Portrait photography delivers best results when you focus attention on the subject and control the background.
Whether you are shooting for posed portraits or moving children, if you can control 5 camera settings you will capture excellent portrait shots. When you shoot portraits and slightly overexpose you will notice that your background details will be washed out and your subject’s skin tones will appear lighter.
Keep in mind that you have the option to change white balance settings and apply correction if you are shooting in RAW mode.
We are always looking for more interesting and insightful photography tips and techniques to share with our readers.
Getting great shots shooting into the sun requires switching over to the manual settings on your camera.
Join us for a photography course or specialty workshop in Costa Rica to learn more great techniques like this. You can create a custom vacation experience by combining different classes, accommodations and durations. 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.
This tutorial will help you get spookier portraits – perfect for the Halloween season.


The first clamp lamp is set up to directly light the portrait subject diagonally from one side, with a piece of vellum in front of the lamp to even the light. The second clamp lamp is positioned, without vellum, to shine behind the subject (onto the black backdrop), which should create a glowing outline the dark side of the face.
You may not get the result you’re looking for immediately, so make sure to move around your lights and adjust your camera settings until you get the desired effect.
Our recommendation: throw a Halloween party, and take a dramatic two-light portrait of each of your guests.
Challenge: Take a portrait using the two-light technique, and share your shot in the comments. Recent PostsOne Light Creative Product Photography TutorialHow to Shoot a Dramatic (And Spooky) Portrait Using a Two-Light Setup What's Photographing A Bullfight Like? Avoiding distracting elements or blurring the background draws the attention on your subject. Using this mode, the photographer sets the f-stop and the camera chooses the shutter speed.
Controlling depth of field means that you can blur the background to draw attention to your subject. Make sure that you are not shooting in Aperture Priority mode; you will need to set both aperture and shutter speed values manually since you have used the spot metering and received new exposure values. So if that portrait shot is quite important for you, shoot in RAW so you have an option to correct white balance later on. Take a few sample shots, adjusting the shutter speed until I get the right exposure for the subject. 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. To get excited about Halloween, we have a special tutorial on creating dramatic lighting for dramatic portraits, for all of you zombies and goblins out there. The resulting photograph should look dramatic, with one side of the face lit and the other almost completely dark, except for a mysterious outline provided by the second light. This technique is sure to cast an extra scary atmosphere for werewolves, vampires, witches, and (most importantly) the undead! Jen is a photography enthusiast with a background in creative and editorial writing, a keen eye for art and passion for language and sound.
I like the back-light , you can also try adding back light to the hair coming from back slightly above head level. Mikkel Bache AnswersWhy Documentary Photography Is ImportantLight Diffusion Tutorial: Soft Light Vs.
Later, shoot a couple extra using +1EV or +2EV of exposure compensation to see what they look like.
In such a case take a reading from your subject’s forehead or cheek using Spot Metering.
For example, if you are shooting in a shady area, you will not get the proper white balance. 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.
Here’s how to shoot a dark and potentially quite scary portrait in studio, using only two clamp lamps. A combination of continuous AF mode and multiple focus points will increase the chance of capturing a sharp image. Or photographing someone by the doorway of a well-lit room, with an unlit hallway behind them.
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.



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