How I Shoot: Lowkey Portrait

Long time coming right? Yeah, but it’s here now so shush your mouth! I want to start fairly simple, something that anyone getting into the strobist side of photography could achieve with some pretty basic kit. Lowkey sprung to mind straight away — It’s easy to do with a single light & you can use just about any lens, especially since we don’t need to take advantage of a wide (low) aperture for a shallow depth of field. Oh also — I’ve done a video of the whole thing. It’s at the end of this post, it’s very amateur but maybe it will help you out… if not you can at least laugh at me!

Setup Preview

Equipment List

  • Camera: Canon 50D

    Any dSLR will be fine.

  • Lens: Canon 50mm F/1.4

    But we aren’t taking advantage of the wide aperture so any lens with a similar focal length will work, even your kit lens.

  • Flashes: Canon 580ex

    Any flash that you can fire wirelessly will work.

  • Accessories: 1 light stand, 1 light bracket, 1 umbrella & a tripod.

    You don’t need a umbrella or any light modifier this shot could be done with a bare flash.

A Bit Of Planning

A bit of planning goes a long way! It’s always good to have a fair idea of what you want to achieve before you go out to do a shot, it’ll save you time when you are out in the wild. Sometimes I’ll even do child like drawings of the sort of thing I want to end up with, or very sketchy lighting diagrams, or even save similarly styled/lit shots to my iPhone so I can flick through them when I am out.

Also if possible grab a friend/spouse/co-worker/stranger in the street to pose for you, it’s a lot easier & quicker than doing it as a self portrait.

The Shoot

The first thing you need to know about a Lowkey shot like this is it does not need to be done at night, in fact doing it at night is a hell of a lot harder… how do you focus on something you can’t see!? I’m not saying you can do it in brilliant sunshine, but as long as the sun is setting or you are indoors you should be fine. I did this shoot at about 9:00pm & shot at a narrower (higher number) aperture to cut out the ambient light which, in this case, was the sun.

Finding a suitable location was easy for this one, I just needed somewhere with a bit of space. I could have found a giant car park with nothing in the backdrop, but I thought picking somewhere with walls behind my subject would give me a chance to talk a little bit about light to subject to backdrop ratios without going into the inverse square law.

The first thing I like to do when I get to a location is set up my kit roughly how I think I am going to use it. Then I start framing up my shot but I am not thinking about the lighting from my strobes just yet.

The light I want to focus on first is ambient light, which I want to completely eliminate. This is the easy part. First thing I do is make sure my ISO is set as low as it will go, then I set my shutter speed to the very fastest it will go with the triggers I am using. With my current triggers (RF-602’s) I can sync up to 1/200th of a second (FYI unless you can sync really fast shutter speed will not effect the strength of your flash). The fast shutter speed does a great job of getting rid of a lot of the sun light.

Then it’s all down to the aperture, starting with my aperture as wide as it will go, I progressively narrow it until I cut out all of the ambient light. This is where the histogram is particularly useful, if you aren’t familiar with histograms I recently did a small post explaining them. Every time I narrow my aperture I check the histogram until it tells me that all the light from the photo is gone. Kinda exactly like this:

The benefit of working like this is that you aren’t making your aperture any smaller than you absolutely have to, which means you won’t have to work your flash quite so hard. I started with my flash at 1/4 power for this shot, which left my subject a little underexposed & my backdrop was getting some light.

Boo! But don’t panic — this is pretty easy to fix. You have three options, the first & easiest is to turn the flash up & move the light out to the side of the subject so less light is pointing at the backdrop. Second, again turn your flash up & move everything further away from the backdrop, your subject, your lights, your camera, all of it. Third — hold on I need a new paragraph for this…

Unfortunately it’s not always possible to move away from your backdrop or you don’t want your lights out on the side; lucky for us there is something else we can do. If you move the light closer to your subject, lets say half the distance, you can actually then bring the power down by two stops while retaining the same level of exposure on your subject. Because your light is on a lower power the amount that gets to the back drop will be dramatically reduced. In fact if you started off with your light, subject & backdrop with even spacing in between them, your backdrop will be under exposed by about eight stops which should stop it from showing up all together!

