Home · Register · Search · View Winners · Software · Hosting · Software · Join Upload & Sell

Moderated by: Fred Miranda
Username   Password

  New fredmiranda.com Mobile Site
  New Feature: SMS Notification alert
  New Feature: Buy & Sell Watchlist
  

FM Forums | Lighting & Studio Techniques | Join Upload & Sell

1
       2       end
  

Archive 2013 · What is low key?
  
 
no_surrender
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · What is low key?


I'm hoping someone can enlighten me on the difference between purposefully lighting a low key subject and simply shooting underexposed.

Occasionally, I've seen images, particularly portraits, that are said to be low key but my brain is telling me they're just underexposed. What am I missing?

How can one continue to use a histogram when shooting low key?


Thanks! -Kevin



Mar 23, 2013 at 05:36 AM
myam203
Online
• • • •
Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · What is low key?


Maybe someone else can give a textbook answer, but in a nutshell, low key just means that most of an image is made up of dark tones (i.e. dark hair, clothing, background). In terms of a histogram, a properly exposed low key image should still have most of the information to the left side, based on the lighting and subject matter in front of the lens, not because of underexposure.


Mar 23, 2013 at 05:41 AM
Steve Wylie
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · What is low key?


Exactly. There's a post from yesterday (March 21) in the People forum titled "First Attempt at Low Key Self-Portrait" that is an example of a simply underexposed frame. It had potential to be a nice low-key image, but was simply not exposed sufficiently to render enough detail.


Mar 23, 2013 at 05:53 AM
Steve Wylie
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · What is low key?


By the way, Kevin, I hope you're all safe and well over there. Lil' Kim's a nut job.


Mar 23, 2013 at 05:54 AM
no_surrender
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · What is low key?


Thank you, myam203 and Steve!

I've just been having a hard time wrapping my mind around the proper way to light a low key portrait. Keep your eye out for a low key selfy of my own later this weekend.


Steve, I'm right at two months remaining until my return to the States. We're very excited and looking forward to Italy, which has the possibility of being cancelled should Lil' Kim initiate an attack. For everyone's sake, I hope that does not happen! As always, thanks for your help.

Kevin



Mar 23, 2013 at 06:11 AM
oldrattler
Offline
• • • • •
Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · What is low key?


Here is a different forums take at expressing in layman terms:: http://www.thephotoforum.com/forum/lighting-hardware/261365-low-key-lighting-underexposed.html or here : http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_difference_between_an_under_exposed_and_an_over_exposed_image .. Hope it helps. Jim


Mar 23, 2013 at 06:46 AM
no_surrender
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · What is low key?


oldrattler wrote:
Here is a different forums take at expressing in layman terms:: http://www.thephotoforum.com/forum/lighting-hardware/261365-low-key-lighting-underexposed.html or here : http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_difference_between_an_under_exposed_and_an_over_exposed_image .. Hope it helps. Jim


Thanks, Jim. I learned a bit from both links and am starting to understand a little more fully.

Cheers - Kevin



Mar 23, 2013 at 07:53 AM
cgardner
Offline
• • • • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · What is low key?


"Low-key" describes a photo which has a narrow range of darker tones. There different ways to create such a narrow range: dark content (i.e. close-up of black suit) in even lighting; a full range of content in uneven lighting (with lighter tone content hidden in shadows); full range content with under-exposure of the highlights. Whether the "low-key" image per the technical definition passes the "looks normal" test is subject to perceptual interpretation of the narrow range of contrast clues seen in the photo.

