlights are reflections from nearby white walls. A single directional "key" source is usually adequate with any fill being provided with a single reflector.


Steve

Last edited by stevebrot; 03-29-2019 at 08:52 AM.
03-29-2019, 08:49 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote

I do a fair amount of low-key work, but seldom with flash. The above was done with a dun-colored cardboard background with the sole light being that coming from a ceiling fixture in a hall some distance away. Secondary highlights are reflections from nearby white walls.


Steve
Nice! I hope you share some more! I need to learn to shoot more creatively with existing light too. Just got my first flash, so yeah, it was fun learning what could be done with it, even in a room with a lot of ambient light.
03-29-2019, 03:07 PM - 7 Likes   #15
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Here are my Three
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