Photographing Portraits in Low Key Light

  • Single Lighting

Using a single source of lighting for your Portraits – or any composition – will allow you to be more determined about achieving your intentions as a photographer.
Composition is a complex game, why make it more difficult just because you’ve read something about a three light set-up?

  • Looking into the Void of Space

When we look into space that has been filled with an object our brain immediately goes into action. It searches for order in the things we see. That order is based on pre-conceptions and learned ideas about what order is.

  • How we see things

We are all different, our experiences of life follow different paths and therefore with draw different conclusions about what we see and what we think the object is. Such as which part part of a composition is most important.

The focal point in composition is based on your own judgement and choices – not on “rules of composition” in a book, or determined by an APP.

  • Universal Eyes and Everything that Looks Different

Composition becomes Universal. Te way you see things determines what type of photographs you take best. The music you listen to and love will often be a clue as to your own ideas about composition. Pop music, Trance, Jazz or Blues and Rock are different forms of Rhythm and Compositions. They appeal to your brain and your sensibilities.

The photo below was taken with a quick set up of one light. The lighting at 75 Watts power on a strip light box with Barn Doors wide open and a Softbox covering to dampen and soften the sharp edges.

Sean P. Durham 2018 SP_ BerlinSelf Portrait 2018 - Sean P. Durham PhotographyThe figure (above) in the photo is standing close to the light source. In spite of a soft light, the contrast has been adjusted to bring out the edges of the features. This creates the effect desired in this particular photograph. The shiny buttons on the jacket catch the reflection, they are distracting to the viewer and create a disconnected composition of their own below the main focus of the man’s face. There is no catch light in the eyes – that’s a matter of personal taste and not a law of photography. Many young photographers feel that the eyes must ‘pop’ and that their job is to make the eyes the focul point of the whole composition. Think about your intentions. Do you want to create a portrait or do you want to photograph eyes and make them look unnaturally alive and full of light just to serve a fashion that Photoshopping an image allows?
Black and White Low Key Light - Sean P. Durham Portrait PhotographyThe above photo, Black and White and a close up was taken in very low light. The objective was to achieve low key lighting on the features without losing too much information. Low key light helps to create mood. Mood is emotion and that leads to story telling with images.

The intensity of the whites and highlights is a matter of personal choice and what makes your brain “see” things of interest.

If you take the so called “rules of composition” and study them, you will learn a lot about how to achieve the photos you want. You will also discover that rules go on and on. They are subject to interpretations on a personal level and therefore require the viewer to take interest first, before they will understand that a complex or simple composition is interesting.

Musical composition is varied. Listen to your favourite music and focus on the composition of the piece. The flow and direction. Compare it with other pieces by the same artist and you’ll hear that they have found their “thing”, their way of putting a piece together.

Now listen to some music from an Eastern Culture – Folk Music, for example. You’ll be slightly confused, unless you come from that part of the World.

Composition is simple and complex. It is strongly related to our need for order and reflection on experiences in life. Photo composition is relative to music, painting and city planning which all require composition and order.

Don’t forget, there is a theory that there is order in chaos.

  • Attempting to use chaos as a way to break-out and create new ideas is fine, but you’ll be putting yourself in a position where you are trying to understand the chaos in order to control it – you’ll be naturally ordering objects to suit your inherent values of order and composition.

Author: seanpatrick

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