What does LOW KEY mean in photography?

What is low key photography?

The definition of low key photography is a genre of photography consisting of shooting dark-colored scenes and emphasizing natural or artificial light only on specific areas in the frame. It’s a style where the majority of the tones are darker but not underexposed.

Why it’s important to create low key photographs?

Anytime you want to create a certain mood with an image, using low key photography is a great way to do that. It also allows the photographer to be much more creative and produce more artistic results. Low key photography is a great way to just give your viewer a glimpse of a subject and leave the rest up to their imagination.

Low key image of ocean baths

How do you take low key photography images?

You as the photographer are in control of the light. Choose your light source and where it lights up your subject. Using window light, a flashlight, a studio strobe or other sources of light move the light around your subject to highlight the area you want to stand out. You can also move the light source and yourself around your subject until you see the desired light effect you are working for.

The technical information for photographing low key images

1. For the best results use manual exposure. Your camera will want to expose for the light and you’ll end up with overexposed (or more exposed than you wanted) images.

2. Many cameras struggle to auto focus in low light so manually focusing will likely work much better for you.

3. Using a tripod or stabilizing your camera in some way will help keep your images sharp as you photograph in low light situations. You’ll want to keep camera shake or any movement at all to a minimum.

Another way to do that is to use your self-timer, or cable/remote shutter release. The less you touch your camera, the less chance of movement or any type of blur being introduced into the image will happen.

Need some inspiration to create your own low key images?

Searching the internet is always a good way to find inspirational images in any of the techniques you may be practicing. Here is a link to a low key photography Pinterest board you can check out.

Photo BootCamp Magazine

Let’s see how our BootCamp members did with creating their low key photography images for this month’s challenge.

And be sure to check out how you can join BootCamp at the end of the magazine!

(Larger file for desktop or iPad).

Alternatively if you have a slower connection you can view this magazine Here on ISSUU.

Below is a small sample of what’s in this magazine…

Join The Fastest, ‘Funnest’ Way To Improve Your Photography!

Photo BootCamp Academy is an online community where busy photographers gather to take their photography to new levels of enjoyment and progress.

  • Discover exciting new skills
  • Rekindle your passion for taking photos
  • Improve fast with helpful feedback
  • Experience enjoyment and progress

Inside BootCamp Magazine

Featured Artist

Let’s take a look at this month’s magazine. Here is our featured artist of the month, Ruth Lopez, from the United States.

The Reclining Buddha is her favorite image, and while in Thailand she discovered that it also happens to represent the same day she was born (Tuesday). Ruth wanted to try a trick she saw the last time she was on vacation: people were using an extra cell phone, held beneath their regular phone, to create a reflection of the image.

This wood carving is about 6 inches long, so she had to use her tablet to have a larger reflective surface beneath my camera. She mounted it on a second tripod so she had her hands free to move her flashlight around to find the best angle.

In the end, Ruth decided to bounce the light off a wall to keep the lighting soft. She didn’t like the reflective sheen on the curtains behind the carving so she used Photoshop to remove them. The rest of the processing was done in Lightroom because she’s more familiar with how to use radial filters and the other adjustments to enhance the shadows.

Comment: Valerie Worthen“What a great mirrored reflection and such a creative way to capture it. The lighting coming in from left to right serves as a natural leading line. Very well done.”

Cover Image

This month’s featured magazine cover image is also by Ruth Lopez from the United States. In the region she lives in, they have a short season for cherries. She wanted to celebrate them while she still had the chance.

Some photographers are very good at visualizing their shots beforehand, Ruth feels this is not one of her strong suits. She tried many different arrangements, perspectives and lighting angles until she arrived upon this one. It’s a good thing she loves to experiment!

Comment: Brent Mail“Yes and you gave me the idea for this challenge with that image Ruth Lopez – this image ROCKS!!! Something about reds on a dark background that gets me going. Stunning shot, don’t change anything.”

Active Members

Let’s take a peek at some of our BootCamp members’ low key photography images.

We’ll start with Carol Pesek from the United States. This is an image of a lacquer box she brought home from Myanmar a few years ago. Unfortunately, she never saw the dust/pollen particles on it before it became her subject.

