Production Lighting: How To Do Low Key Lighting

Low key lighting is a style of lighting that is commonly used by photographers and filmographers. Generally speaking, most people set up low key lighting so that they can achieve the chiaroscuro effect. With the chiaroscuro effect, you are looking for bold differences between light and dark colors. Low key lighting has a lighting ratio of approximately 8 to 1. As the lighting ratio increases, so does the contrast of the image. In comparison, high key lighting can have a lighting ratio that is as low as 1 to 1.

The standard method of lighting that most photographers use is three point lighting. With three point lighting, you are using a key light, a back light and a fill light. The goal of three point lighting is to achieve even illumination. Low key lighting is the exact opposite of three point lighting. Low key lighting only requires the use of a single key light. You are not looking for even illumination with low key lighting. Instead, you want a lightly colored subject to stand out in front of a dark background.

Step 1: Setting Up the Background

You cannot use a light background for low key lighting. When it comes to low key lighting, the darker the background is, the better. It is not a must that you use a black background, but it is highly recommended. If you cannot use a black background, a very dark blue one will work.

Step 2: Staging the Subject

The subject of your photograph should be wearing dark clothing. If possible, it is best if the clothing that the subject is wearing is the same color as the background. The goal of low key lighting is not to place an emphasis on the attire of your subject. Instead, you want to place an emphasis on the face or body part of your subject.

Step 3: Setting up the Key Light

In order to ensure maximal results when setting up low key lighting, you should place your key light to either side of the subject you are photographing. You should begin by setting up your key light in a 45 degree setup. A 45 degree setup requires the key light to be placed 45 degrees to the face of your subject. The key light should be placed slightly above the head of your subject. By placing the key light to the side of your subject, you will be preventing the background from lightening up.

Once you set your key light up, take a look to see if any adjustments need to be made. If you need the background to appear darker in your images, you can move the key light further away from your subject. You just need to make sure that the light remains on the edge of your subject. Once you have the key light configured correctly, you are ready to begin taking shots with low key lighting.

Popular Cameras for High Quality Photos: