Low-Key photography question

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by sweetnothings123, Oct 24, 2009.

  1. sweetnothings123

    sweetnothings123 TPF Noob!

    Oct 15, 2009
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    Near Edmonton
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    I've been searching everywhere and I'm just not getting the information I need to make sense ... So I'm turning to the pros ;)

    Although my goal is to take my photography to the next level and invest in the essentials (lighting, backdrops, a better camera, etc.), I am not in the position to do so and as a result have to rely on DIY projects or what you have at home to make this next question possible.

    Next week I'm shooting my first Maternity shoot and I am REALLY interested in trying out some low-key photographs. Like this phtoograph below by Allison Rumble Photography:


    As mentioned above I will have to use things that can be found in the home such as lamps, natural window light, etc. I know it's possible to achieve a beautiful low-key photograph using these items, but what I'm having problems with is finding the right camera setting to make these photographs work. ( I will be using a Nikon D80 and a speedlight SB-600)

    I'm going to try out some tests this afternoon when my daughter wakes up and I'm looking for hints and tips. I have some black fabric that I can use for the background and I am able to darken a room (if that is what is going to be needed) ... but where do I go from there?

    What camera setting do I have the camera set to? What aperature? shutter speed? ISO? etc.

    I know that I don't want my flash to go off straight at the subject when I take the picture, so what do I do with my flash? Do I turn it off?? Aim it to the side at black fabric so it doesn't bounce off, or white fabric so it bounces off and that lights my subject?

    Really any suggestions would be sooo helpful... Thank you for taking a look :) :blushing:

    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 24, 2009
  2. craig

    craig TPF Noob!

    Oct 30, 2003
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    Hermosa Beach, CA U.S.A
    Experimenting is key. You are looking for light from one source and it should be directional.

    Window Light: Strong light source, but not always convenient. Look at the time of day and it's different effects. Controlling it may also be a challenge. Blinds or a curtain will help. Also look into using cardboard to block the light from hitting the background.

    Artificial light: Less intense, but easier to control. Again use cardboard or whatever to keep the light on your subject and not the background.

    In both cases position the light or your subject so that it is coming from one side. Pay particular close attention to the shadows being created. Also use a piece of foamcore to slightly open the shadows. Post your photos and we can help further.

    As far as camera settings go; that will be up to the light being used and your desired effect. As a general rule try and keep the ISO low for better quality. The shutter speed should be above 1/60th if you want to hand hold your camera. Using a tripod will give you more latitude, but you subject will have to be very still.

    Love & Bass
  3. Big Mike

    Big Mike I am Big, I am Mike Staff Member Supporting Member

    Dec 16, 2003
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    There are any number of ways to get that type of shot.

    The main points are that the light is directional (coming from the side), the light is soft, the ratio is high and the background is dark.

    Light direction, that's easy enough. You place your light source to the side of your subject. Move the light (and/or turn your subject) until you get the amount of light/shadow that you want. If you can use your flash in Commander mode, that would be great.

    Light softness. Making light softer comes from making it bigger and/or moving it closer to the subject. This one was probably shot with an umbrella or softbox...or maybe a large window...a small lamp or bare flash head would produce a much harder light.
    To enlarge your light source, you could bounce your flash off of a wall, or shoot it though a diffusion material.

    The 'ratio' is the difference between the bright parts and the dark parts. In a high ratio shot like this, the shadow areas have very little or no detail. You could use a reflector or a fill light, to brighten up those areas if you wanted...but this shot has no fill light.

    Now for the background. A black fabric will help, but the key is to keep light off if it. You might need to put something between your background and your light source. You can even make a white surface appear black, as long as you have a lot more light on your subject and set your exposure for the light on your subject.
    Just putting your camera in auto mode probably won't work for a shot like this...you will need to use manual mode or at least dial in some Exposure Compensation on one of the auto modes.
    One tip is that light falls off with distance. So the farther away your subject (and thus your light) is from the background, the easier it will be to make it appear black.
    Another tip is that it's a lot easier to shoot low key in a darker room, so if you cant' cover the windows completely, schedule the shoot for later in the evening.

    As for camera settings, that will depends mainly on your light. It's usually best to keep the ISO as low as possible, to avoid noise. If you are shooting with natural light or a lamp, then you will need to be concerned with the shutter speed, making sure it's not slow enough to cause blur. If it is too slow, you will need to raise the ISO.
    If you can use flash, then the shutter speed isn't a factor in the exposure, so keep it at the camera's max sync speed...probably 1/200 or 1/250. Use the aperture and flash power to control the exposure.

    Here is a shot I did of my wife. It was a very simple set up, just a flash on a stand with an umbrella, set to the right (and slightly behind) of her. It was shot in a dark living room with no backdrop. I did clean up the background a bit in post processing, but I could have avoided that with a more careful set up in the first place.

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