Low-Key Lighting

The Snoot in Action

We were practicing some lighting techniques in advance of a Studio Photoshoot the next day. Kathleen wanted to re-create a Michael Jackson like shot with our model – you probably recognize the spotlit fedora pose that became iconic. We used a black Muslin backdrop and tried many different light modifiers to get the light to mimic a spotlight. This was shot in the evening. Here we employed our workhorse Vivitar 285HV strobe which we mounted on a light stand and equipped it with a “Snoot” which directs the light to a very specific  area, hence the spotlight effect. We controlled the off camera flash with radio triggers.This is also an example of a low-key lighting and off camera flash.

Low-key lighting is a style of lighting for photography, film or television. It is a necessary element in creating a chiaroscuro effect. Traditional photographic lighting, three-point lighting uses a key light, a fill light and a back light for illumination. Low-key lighting often uses only one key light, optionally controlled with a fill light or a simple reflector.

Low key light accentuates the contours of an object by throwing areas into shade while a fill light or reflector may illuminate the shadow areas to control contrast. The relative strength of key-to-fill, known as the lighting ratio, can be measured using a light meter. Low key lighting has a higher lighting ratio, e.g. 8:1, than high key lighting, which can approach 1:1. Throwing the majority of the model into darkness was what we were after, similar to being on a darkened concert stage with a single focussed spotlight.


7 responses

  1. Great shot. I’ve always liked high contrast shots like this taken with either just one light or a very high ratio (8:1 as u mention). Most people always want to go SOFT SOFT SOFT and buy softboxes and all sorts of modifiers to get it, but they should also remember that sometimes shadows can be your friend!

    November 10, 2011 at 7:55 am

    • Thank you Sir…soft works well with older clients (like me) – younger ones you can basically do anything and it looks great. Thanks for the comments, we appreciate it!

      November 17, 2011 at 9:55 pm

  2. Nice write up and awesome image. I’ve always loved low key. So much more moody.

    November 10, 2011 at 9:12 am

    • Totally agree – but sometime not too flattering depending on the model. Always have to make the client look their best, you know

      November 17, 2011 at 9:53 pm

  3. LOVE this shot, and what a great post to accompany it too, Erik!

    November 10, 2011 at 11:05 am

  4. Pingback: The Coolest Photography Links Of The Week » Beauty life

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