Low key photographs are those that are overall quite dark, often with just a small patch of light picking out the subject. Whereas a brightly lit high key image appears bright and airy, a low key image appears dark and moody. As I've mentioned in previous articles, the exposure metering mechanisms of cameras are designed to try and create an image that is overall middle gray in tone.
I would advise using manual exposure mode as this gives you full control over the exposure. If you decide on using an auto exposure mode with exposure compensation, then I would suggest switching the camera's metering mode to spot metering.
Lighting just your subject (or part of your subject) while keeping the background dark is the tricky part. Alternatively you may want to consider working with artificial light, such as speedlight flash or LED lights. Hopefully you can see how this can be used to easily create an image with a dark background - simply position your light much closer to your subject than the background. And this is with the light positioned so that it is pointing at the subject and the background. Same setup but with a piece of polystrene used to block the light from hitting the background.
If you're shooting indoors with natural light this could just be a case of partially closing the curtains.
The technique of blocking the light does require your light source to be at an angle to your background though. For small artificial light sources, such as a speedlight flash or flashlight, you may want to look at using a snoot or grid.
A common way of lighting a low key image is to have the light angled off to the side of the subject quite a bit. One potential problem you may come across is if you want to create a low key image using a wide aperture (e.g. If you find that using a large aperture results in the background exposure being too bright just from ambient light, then you want to use a neutral density filter on your lens.
If, on the other hand, it is only the light from the flash that is too bright, then you can use a neutral density gel on the flash.
Getting the lighting right to pick out part of your subject while leaving the rest of the image in darkness can be quite tricky.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked and undervalued tools you can own as a photographer is a Neutral Density filter (ND Filter) or Graduated ND Filter. A Neutral Density filter reduces the intensity of all wavelengths or colors of light equally. Mastering the ND Filter or Graduated Neutral Density filter does not take a degree from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft (though it couldn’t hurt). The neutral density filter is probably best recognized by its ability to slow your camera’s shutter speed to the point that fast moving water looks calm and silky.
Anytime you are working with slow shutter speeds you need to be careful of camera shake so it’s always recommended that you use a tripod and either a remote shutter release, or set the self-timer. The above photograph was taken with a 10 stop neutral density filter in order to enhance the reflections on the water. Fine art photography is created within accordance of your own vision as the artist photographer. For this example we are going to talk about fast moving water, the Virgin River to be precise.
Close the aperture as far as you can, and make sure your ISO is as low as possible as well. Remember, not all neutral density filters are created equally and the glass you put in front of your cameras sensor will directly impact the image quality of the photographs you take. When shopping for a neutral density filter I’d recommend purchasing the screw on type to fit the size of your largest lens (the size of filter you need will be written on the lens with a little circle with a line through it next to it, and inside the lens cap).
If you want to experiment with these techniques, but don’t want to invest in (somewhat) expensive ND filters, try starting with Welding Glass. Note: this glass is heavily color tinted (usually green), but Camera Raw or Lightroom can correct most (but not all) of the color issues.
One other thought (and I may be stating the obvious) but set your focus and then switch to MF before then attaching the filter. Also, when doing long exposures without a filter, putting your ISO on the lowest native setting will help with how long you can keep your shutter open.
You mention the screw in type, but almost all Pros, Semi Pros etc recommend the square slot type from Lee, Cokin etc and generally say you should avoid Screw in ND filters.
You need to take light readings first from the brightest and darkest areas to get the tonal range, then you can work out which ND to use and the required exposure time, then go to manual mode. The lights will over expose even if the exposure is say half a second and will come out as blobs.
Lens filters are transparent or translucent glass or gelatin elements that attach to the front of a lens. Screw-in filters fit directly onto your lens, in the threads at the edge of the lens barrel. For slot-in filters, a filter holder is placed on the lensa€™ adapter ring and filters are dropped into the holder. Filters change the dynamics of the light entering the lens and usually require you to alter your exposure to compensate for this fact.
Ultra Violet filters are transparent filters that block ultra-violet light, in order to reduce the haziness that is noticeably apparent in some daylight photography.
A Polarizing filter can be used to darken overly light skies as it increases the contrast between clouds and the sky.
Attaching a neutral density (ND) filter to your lens uniformly reduces the amount of light entering the lens.
Soft focus filters, do exactly that, they reduce the sharpness of an image, but only to an extent that is barely noticeable. There are specific filters for B&W photography that lighten similar colors and darken opposite colors, thereby enhancing the monochromatic look.
Orange filters increase contrast between tones in textures such as tile or bricks, making it a good choice for general use and urban or abstract photography. Yellow filters are even subtler than orange filters, making it a a€?classica€™ choice for beginners just starting to explore using filters with black and white photography. Blue filters are not as commonly used in black and white photography because they lighten the sky and darken highlights or colors that are seen as light.
Ita€™s a good idea to experiment with this filter using the B&W setting, as opposed to shooting in color and converting the image to B&W in an image processor. Photographic filters are used to achieve image enhancement effects that can change the tone and mood of your photographs.