If you aren’t getting it don’t worry, the best thing to do is just get out & try it out, it’s much easier to learn when you can see the results first hand. I’m also going to do a post about this sort of stuff soon to try & break it down a little more, do some funky diagrams, you know — all that good stuff.

After a little setup tweaking & turning my flash up to 1/2 power, I got exactly the sort of light I was looking for. I used an umbrella box for my light modifier on this shoot because I like the softness that comes with it. But you could have used a snoot for a bit more control or even done it with a bare flash. From that point I just rattled off a whole bunch of shots, getting Mikee to pull some shapes for me — what a pro. So this is my final image, which has had pretty much zero editing done to it, just a crop & tiny bit of desaturation.

How I Shoot: Lowkey Portrat

You can check this shot out on my Flickr where you’ll be able to check out the large version & see all the EXIF data… if that’s your kinda thing.

The Video

Yep… video’d the whole thing! I thought it might be helpful. Errr please note — this is the first time I have ever done anything like this, so it’s a little on the amateur side & the audio is a little quiet in places — sorry.

The End

If you’ve read all of this, thanks! It’s kinda long but I hope it’s helpful to at least a few people. Also if you’ve had a go at this, I’d love to hear about it. In fact it would be really awesome if you could post a link or preview of the photo in the comments!

Oi You!

If you enjoyed this post, you will probably also enjoy “How I Shoot: A Daylight Strobist Portrait“. I have also written about putting together a Strobist Starter Kit for around £100/$150.


  • Waow. Great job at explaining how to shoot low key. It’s come at the perfect time for me as I gave it a bash a couple of days ago. This makes me want to try it again with better results. I’m a make use of the histogram. Anyway, I’ll be sure to show you what I come up with!

    P.S. You can tell a good bit of effort went into this post, and it’s your best yet IMO.

  • Nice post Rick, been waiting ages for this and it didn’t disappoint! Well done and a great final shot. Really informative too!

    I really wana have a go at this, but scared I will embarrass myself, ha! Looking forward to the next post, got a date for us?!


  • Dude, awesome! Thank you

  • I agree with Ashley, this is also my favourite post so far :)

    I’d try this, but the lack of owning a flash might come in the way haha

  • Epic. This post is full of win. So well explained that even I could understand it. The video is orsum btw. Kthxbai.

  • Mate these are the posts! Really cool to see how its all done and in action.

    Did you use the tripod out of habit of all those self portraits or?

  • Great post Rick!

    Really find stuff like this very interesting as I am currently learning from scratch

    Keep up the good work mate!

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  • Mel

    Beyond fantastic post, it was just what I was looking for to be honest and I feel like I can take this shot on now.
    I’m still only a noob when it comes to my speedlite but hopefully I’ll get there!
    I look forward to more awesome posts from you.

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  • Pam

    Cool, Rick! I’ll have to try this out sometime!

  • Ben

    What video camera is this filmed with Rick?

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  • Ashley — Thanks :) yeah it took some time! But worth it!

    Adam — Don’t be scared! Just do it, put it up and learn from the feedback you get. Drop me an email if you have trouble and I’ll help you out.

    Nejc — My pleasure.

    Kyle — Time to spend some money!

    Jamie — Even you?! Wow must be god!

    Roger — Thanks man, I used the tripod because I didn’t know how long I was going to be shooting for and it’s just easier to tripod it up some times.

    Stu — Glad you like it, I hope it helps you!

    Mel — Wow thanks, cant wait to see how you get on with it.

    Pam — You had better!

    Ben — It was shot on a Canon 500D with a 50mm 1.8 lens.

