high key photography conceptual portraiture series blanc created at Kameraz workshop in Johannesburg byfashion photographer Natalie FieldToday we are featuring a selection of Film Noir styled images created at the Low Key Photography demonstration at the Kameraz Super Sunday in association with my sponsors Photon and Vanguard.
Low Key photography is inspired by Chiaroscuro lighting, a style of painting the subject emerging from the darkness, which was developed in the Renaissance and Baroque periods by artists like Caravaggio and to a lesser degree, but probably better known, Rembrandt. Today the term describes photographic images with high contrast, that lean towards predominantly dark tones and colours. Working with shades ranging from gray to black, Low Key Photography is a process of illuminating and eliminating light to create dark, moody and dramatic portraits. The high contrast in the image can also be used to guide the viewer’s eye to the subject.
Traditional teaching suggests that a good photograph should have detail throughout the shadows to the highlights, but with the Low Key technique we get to break the rules, aiming for a black devoid of detail. To create this look, work with a black background, as this will not only provide a dark palette to work on, but also absorb rather than reflect any fall-off from the lights. Other than the black backdrop you will need a minimum of one studio flash (or continuous light) and your camera, making this is a great set-up for people who are just starting out with their studio experimentation. I created these images using the Photon Pro 400W Kit, with barn-doors attached for a hard light to give us the high contrast.
For the first image I used a single light placed high above the model’s head for dramatic effect, to illustrate how easy it can be to create a classic Film Noir portrait with this technique.
In the second set of images I used two lights, placed behind and to either side of the model to create a rim light to capture bodyscapes. I showed two options, applying red coloured gels in the alternative image for creative in-camera effect, knowing that I would be emphasizing it further with a solarization treatment in post-production to give it a sheen. I think this image would print beautifully on a metallic paper.
As always a special thank you to all the people who attended the class! And off course credit to my lovely team:
If you enjoy chiaroscuro lighting you might also enjoy our blog post Baroque Styled Shoot.
We also have an article on High Key Lighting.