Her biggest problem in post-processing was the large highlight in the front. She used a radial filter to decrease the highlights, whites, etc. but could not get it toned down to her satisfaction. She also had difficulty removing those tiny specks in that area without changing the color. She thought perhaps she will dust it off, set it up again with a more diffused light source and try again.

Comment: Brent Mail“Love the lighting you’ve used here Carol, the highlights and shadows give it a 3 dimensional look. Also like that negative space on the left. Great work.”

Next, we have Sheree Ebanks from the Cayman Islands. She has been challenged by creativity and also time lately. In any event, she jumped in one night and thought that this old wine rack with dusty bottles would make a good model for low key photography.

Sheree used her study in pitch dark, holding a small flashlight by hand and used her cell phone as the remote for the camera. As she used such a large aperture, some of the elements are out of focus, but she thought added to the overall moodiness of the image. She does like that the base is in focus. Her backdrop was the back of an old carpet, which she had to darken it a bit in Photoshop.

Sheree also used the radial filter in Lightroom to lighten the label on the champagne as she wanted that to be highlighted a bit. Sheree feels like the image can be improved but could not make any more negative space unless she went with a wide-angle lens. The space from her tripod/camera to the object was only three feet!

Comment: Rachel Gilmour“Great shot, Sheree! I can’t add more than what has already been said. However, re: being constrained with the lens you used. You mentioned using a wide angle lens. I’ve been playing with a wide angle lens for closeup/macro shots and it works really well for some things. Just have to look out for distortions.”

Anthony Cadden from Australia is next. For this challenge, he used a mirrored tallboy to get a reflection shot. In getting the shot he positioned the cone shell on the table in normal light (not a dark room) and then on manual control adjusted the shutter speed until he had a black image on his rear screen. Anthony used a 24-105 F4 USM lens for this setup.

He then did a series of shots using a flashlight from different angles to get the right shadow from front to back, across the ridges and the reflection. Anthony was able to do this using the camera autofocus with the 2-second timer.

In Lightroom then used a brush to blacken the background by lowering exposure and removing any noise. Then he dodged and burned the shadows and highlights in B&W, as well as adjusting the B&W mix to enhance contrast. The final step was to create a selection for reflection in Photoshop and apply field blur to create DOF to the shadow and adjust canvas size to give more space to the right.

Comment: Sheree Ebanks“I really like what you have done here Anthony. This took a lot of planning and time to get the edits done. Your work on the shadow really paid off! Well done.”

Then we have Kerrie Clarke from Australia. Sea Urchin – Her second image for this challenge, shot indoors in a darkened room and lit with an LED torch.

Comment: Sheree Ebanks“Such a lovely shot of this urchin. The shadows cast by the skeleton are fantastic. You have done an excellent job here.”

And last but not least, is this image from Peter Dwight who lives in Australia. Shooting low key was a real challenge and took Peter a couple of days of trial and error but came together. Peter set this up in his theater room where it is dark with black cardboard as the background and two sheets of white on either side for reflection. He used a blue laser shot through a flash diffuser on to the white for his reflection and took shots while moving the laser around to find the right spot for the light. He was pretty happy.


Comment: Valerie Worthen“Really nice photograph, love the colors, shapes and lines. I like both the original and second posts as they both give detail but not overly bright. This is a really good presentation. Well done.”

These are some of the awesome images that our members created in response to the low key photography challenge.

You can also share your images by joining Photo BootCamp Academy and can count on the community to help and guide you along the way. If you are not yet a member of this awesome family now is the best time to become one.

You can check out the complete BootCamp Magazine and see for yourself!


  • Low key photography is a style that uses darker, but not underexposed, tones to create a mood.
  • It allows the photographer to be more creative and create more artistic results.
  • Control your light and light source when photographing low key images.
  • For best results, use a tripod, manual focus and exposure to better control the light.

Related Articles

Did you enjoy this article? Check out these related articles, too:

Do This Now

Please leave me a comment below – I’d love to know what you think. Brent

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This