The lack of light can be used to give a sense of foreboding or fear, or just to create a dramatic image. Spot metering only uses a small area (typically at the center of the frame, though in some cameras it is linked to the active focus area) to calculate the exposure. You need to set up your scene so that the subject receives light, while the background doesn't. If you can position your subject in light, but with an unlit (or poorly lit) area behind them, this should work.
This makes life much easier as you can point the light where you want, being careful to aim it at the subject and not the background.
This law states that when you double the distance between your light and your subject (or the background), the intensity of the light will reduce by 75%. Using the same example as before, if we moved the light to 5 feet from the subject, the background (15 feet from the light - triple the subject's distance) would receive only 11% of the light that the subject receives. If we angle the light so that it is not pointing at the background so much, then we get an even darker background.
Using items to block or reflect the light (such as black or white card) can be used with both natural and artificial lighting. Leaving a slit in middle for light to come through and hit your subject, while keeping the rest of the room relatively dark. If your subject is lit straight on, then you can't really add a black card between the light and the background, as the card would have to be positioned within the frame.
These attach onto the end of your light and give a relatively narrow, focused beam of light. One benefit of this, as I already noted, is that it reduces the amount of light that will hit the background, thus creating a darker background. But then you are likely to get more light from the flash on the background (remember the inverse square law - if you move the flash further from the subject, then you'd also need to move the subject further from the background to keep the lighting ratio the same).
By moving the the flash further back, the light beam will now be more spread out over a larger area.
This reduces the total amount of light (both flash and ambient) that reaches your camera's sensor. In fact, if photography is considered painting with light then a ND filter would be considered the brush tip. Depending on the neutral density filter you use, you may be leaving your shutter open for many minutes at a time. There are many articles that talk about the harsh light during the afternoon – the neutral density filter tames that light and allows you to create some really interesting photography. When you shoot with the smallest aperture your lens allows, you may cause lens diffraction.
Slow your shutter speed (if you are shooting in aperture priority mode the shutter speed will adjust automatically). You will save yourself money if you stick with the largest lens size, as you can purchase cheap metal adapters, (called step down rings) generally less than $10, to accommodate your smaller lenses. Your camera lets light in through the lens (and sometimes leakage around the lens) as well as through the viewfinder. Entrepreneur, adventurer, and founder of PhotolisticLife, an inspiring and light-humoured photography blog where he shares his passion with others.
Vivek is correct though, by purchasing the largest size (in relation to the largest lens you own or are planning to own) you’ll save yourself hundreds of dollars. If you have a 10 stop ND filter I doubt you’ll be able to see through it well enough to focus. Probably stating the obvious, but those are the things I tend to think of last when I’m in the moment!
These filters can get stuck on your lens or other filter, also due to temperature differences while shooting.
Should have bought a wider one that doesn’t screw on the lens to be able to use with different lenses.
You can take a separate exposure just for the lights and then blend in a editing program, if you have the patience. They protect the camera lens, alter the characteristics of light passing through the lens or add special effects and colors to an image.
Each screw-in filter is a specific width, so the more lenses (of different widths) you have the more filters youa€™ll need. The holder usually has interchangeable rings so the holder can fit on a wide array of lenses. This is called the Filter Factor and each filter has a specific filter factor, so read up on these to learn how to use them. UV filters dona€™t affect the majority of visible light, so they are a perfect form of lens protection and they will not alter your exposure. Like the UV filter, the Polarizer reduces atmospheric haze, but also reduces reflected sunlight. But in photography, you have to make a choice to capture images with the cameraa€™s white balance set to record whitish blue light of daylight or set to record the reddish-orange tungsten (incandescent) lighta€¦ with a few variations (i.e. The ND filter is helpful when the contrast between the highlights and shadows is too great to get a quality exposure. In nature photography, a red filter will increase the contrast between red flowers and green foliage. It also helps to decrease haze and fog, but ita€™s effects on the sky and clouds are subtler than the red filter. It helps to darken the clouds slightly, and it also separates light green foliage from the darker shades of green. They have a more specific use and are not as commonly used as the other filters, but green filters are extremely useful for the nature photographer.
Blue filters can draw attention to haze and fog, which can enhance the mood of the photo if needed. Filter-makers will usually suggest an amount of exposure compensation in the form of a a€?filter factora€?. So by using spot metering and metering off your subject (which should be lit brighter than the background), then the camera won't take the dark background into account when calculating the exposure. But it is where you purposefully underexpose much of the image, while picking out details with brighter lighting. As an example, you could photograph someone at the entrance to a tunnel - the dark tunnel would then create a dark background behind them. So if your subject is 10 feet away from your light, and the background 10 feet behind your subject (20 feet from the light - double the subject's distance), then the background will receive only a quarter of the light that the subject will receive. By placing a piece of black card or foamcore between the light source and the background, we can block the light from hitting the background.
This allows you to carefully position the light so that it hits only your subject, even if the subject is standing close to the background.