  • I was looking at the RF602s on ebay, and saw that they can be use to trigger cameras remotely, so I was wondering if I had 2 cameras one with the transmitter and one with the receiver, I should potentially be able to trigger the 2nd camera when I take the first picture? Have you tried to do this at all?

  • Awesome post. Been waiting a long time but it’s well worth it

    Gonna be trying it out next week while I’m on holiday!

  • James — I’ve not tried this but it might work. but I think you’d be better putting a receiver on each camera. That’s how I would do it.

    Phil — Thanks dude, look forward to seeing your results.

  • This is mine!

  • Hi Rick,

    Just been looking online at the gear you mentioned in the video (Canon 580EX and the RF-602’s) and just wondered if there are any options out there for someone like me who isn’t at the stage of spending big dollar on a flash but still wants to have a crack at different shots such as the low key shot you showed us?

    Second question is what tripod do you have? and again without breaking the bank is there something you would recommend me buying to get me started, at present when playing with the car light trail shots effect I have been having to firmly hold the camera on the bridge railing to stop blurring which isn’t ideal lol

    Thirdly, are there any other little gadgets / tools you would recommend for me to assist with my photography, so far I have myself the Canon 450d and thats it but soo eager to get cracking!

    Cheers and any help would be saweeet!


  • Stu Thanks for the comment. Absolutely, for a beginner on a budget I would recommend getting a Yongnuo YN460 II flash which you can grab for just under £40, a set of RF602s for £20, and a cheap light stand which you can grab for about £12.

    That would get you started for about £70. Then you can grab an umbrella bracket & cheap umbrella for about £25 when you wanna carry on to the next step. I think eBay is your best bet for all those bits. You’d have a really nice set up to ease yourself into strobist shots.

    My tripod legs are Camlink TPPRO32B which I got for around £90 a year ago and I was lucky enough to get the Manfrotto 322RC2 ball head for my birthday this year. It makes a pretty awesome combo but it’s not the cheapest or lightest set up. Best thing is just to head out to a big camera sore and try a few out.

    Gadgets? Hmmm save your money & upgrade your lenses when you can. What lenses are you shooting with at the moment? I used to shoot with a 450D (Upgraded to my 50D around october) I loved shooting with it.

    p.s. I also put this post together (Which probably needs updating) but it might help too

  • Hey Rick, great post (only just got round to watching the vid, some great tips and ideas, thanks!
    having bought the 602’s also i cant wait to start shooting, just been too busy.
    look forward to experimenting though!

  • Cheers for getting back to me so soon Rick! Appreciate you taking time to help!

    I will get looking on eBay eager to get started, that sort of price I don’t mind for kicking me off so that sounds great! At the moment I only got my 18-55mm but I figured that would last me a while as I learn then progress to other lenses :)

    How long you been doing this stuff then? and also whats the bag you use in the shoot looks pretty sweet! Final q I promise but noticed you live tutha side of the bridge from me, any good places you’d recommend in Lincoln? Me and the misses have been meaning to venture that way for a while heard nice things!

    Will be sure to check out the other post ta for that!


  • Henry — Thanks, stop making excuses and get some photos taken!

    Stu — cool, if you want someone to check it’s the right auction you can pop me an email before you buy if you like.

    I’d really recommend picking up the Canon 50mm F/1.8, you can grab them for about £90 new. Really nice portrait lens, fantastic value for money.

    I got my first dSLR in January last year, actually go have a read here if you are interested.

    The bag is a Naneu Pro Urbangear U120, it’s a great bag, it can fit most of my stuff in it and a laptop too.

    Lincolns a really nice city… but pop me an email with the sort of places you’d be interested in and I’ll hook you up. It’s a little off topic. :)

  • Hey!
    great tips.. I wish I’d found it sooner.

    I took that shot a while ago, but went through pretty much same steps as you describe. I realize its no portrait..