Perceptually what creates the illusion of 3D in a 2D photo is some degree of contrasting tone. For example to create the illusion of 3D shape on a black ball on a black background you might use a strategy like the one illustrated below:

http://super.nova.org/XP/Lighting_Creating3D/Black/Black1.jpg
Back rim lighting to define the overall shape and create foreground separation
http://super.nova.org/XP/Lighting_Creating3D/Black/Black2.jpg
A key source placed above and to the side as in natural light to create an illusion of 3D shape.
http://super.nova.org/XP/Lighting_Creating3D/Black/Black3.jpg
Accents created by objects reflecting light onto the foreground to nuance the 3D shape clues.
http://super.nova.org/XP/Lighting_Creating3D/Black/Black4.jpg

The brain, seeing specular reflections on the dark object in the foreground interprets the clues as representing 3D shape based on memories of seeing similar shapes in similar lighting.

If photographing the proverbial black cat on the coal pile you'd need to use such a strategy if you wanted the cat to be seen: back rim lit to define the shape of the cat from the dark background, centered fill adequate to reveal the detail in the coal pile and cat, and sufficient key lighting in front to correctly expose the white eyes and teeth of the cat. What would make it "low-key" to the extent it would be considered so would be the fact the content is mostly black.

Now take the same scene and put a white cat next to the black one on the coal pile. If fill and key light in front where correctly set to match the black-to-white range of fur and teeth in the black cat to the sensor the same exact set-up should correctly expose the white cat when inserted in the scene. Technically it would no longer be a "low-key" photo because the content is no longer all dark.

On both the white and the black cat what will make the fur look 3D and fluffy vs. flat and matted down is the specular quality of the light sources. Fur (hair shafts) consist of flat scale-like surfaces which reflect light like a mirror creating the characteristic 3D look. So when selecting light sources for pets a smaller one or shiny silver umbrella which creates specular reflections is more effective for making the fur look soft than a big diffuse source would.

In terms of compositional dynamics contrast with the overall background tone pulls attention to what contrasts with it. I created these tutorials to illustrate this:
http://photo.nova.org/Perception/
http://photo.nova.org/COIforTHOU/
http://photo.nova.org/Backgrounds/

Where "key" gets a bit confusing is that the tone of the background (what is predominant) defines it, but what attracts attention instinctively on a perceptual level is what contrasts the most with it. For example in a portrait on a black background of a person in a black suit and shirt everything except the face would be "low key" while the face and hair, if correctly exposed, would have a full range of tone from specular white reflections on the teeth and eyes to nearly solid black in the hair of a dark haired subject. Is that a "low-key" portrait? Not by the strict interpretation of the definition.

So it's best not to get too hung up on terminology like "low-" and "high-key". Instead think in terms of goals, strategies and technique. When composing any photo the questions I ask are:

1) What is most important to the message where I want the viewer to dwell?
2) How can I make it contrast with the overall background so it attracts attention organically?

The result is usually a correctly exposed light or dark object contrasting on a dark or light background, not a "low-" or "high-key" photo.



Mar 23, 2013 at 11:29 AM
JohnBrose
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · What is low key?


Low Key is when your subject is the brightest thing in the image, High Key is when your subject is the darkest thing in the scene. It's as simple as that. Surrounding doesn't have to be white or black, but typically are. Using a handheld light meter will help you expose correctly.


Mar 23, 2013 at 12:15 PM
no_surrender
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · What is low key?


Here's my first attempt for both a selfy and a low key portrait. I decided to grab the bottle to make the shot a tad more interesting. Am I close?

http://www.kcrawphotography.com/photos/i-tv9v8vD/0/X2/i-tv9v8vD-X2.jpg



Mar 23, 2013 at 12:51 PM
 

Search in Used Dept. 



no_surrender
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · What is low key?


cgardner wrote:
"Low-key" describes a photo which has a narrow range of darker tones. There different ways to create such a narrow range: dark content (i.e. close-up of black suit) in even lighting; a full range of content in uneven lighting (with lighter tone content hidden in shadows); full range content with under-exposure of the highlights. Whether the "low-key" image per the technical definition passes the "looks normal" test is subject to perceptual interpretation of the narrow range of contrast clues seen in the photo.