The other effect is that the light can just skim across the surface of the subject, really picking out the contours, creating a very dramatic image. The wide aperture lets a lot of light in, and even the minimum power of the flash may be too strong, resulting in an image that is much brighter than it should be. You can buy them to attach in front of your flash, or to attach in front of your camera's lens. If you don't have a neutral density gel, just use a piece of tissue, it will still do the same job of reducing the flash power.
The product will still cost you the same as if you went direct, and the commission helps pay for running this site. You see, different paint brush tips can be used to regulate, if you will, the amount of paint you apply with each stroke – just like different Neutral Density or Graduated ND filters can be used to regulate the amount of light you allow to enter your camera.
Shooting in RAW is highly recommended as most ND filters leave a color cast on your photograph and you’ll want the flexibility to fine-tune your white balance in post processing. This is a more subtle example than the first photograph, but either way the end result is more unique than what you’d be able to do without it. It is, but that’s the great thing about fine art, you can express yourself through your photography without following anyones rules, not even your own.
Well, you can slow your shutter speed enough to make choppy water look smooth even without a neutral density filter by making a couple of adjustments.
Lens diffraction is where your images will be less sharp due to light disbursement when passing through the small aperture opening of your lens.
When you shoot with fast shutter speeds this is not noticeable but when shooting with longer exposure times you’ll find that the light that comes through the viewfinder will cause brown areas to pollute your image. I have amputated most of my fingers on my ‘good’ hand and have real difficulty unscrewing the filters!
The holder typically has three or four grooves, so you can put more than one filter in the holder.
There are some a€?stronga€? UV filters that are more effective at cutting atmospheric haze and reducing the notorious purple fringing that sometimes shows up in digital photography. With the help of a little diffusion; imperfect skin conditions are replaced by silky smooth skin.
Green filters may lighten the sky, so landscape photographers should take note of this when using it.
You can achieve many of the same effects by extensive tweaking in Photoshop (or another image manipulation software package), but when you use a filter you can immediately see the difference to your image in the viewfinder.
Or photographing someone by the doorway of a well-lit room, with an unlit hallway behind them.
One such style is the Graduated Neutral Density filter which blocks light on half of the filter, and gradually transitions to the other half which is clear. The ND filter allowed me to slow the shutter speed just enough to blur the couple who walked in front of me. The photograph above is actually classified as Intentional Camera Shake (or ICM) and it’s created by moving your camera while the shutter is open.
This is the tradeoff when trying to replicate the effects of a neutral density filter without having the actual filter.
Cover your viewfinder when using a neutral density filter and you’ll eliminate this phenomenon.
I can drop a screw on filter into my pocket and not worry about snapping it or carrying extra gear to affix the filter to my lens. The advantage of the slot-in filter, is that you can add or subtract filters relatively quickly and larger filters can work on shorter, smaller lenses. Purple fringing is a purple ghost that you see at the edges of a subject when it is slightly out of focus.
When angled (or spun) properly, the Polarizer eliminates the reflection when shooting through a glass window or into water; a handy trick to be sure! This is what the white balance is used to control, and you use a color balancing filter to affect a change in your light sources. A variant on the ND filter is the graduated ND, in which there is a gradient that effects the reduction of light in a graduated, neutral level from 100% to 0% across the length of the filter. Remember you can use soft focus filters while photographing landscapes or monuments as well. The effects of filters are more pronounced when working in B&W, as the monochromatic tonal scale reacts much differently, and also with greater dramatic affect.
I used a 6 stop neutral density filter for this shot and panned the camera to the left, and then back to the right while the shutter was open. It is very unfortunate that f-numbers are not explained to photographers, so there is constant confusion. I wanted to keep my shutter open for a couple of minutes so I had to go for a very small aperture. Also if you choose to use the screw in type ND filter do you need to rotate it finding the best “look” like you would do with a circular polarizer? However, you can use a Color Balancing filter to compensate for the various differences in the photographed color of light (e.g. The Graduated ND is recommended for shooting landscapes and seascapes, because you can reduce the brightness of the sky (for better contrast) but still maintain an affecting exposure of the land or water. As with every new photographic accessory, practice and experimentation are the keys to expanding the application of your creative palette. This reduces the amount of light that will hit your camera's sensor (and the low ISO ensures a low level of light sensitivity for the sensor), resulting in a dark image. If you are new to Intentional Camera Shake, the ND filter will give you more time with the shutter open in order to make deliberate movements. In order to slow your shutter speed without overexposing the image you need to compensate by reducing the amount of light that enters the camera another way. The quality of the glass you put in front of your lens is more important than whether it’s screw or slot type. Both types of polarizers produce a similar effect, except the circular polarizer eliminates unwanted reflected light with the help of a quarter-wave plate. Opening your aperture (smaller f-number) lets more light in, while closing your aperture (larger f-number) will reduce the light, so we must close the aperture. The resulting image is free of reflected light, and transparent objects like glass are free of reflections.
From which f-stop number does this light disbursement happen so i make sure not exceed that f-stop number next time i shoot in bulb mode (if it can be formulated of course)?
These filters have fallen out of use recently because this type of color temperature correction can easily be achieved with image processing software.

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