  • hey, thanks a lot for the video. really helpful! i’m still pretty green with lighting techniques so it’s much appreciated.

  • Great article – I love dark moody portraits like this.



  • Nice post indeed.
    There is just a mistake in this image :

    f2.8 and f4 have been swapped !…

  • Foques — Looks great. Thanks for sharing.

    Sean — No problem.

    Mark — Me too, my favourite.

    Fabrice — Thanks, but I think you have misread it says F/1.4 not F/4.

  • kym

    Really informative post, there isn’t enough accessible content like this around. Shame some retard cut your head off in most of the video!

    Here is my shot:

  • Oli

    Hey Rick,

    Thanks for the great tutorial as Kym said, there isn’t enough content like this around! I gave this a shot tonight and I’m having a nightmare blacking out the background… I’m shooting indoor in a white room… I know it’s gonna sound stupid but could this be the reason?

    Thanks again for posting this!

  • Oli — Yeah, thats exactly the reason, you aren’t getting the lights far enough away from the wall and they are spilling on to it. White is obviously the most reflective colour. Either try it in a bigger room, or step outside.

  • oli

    Wow thanks for the quick reply! I’m glad it isn’t me doing something stupid… Well I’ll have to go out I suppose as I don’t have any more space at home and everything is white here! Anyway, thanks for the advice and I can’t wait for the next article…

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  • Thanks for a tutorial like this. I really like the end to end description of how to pull this off. Thanks a lot. Good work. I wanna try this soon on my own SP.

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  • Hahaha, great post!

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together for all of us :)

    I loved the mario theme song music filler while you were setting up and the end of the video where you were like, “…and then this video won’t make any sense…. awesome.” Hahaha.

    I’ve always loved these kinds of photos and I’m so happy that I can actually do them now :). It’s so hard to find areas where this works with natural light.

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  • Thank you man! Very very nice tip!

  • I’ve always wondered how this is done. Great article and thank you for sharing!

  • This is mine.

    Though we dont have any sophisticated equipments but by seeing and we achieved some results

  • liz

    You did an amazing job explaining the whole process, I totally understand how to do this now! Thank you so much!

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  • Pretty Cool, but where do you live that the sun is out at 9 pm?

  • Denver Photographer — No problem, let me know how you get on.

    Steven Buri — I enjoyed it, yeah I needed to put some music with it and that popped into my head. It’s not to hard to find a spot to do this, as long as the sun isn’t right on you, you should be fine.

    Alexander — Any time.

    sweetpeatoad — Gunna try out the technique? Share it if you do.

    Irfan — Cool shot, might work well with a square crop, what do ya think?

    liz — Great, thats what I was aiming for.

    Karen — I’m in the UK, it’s light until about 9.30/10pm at the moment, but the nights will start drawing in again soon.

  • chuck

    Tripid with 1/200? That’s funny ;)

  • I’m glad I amuse you chuck, I’m sure I wasn’t doing it to make it easier to do the video, help with framing, or to help people see the relationship between the camera, subject & background. Very constructive, you’ve really made a strong & meaningful contribution to the post, do come again.

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  • rajamannar

    hey rick, thank you for the tutorial. can you suggest the wireless trigger system in the nikon gear system. i have nikon d-90 ,sb-26 flash,sb-600, digital flash radio trigger, stand and umbrella. i am in india.

  • rajamannar — Grab yourself a set of RF-602s, you can read more about then in this post.

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  • Mo

    Great video. Really helpful info.

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  • Fabulous & informative thanx ,’;o]…
    I will be visiting often.

  • Thx for the tutorial!!!

  • Great tutorial Rick. I found it linked in comments from here:

    I really like your technique of using the histogram to figure out when the aperture is closed enough to give you no ambient, I can see using that lots.

    I also shoot with a 50d and a 50mm1.4 – an inexpensive 18-200 will likely be my next lens purchase.

