You are currently viewing Mystery Through Illumination and Elimination – Secrets of Low Key Photography

Day 8 – What is low key photography and how to create low key images? Explained.

A low-key image is one that contains predominantly dark tones and colors. Here lighting is reduced in order to produce images characterized by striking contrasts, dark tones, and shadows.

Low key photography conveys atmosphere and mood. They have a rather dark dramatic quality to them. Low key images are full of mystery and is a great choice for both color and black and white photos. Shadows are the primary element of composition in low key photography.

Usually shot with a single light source pointing away from the background and partially illuminating the subject. Low key images can be created using rather basic gear and how light behaves on the subject and its surroundings.

Any decent camera, a light source – flash, torch etc is all you need to create a low-key image. Additional equipment if required would be a tripod, a black card or fabric and white card or reflector.

As a rule, avoid photographing your subject against a bright background. If the subject can’t be moved place a black card or black fabric behind the subject. Take care such that light does not spill on to the background.

Point your light source such that it illuminates the subject while not spilling over to the background. Using a diffuser over the light helps to achieve soft even light on the subject. A diffuser would also help avoid hot spots (over exposed areas) on the subject. Diffusers can be anything from thin white fabric, tracing paper or readily available fixtures for flashes.

Depending on the result you intend to achieve use an appropriate aperture setting. A larger aperture (small aperture numbers) will give you a shallow DOF. Depending on the size of the subject the entire subject may not be in focus. A smaller aperture on the other hand would keep the entire subject in focus but would need more light to illuminate the subject.

The pictures shared here were mostly shot on f/8, ISO 100 and shutter speed of 1/160s.


All the pictures were taken using a single light source for illumination a Nissin Di600 flash with a softbox remotely triggered using a Phottix trigger, a Nikon 28-300mm lens, on a Nikon D850.

Hope this tutorial, is of help. Do share your clicks with links in the comments. Feel free to ask if you have any doubts, it would be my pleasure to share my knowledge. Happy Clicking 🙂

Leave a Reply