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Tips - Low Key Portraits

Tips - Low Key Portraits

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Published by Scribme_too
Taking quick portrait photographs
Taking quick portrait photographs

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Categories:Types, Graphic Art
Published by: Scribme_too on Mar 21, 2014
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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ow-key portraits make the most of dark tones and shadows to create drama and atmosphere. Unlike high-key photography, which requires plenty of natural or artificial light, a low-key shoot requires very little. The backdrop needs to be mostly hidden in the shadows, while particular features on the subject are illuminated to make them stand out.This means that when you’re shooting low-key portraits you don’t need much in the way of lighting kit – a single flashgun mounted off-camera will be adequate. Some Canon D-SLRs, such as the 60D, 600D and 7D, have an Integrated Speedlite Transmitter, which enables you to fire a compatible external flash via the camera’s pop-up flash. If your camera doesn’t have this feature you’ll need a wireless flash trigger, which is mounted on your camera’s hotshoe.For this technique the ambient lighting needs to be as low as possible, so shooting indoors is ideal. You want to eliminate as much of the ambient light as possible, which you can do by narrowing your aperture; a fast shutter speed would achieve the same effect, but on Canon cameras the top flash sync speed is either 1/200 or 1/250 sec. When you expose for the ambient light you don’t need to worry about underexposing your subject, as the flash will illuminate them – you can simply adjust the flash power as required to expose them correctly.
A large and spacious room is ideal for this shoot. It doesn’t need to have good natural light – the darker the better in fact – and you don’t need to worry about cluttered backdrops, as only your subject should be visible when you exclude the ambient light.
Get set up
For this shoot a standard zoom lens will give you plenty of versatility. You don’t need a ‘fast’ portrait lens with a wide maximum aperture, as we’ll be using flash to light our model rather than relying on natural light. As we’ll be shooting with an external flashgun you’ll need a light stand or tripod to place it on, using the mount supplied with the flashgun.
Camera settings
We want to eliminate as much of the ambient light as possible, so forget about exposing for your subject for the time being. Set a low ISO of 100 to retain maximum quality for smooth, noise-free shadows, and set your shutter speed to the maximum flash sync speed, which is 1/200 sec (1/250 sec on higher-end EOS cameras). Start with a wide aperture value, such as f/5.6, and take a test shot.
Narrow the aperture
If the scene is still fairly light, dial in a narrower aperture and take another test shot, and repeat until you’ve eliminated all the ambient light and the whole scene appears dark. You can use the histogram to help you; ideally there should be just a few lines of pixels clipped at the left-hand edge of the graph to indicate a heavily underexposed scene.
Flash settings
Now we need to set the camera’s pop-up flash to trigger our external flashgun. Select the first shooting menu, scroll down to ‘Flash control’ and press ‘Set’. Next scroll down to ‘Built-in flash func’, press ‘Set’ and then scroll down to ‘Wireless func’ and press ‘Set’. You want to select the third option here, to fire just the external flashgun.
Test the flash
Set the flashgun to Slave mode (refer to your manual for how to do this), and make sure your camera and flashgun are set to the same channel so they can communicate; the default channel on your camera is 1. Set your flashgun to Manual, and place it in front of your model to one side. Set the power to one-quarter to start with, take a test shot, and increase the flash power if your model appears underexposed.

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