    I’ve priced out a set of those recievers on and I think I’ll get them ordered, I’ve been bouncing flash with my 42″ reflector to get light a bit more off camera with my 430ex so far.

    Again, great tutorial, thanks very much for sharing.

  • Killer tutorial Rick

    Second best bit of advice was “stop making excuses and get some photos taken!”

  • Very nice and amazing tutorial! I totally love this!!
    I actually have never tried this and my current Canon S2IS only goes up to F8 so I will try this with an actual SLR camera in the next few days and see how that goes. Thanks for sharing this great effect!

  • Hi Rick,

    This guide inspired me to shoot this:

    I dont have any off camera flash so I used a halogen flood light :) Dan said it was very MacGyver of me.
    I follow your work, and it inspires me to try new things. I just feel like i’m copying a little bit.

  • Marc, great work. Doing this with constant lighting is a great idea, especially if you already have the tools. One of the best things about photography is being creative with the items you have available to you. Don’t worry about being inspired by someones work, everyone does it and it’s the best way to learn. When I was getting started I used to find a photo I liked and then I’d try and create my own version of that. As long as you aren’t just completely ripping off someones work then it’s all win.

  • Hey Rick,

    I’m pretty dumbfounded that I didn’t check your blog out sooner! I’m on your flickr all the time and browse your site every now and then but never your blog.

    Thanks for doing this write-up Once I get my strobist kit setup I am definitely going to try this out.

    ps. I’ve emailed you a couple times and I appreciate your help

  • Hello Rick,

    thank you so much for this very detailed tutorial! Before this it was hard for me to understand how all these nice lowkey photos were taken. Now I got it and I want to share my first shot with you:


    Maybe it is a little too dark though. This is because I took this picture in a small room and had to lower the power of my flash to 1/32 in order to make the white wall (1.5 meters) behind me disappear.

  • sdtacoma

    Totally awesome dude. Thank you for putting this together. I can’t wait to give it a go.

  • Great post and video. Thanks for that! I’ve just got my first DSRL a couple of months ago, but this a technique I look forward to using.

  • Hey Rick,

    This is a great tutorial. I tried to do this the other day and I ended up maxing out my aperture, and it still wasn’t dark enough. Is that just because there was too much ambient light? (ISO 100, F22, 1/200)

    Also, what bag are you using in the video to tote all your gear around?

    Thanks man!

  • David

    Absolutely brilliant tutorial Rick. I’ve learnt so much from this post and your others on gear choices already. Congratulations on the 50/50 project too, very inspiring work.

  • Greg

    Hey Rick!
    Fantastic tutorial. I was looking through your work and I have to say I’m really impressed. I’ve always loved dramatic, high-contrast lighting, and this is just perfect! This is a somewhat off-topic question, but what camera did you shoot your tutorial video with?
    Look forward to seeing more of your work,

  • Josh, yeah I would think it was still just a bit too bright still. You don’t really wanna have to force your aperture that narrow if it can be helped because it will mean your speedlight has to work harder. I use a Lowepro Computrekker Plus AW, it was the biggest backpack I could find for fitting all my strobist stuff in.

    Greg, the video was shot on a Canon 500D.

  • I like to bookmark this page if you allow.
    Brief but very helpful explanation. have never tried low key photo before but keen to try it in the near future.

  • Rick – Great Blog you have got going here. Nice to find someone on this side of the pond who knows what they are doing. I am just getting into OCF – my kit is on a slow boat from China – YN460ii + YN468 with two sets of RF602’s (I shoot with 2 cameras so this will allow both cameras to fire the same flashes without having to constantly swap the ‘sender’ unit).

    I was mainly interested in balancing ambient with flash and some of the cool effects seen on the Strobist blogspot – but now I can’t wait to try low key stuff.


  • Very helpful and detailed tutorial…
    Really like your blog

  • Thank you for your excellent tutorial Rick. I was searching this tutorial for a while and you explained it really well. I thought this low key shot has to be done in a dark place and require a black backdrop. Have you ever tried high key? All the tutorial that I saw on the web, it seems the white backdrop are required.

