Low Key Self Portaits

Low Key Self Portraits

As I mentioned in my High-Key self-portrait article; I hate self portraits with a passion, but finding a model to shoot can be difficult especially if you are slightly reserved. That said I wanted to have a go at doing some Low Key images. These are images which have mainly dark or muted tones, typically a black background, with the model lit. In reality many (myself included) confuse low-key for under exposed. The reality is that you want the background to be dark, but the model to be exposed adequately depending on your artistic vision.

To capture these sort of images, you typically want to set your camera up so that the background is very under-exposed; basically a black background. Once you have the background under-exposed you can then introduce a flash into the image to light up the model. The main thing is to make sure that you try and limit the light to the model and not light up the background. You can do this by having a dark background (which limits the reflection of light), and/or some distance between the model, and the background. The reality is that anything that limits the light (e.g. increasing aperture) will have some impact on reducing the ambient light and keeping the background underexposed.

To light these images, I used a black sheet against the wall where I captured a test image to ensure the background was black. I then introduced one flash with a diffuser to the side of the subject, and played with the intensity (since the flash was manual) until I got an outcome I was happy with at the time.


My Experience

I used a Nikon D610 DSLR camera to capture these images, with a Yongnuo Wireless Flash Controller and the images were edited in Adobe Lightroom CC (with many being rejected lol).

The two images I captured (and were ok with) are shown below, the reality is that whilst I think these photos are OK (mainly the first one) they are fairly underexposed. That is I have not really lit the model well enough. I was going for a slightly more dark and ‘moody’ feel, and wanted to bring out some more detail so I increased the clarity fairly significantly in these images (which also explains the difference between the two).

I may give this another go, and if I were to try it again I would try to increase the amount of flash on the model’s face, to expose the images more adequately.


The Images

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Figure 1 & 2: My attempt at low key self portraits, which in reality are underexposed.