“She’s dressed in black again
And I’m falling down again
Down to the floor again
I’m begging for more again
But oh what can you do
When she’s dressed in black”
Depeche Mode ‘Dressed In Black’

Low key photography is a term that refers to an image that mainly uses dark tones, shades and colours, often for dramatic effect.  The trick is to use subtlety with your lighting so that only the important parts of the image are lit.  As someone who shoots a lot of glamour photography, I’m often producing quite bright and colourful images, so stepping back and experimenting with low key every now and again can be fun and a bit of a challenge.

In a studio setting, one of the ways to achieve a low key image is to use a large black backdrop.  Position your subject and your light/s quite a distance from the backdrop so that it becomes a solid black.  Try using just one light to begin with and build it up from there if need be.

Hollywood Portraits

I’m quite a lover of classic Hollywood portraits, from the likes of George Hurrell, CS Bull, Laszlo Willinger and ER Richee.  One of my favourite images of all time is Richee’s legendary portrait of Louise Brooks and the pearls – I’m sure you know the one I mean (see this link).  I love the way that Richee has Brooks blending into the background and all you really see is her face, hands and pearls.

Lisa in black

I could have used back lighting or rim lighting to separate Lisa from the backdrop, but when I saw the black dress that Lisa had brought with her to the studio I had the idea of blending her into the backdrop and just concentrating on her face and cleavage.  I wanted quite a solid black, so moved Lisa away from the backdrop and used just one light (a single Elinchrom studio flash).

TIP!  If you ever want to figure out how a photograph was lit, start by looking at the catchlight/s in the eye, and the direction of any shadows, and then work back from there.

I think the result is a simple, honest portrait of a lovely lady. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.  Click the image to enlarge and thanks for reading.

Low key Lisa by Paul Jones

Categories: photographers, photography

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