    I followed your setup guide and asked my friend to take several shots of me.
    I used my friend’s Canon Xsi with speedlight 580EX and cactus trigger from gadget infinity. I’m Olympus guy btw :P
    I didn’t have umbrella yet when the shot taken so the flash is kind of harsh but it’s on the way now :) The only thing that I’m having hard time is I couldn’t get the subject more pop (the vibrance) so I converted to Black and White.

  • Hey Rick,

    Am new into strobist world and was looking for more info on the setup and how to get started. This was the best blog I could find,with a hands on approach to things.

    I guess am ready to try out some..
    BTW, its not that long of a read for people who are really looking for this kind of info. Wrinting is a different story though ;)

    Thanks again..
    – Jack

  • Hey Rick
    Great tutorial. I’m using a humble d40 and shooting at ISO200 (lowest available) but still getting really noisy results. Any ideas? Time for a new camera?!

  • Superb tutorial. I come from the dark side (the Minolta/Sony Minority, fabulous cameras DSLRs, world’s best kept secret!) but photography is photography and thank you for sharing. Will take these tips to my Brisbane, Australia, photography group’s portrait meeting tonight – I will be the star! (Would like to borrow the Fifty Fifty project idea too – OK? Love those 50mms, the sweet lens)


    “What light through yonder window breaks?” – here’s a sample of some fun shots taken last night after seeing your tutorial. My first go, and pleased with the confidence your straightforward, informative video has given me. I will be trying this again and again. The kit will always be in the boot of my car. The freedom this portable system gives is intoxicating. Thank you, thank you, thankyou :)

  • Random question:

    What eye piece/viewfinder cup are you using on your 50D?

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  • Gunther

    Hi Rick, great teaching video, thank you very much. I am having Problems to find an adequate Umbrella/softbox to use with the Nikon SB-900 speedlight because it seems a lot of umbrella/softboxes are made for studio strobes. Could you please tell me the brand of the umbrella you used in the video.

    Thank you and best regards,


  • Froi

    Hi Rick, i was really turned on into strobist because of this post. your tutorial is really really easy to understand. thanks for sharing. btw, i just received my light stand,bracket and umbrella today and i can’t wait to try this thing out. i’m just using the Yongnuo’s RF-602 trigger and a YN-468 speedlight coz i don’t have tons of money to shell out for the expensive ones and here in the Philippines, they’re easy to get them. thank you and you’ve been very helpful with all your posts.


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  • Hey, first off id like to say that this is a great tutorial and its given me inspiration to start using off camera flash.

    I have one question though that is probably a stupid one haha. where you place the umbrella looks like it would be seen in the shot but you cant see it in the final product, is this cut out in post proccessing or is it just because the umbrella only throws light onto the model and doesnt create a visible shape or outline on the image? any help would be greatly appreciated


  • Wow this is a bit overdue, it’s so hard to reply to all these comments but I try my best.

    Kevin, it’s called a HoodEYE and it’s very good. I got mine from eBay.

    Gunther, it’s not a branded one. There are plenty around. Example —

    Brendan, The umbrella was JUST out of shot. If you watch the video you’ll see how it’s framed a bit better.

  • Rick, no worries, I managed to find it listed on one of your flickr images.


  • Thank you very much Rick, I followed your advice and managed to get some real good low key photos for my first try. Next week I have my second try on this. For everyone who is interested, some of the photos you can see here:

    Be aware that these photos contain nudity!

  • Hey! This is really really nice work!
    The only thing I could imagine to be a bit more “pro” or practical is the video:
    Try to get the cam on a tripod. More Cuts, less moving arround. Speak TO the mic^^. You’re hard to hear sometimes.

    Please keep going. Allthough I’m some kind of advanced, I read it all and got some new spice for my own work! Thanks!!! Well done!

