Low Key Portrait Photography Using One Light: Tutorial

Low key photography is useful for creating dramatic, high contrast photographs. Photographer Mark Wallace from Adorama demonstrates how you can achieve a low key look using one light:

Normally, during a portrait photo shoot, the key light is turned toward the model. As Wallce demonstrates, the trick to low key photography is to turn the key light toward the camera instead. Also, since we’re going for a dark looking image, make sure that the light isn’t spilled onto the background by using a grid.

low key lighting setup

You can then follow these basic steps to take a low key portrait photo:

  • Have the model stand close to the light source so that it can wrap around the model’s face.
  • Position yourself so you can see the illuminated part of the model’s face.

no reflector

  • If you feel that the part of the model’s face away from the light is too dark for your liking, use a reflector to fill in some of the shadows.

reflector fill

With these simple steps, you can easily get some dramatic low key portraits. If you want to make it even more dramatic, go for a lower power setting and see what kind of images you can get.

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