Perceptually what creates the illusion of 3D in a 2D photo is some degree of contrasting tone. For
...Show more

Thanks for the info, Chuck! I remember seeing similar examples in "Light, Science, and Magic" in the black on black section. Looks like I need to go back and re-read that section.

Your tutorials are extremely informative, as are your FM responses to lighting questions. I plan on reviewing your linked explanations again tomorrow and having another go. Hopefully this time I'll have someone else to work with...I find it difficult to take self portraits.

Kevin



Mar 23, 2013 at 12:53 PM
BrianO
Offline
• • • • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · What is low key?


no_surrender wrote:
Here's my first attempt for both a selfy and a low key portrait. I decided to grab the bottle to make the shot a tad more interesting. Am I close?


Close, but for my taste your face is over exposed on one side, and you could go a little less on the other side without any problem.

I think the bottle and your hand are perfectly exposed, since they are the foreground subjects.



Mar 23, 2013 at 02:44 PM
RustyBug
Online
• • • • • •
Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · What is low key?


Imo, a low key image is simply (generic definition) one that has an overall average brightness in the lower quarter tonal range, whereas a high key image is one that has an overall average brightness in the upper quarter tonal range.

Here's an obvious silhouette as an intentional underexposure, which is different from the "black on black", or a scene dominated by shadow with rim lighting or a subject matter that is predominantly dark. For me, a successful low key (or high key) has prominent areas (even if small) of "proper" exposure to give us the visual clue that it is an intentional effort rather than an "ooops" under/over exposed ... if that makes any sense.

An "average blur" of the image shows us just how dark the overall average tonal value is ... i.e. low key. Here's another way that I think of "low key" vs."high key" ... a low volume (portion of scene illuminated by) of key lighting vs. a high volume of key lighting ... exposing properly for the key lighting, regardless of the amount of area (low/little vs. high/lot) that the key lighting is being applied to.

Not something that is likely advocated much, but if it helps, you can think of it this way too.
Low volume of key lighting = Low Key
High volume of key lighting = High Key

















Mar 23, 2013 at 02:51 PM
RustyBug
Online
• • • • • •
Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · What is low key?


BrianO wrote:
Close, but for my taste your face is over exposed on one side, and you could go a little less on the other side without any problem.

I think the bottle and your hand are perfectly exposed, since they are the foreground subjects.


+1 @ Brian's point at your face ... i.e. your key lighting on your face is not properly (i.e. over) exposed, while the key lighting on your bottle is. The majority of your scene (background/shadow areas) is not illuminated by your key light ... i.e. low usage (area of scene) of key lighting produces low key, not to be confused with underexposing your key lighting. Other than the facial exposure issue, I'd say you've pretty well got the gist of it.

Here's the average of your scene (24,19,18), definitely in the lower quarter overall.








Mar 23, 2013 at 03:23 PM
Deezie
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · What is low key?


Check out Rembrandt paintings and Caravaggio to get a better sense of low-key examples.

http://www.rembrandtpainting.net/rmbrndt_1636-1654/gold_hat.htm

http://static.newworldencyclopedia.org/c/c2/Caravaggio_denial.jpg



Mar 23, 2013 at 04:33 PM
no_surrender
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · What is low key?


RustyBug wrote:
+1 @ Brian's point at your face ... i.e. your key lighting on your face is not properly (i.e. over) exposed, while the key lighting on your bottle is. The majority of your scene (background/shadow areas) is not illuminated by your key light ... i.e. low usage (area of scene) of key lighting produces low key, not to be confused with underexposing your key lighting. Other than the facial exposure issue, I'd say you've pretty well got the gist of it.

Here's the average of your scene (24,19,18), definitely in the lower quarter overall.


Thank you RustyBug for further clarification. I'm not sure, however, that I could have increased exposure on my face without overexposing the bottle. I used one strobe w/ beauty dish which was to my right and slightly in front. I shot this in my 10x10 dorm room...very cramped space to say the least, not to mention the difficulty of shooting oneself.

Just curious, how did you average the scene? Browser ext, app, software, etc?