  • Hi Rick, Excellent blog! Really well explained – awesome video as well :-)

  • Awesome blogs, for only shooting 2 years you’ve already got an amazing wealth of knowledge. Plus, it’s cool to see you’re in it for the passion and willing to share what you’ve learnt. Any news about ‘How I Shoot: The Series’?

  • J

    THANKS SO MUCH! Very useful post.

    Just curious – is it possible to get a similar shot without using an external flash? Also how would you go about it in a club/ bar when it is difficult to control the subjects closeness to the background etc. Here’s an example of what I mean:

    /* Removed Broken Link */

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  • Alex, cool good work.

    Mike, yeah — I wasn’t even planning on doing a video at first, it was just meant to be a bit of extra help. The next one will be better.

    Pete, thanks for taking the time to look.

    Herbs, thank you, the next instalment will be coming at the start of March :)

    J, If you had a speedlight on top of the camera turned 90º and a wall to bounce it off to the side you could do something similar I guess. The link is broken so I can’t see what you are meaning. But this sort of shot isn’t really going to work for candid shots.

  • Hi Rick,
    just stumbled on your site, impressed with your work.It’s great your recording each process. Your crew are fun too!
    I am a student about to do high/low key studio shots, I bought a canon 550d not really up on the right camera to buy as yet. Something for the future. Any idea on a speedlite on a students budget? Also what is the correct portrait lens?

  • Hi Rick,

    Fantastic tutorial and awesome result. Could I ask about your white balancing? What setting did you use? Auto, custom, 18% grey? Just curious as many people have achieved many different results depending on their WB settings but you seem to have nailed it here :)



  • This is the one and only lowkey tutorial I´ve had understood in my whole life… we want more, please… Great work, you´re brilliant!!

  • Jill, take a look at this, also the 50mm 1.8 is a good lens to start with.

    Tony, I think I probably shot this on AWB, which is fine because normally I shoot in raw and can ‘fix’ the white balance after. If the scene suits I will set it to a specific wb but generally I sort it in post unless its wildly out of control.

    Domingo, thanks :)

  • Hi Rick,

    Great page, Ive just got into digital photography in the last couple of weeks, bought a 550D and have been trying to work out how the low key shots are done. Thanks for clearing this up, very concise and educational. Loving your 365 blog too – something for me to aspire to :)

    Ill also be making use of your shopping recommendations for the cheap flash and umbrella setup you mentioned for around 70 quid…


  • Jill

    Hi Rick

    Thankyou for taking the time to reply and give the great advice on equipment. Bet your a busy bee!
    I was considering buying that particular speedlight you mentioned. It’s good to have a pro’s opinion first! Thanks all the same.

    Jill :)

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  • Rick,

    Thanks for taking such time to post video tutorials of your shots. I’m a first time poster here, but I’ve enjoyed your work since I stumbled upon your Project 50 last year. Your willingness to share how you “got the shot” is refreshing and very much appreciated.

    Gave it a try: unfortunately, my cramped little basement made things extremely difficult. Anxious to get outside and try shooting in an open area.

    Raise your Glass

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  • Chris Couper

    Rick : how dark must the ambient light be? Is this shot best done when the sun is low in the sky (early morning/late afternoon)? I had a heck of a time doing this outside in an open area, even in the shade at 4PM. Even at f/16 and ISO 100 (with sync speed of 1/250), my histogram was still showing details/ambient light.. I hate to have to ‘clean up’ the image much in post: just feel like I’ve failed in the spirit of creating the image in the first place.

  • Chris, you might want to re-read the article. Specifically this paragraph:

    “The first thing you need to know about a Lowkey shot like this is it does not need to be done at night, in fact doing it at night is a hell of a lot harder… how do you focus on something you can’t see!? I’m not saying you can do it in brilliant sunshine, but as long as the sun is setting or you are indoors you should be fine. I did this shoot at about 9:00pm & shot at a narrower (higher number) aperture to cut out the ambient light which, in this case, was the sun.”

  • Miguel G. Roig


    Thank you very much for this entry, I have learnt a lot, quick and easy. Thanks.

    I have a doubt though. Although I agree it is better to go outside and test by ourselves, I am too interested in understanding the calculation behind.

    You say that when you move the light half the distance, you have/can decrease the power in 2 stops to keep the same exposure level, and I agree, but then you add that in this new configuration, the background will be about 8 stops underexposed. According to my calculations it should have 9 time less light than the subject, which corresponds to about 4.5 stops underexposed. Please, could you tell me how do you calculate the 8 stops?

    I understand the law as something like this I=k/d^2,

    I, is the light intensity at the subject, background, etc,
    d, is the distance from light source to subject/back…
    k, is a constant that takes the value of light intensity at 1 unit of distance (let’s say meter, for example) from the light source.

    Following that expression I found 4.5 f-stops less in the background for the new configuration, not 8.

    Thank you!

  • Miguel G. Roig

    Note: I did a mistake, when I said 4.5 times I meant 3.17 f-stops ( log2 (9)=3.17 ). Still I don’t find the 8 stops, though

  • Honestly, I am not a mathematician (I pretty much suck at anything over a basic level) but if I ever need one I know where to find one.

    What you have put down there is a bit over my head. I am good at drawing & taking pretty pictures. What I put was based on my rough understanding of the inverse square law which I read about here, I don’t get too hung up on the technical side of it past a certain point, better to just get out there and play with your camera. Photography is a creative pursuit, and if you are focusing on the technical too much you’ll lose sight of that.

  • That website seems to be down at the moment but there is a google cache of it here

  • A nice follow up to my sentiment:

    “Photography is the power of observation, not the application of technology.” — Ken Rockwell

  • gracias fantastico trabajo … love it ….. saludos desde mexico

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  • I’ve tried this but the background wasn’t dark enough so I have to throw a little post processing magic. And underexpose the background a little more. Thanks for showing this.

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  • Thank you for the work/time you put into this post. Bookmarked!

  • William Fong

    awesome tutorial!! i learn alot and help sort out my work procedure steps by steps…keep it up!!!

    – all the way from asia, William Fong

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  • Steven

    I am just about to borrow a friend Nikon but apparently it only goes down to ISO200. I won;t have a lot of time with the camera, what sort of f-stop / shutter compensations will I need or the ISO200 won’t make a hell of a lot of difference over the ISO100 in this case?


  • I was recommended to your site for this particular project; that I plan to take on pretty soon. I have to say I love your entire site and what your doing. I am on the lower end of amateur but love photography. Im going to definately try your techniques, Thanks!

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  • Mac

    Seems I’m a bit late to the party, but here am and glad I found this posting. A LOT of great information. I’ll stick around. Thanks.

  • Nicely done. Well written.

  • a to moje

  • cura

    Nice tutorial… Thank you very much. Im a new comer… now using 60D, speedlite nissin Di622 Mark II, Yongnuo wireless trigger even i know 60D have ETTL wireless control, but the problem is you have to use built pop flash when you want to trigger. I also have an umbrella as well light stand. As beginner please advise me… Is that any possiblity to a be creative with one flash photography. Later if enuff money will add another key lite… Thank you again RICK…

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  • This is my attempt at Low Key Photography with One Speedlite. Comments and feedback are appreciated.

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  • Craig Denton

    Fantastic write up and a great video. Would be great if you could follow this up with a demo on high key photography!!!

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  • Jason W. G. Champney

    Excellent post… made a lot more sense after seeing the video… Nice one :-)

  • NAUK777

    I like photographers who provide step by step instructions well done

  • Randell

    Check out the ambient light at the end of the video. Don’t go to pub, keep on shooting. :)

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