Thanks! Kevin



Mar 24, 2013 at 12:59 PM
no_surrender
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · What is low key?


Deezie wrote:
Check out Rembrandt paintings and Caravaggio to get a better sense of low-key examples.

http://www.rembrandtpainting.net/rmbrndt_1636-1654/gold_hat.htm


Deezie, how interesting to see all those paintings and what great examples they are! Thank you!

Kevin



Mar 24, 2013 at 01:06 PM
RustyBug
Online
• • • • • •
Upload & Sell: On
p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · What is low key?


Kevin,

Yeah, I figured that you were using a single strobe and had to choose between exposure @ near object (face) vs. distant object (bottle). Since exposure is related to distance from source, this is where you'd either need to use two different light sources, make the objects more equitable in distance or partially block/reduce the portion @ nearest object (face), etc.


Average the scene ... Photoshop>Filter>Blur>Average.
Some histogram readings will give it to you in a data/numeric value also.


It's not really critical to be defined by the number, your eye will pretty well let you know if you have used a lot/little amount of key lighting and are low, medium or high key. It's kinda like having a laser guided nuclear bomb ... does it really matter if you miss the target by six inches? (Props to those on watch.) Don't get hung up on the number criteria, I was just using it as illustration of another way of defining what your eye already knows.

As to your question @ low key vs. underexposed, I think your eye probably knew the difference.
Were the highlights ... ummm ... highlights (vs. muddy mid-tones)?

As to your question @ histogram ... you'll still want your highlights (if your scene has them) to be on the right side. You may have a large gap between the mountain on the left and the small crumbs in the middle before you reach your highlights. But, if your scene has bright highlights (rim lighting, etc.) and they aren't where they should be, you're probably underexposed. Conversely, if you are shooting high key and your scene has blacks, but they aren't located on the left, you're probably overexposed.

Mostly, you'll still want full tonal range (assuming you have both blacks & whites/highlights in your scene), just that your mountain (volume) will be in either the left quarter (low key) or the right quarter (high key), instead of the middle two quarters (normal/average/typical scene & lighting). The histo on your selfy gives a pretty good clue @ how the mountain is on the left, with crumbs in the middle/right, yet still extends full range to the right. (Reverse for high key).



Mar 24, 2013 at 02:17 PM
BrianO
Offline
• • • • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · What is low key?


no_surrender wrote:
...I'm not sure, however, that I could have increased exposure on my face without overexposing the bottle.


I think we were suggesting decreased exposure on your face, not increased. With only one light source that can be difficult, but could possible be achieved by feathering the light further toward the front (away from your face), using a flag, etc.

As I said, though, it's fine the way it is; I just nthink it could be even better with less exposure on your face...especially on the shadow side.

Some of what makes low-key lighting interesting is that the viewer's mind has to fill in missing details that can't be directly observed, thus becoming more engaged with the image. The technique was used to great effect by the painters of the art shown above (it's called chiaroscuro in painting, although technically chiarosuro doesn't have to be low key as long as there is strong light/dark contrast), and also by film-makers of the film noir mysteries of the 1930s and '40s.

Anyway, since your face was -- to my mind -- overexposed but not to the point of clipping, it could be selectively brought down in Photoshop without changing the exposure of the bottle if you want to experiment with the effect.



Mar 24, 2013 at 10:39 PM
no_surrender
Offline
• • •
Upload & Sell: Off
p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · What is low key?


RustyBug, thank you for the 'how to' descriptive application of the histo in high/low key shots. Your last post is really helping me put things into perspective and making the puzzle pieces fit. Now I just need someone or something to experiment with to be more purposeful as opposed to trial and error--the hard way.

Kevin



Mar 24, 2013 at 10:39 PM
1
       2       end




FM Forums | Lighting & Studio Techniques | Join Upload & Sell

1
       2       end
    
 

You are not logged in. Login or Register

Username   Password    Reset password