Self portrait black and white lighting study
Lighting portraits with torches
Black And White Portraits Lighting

Black And White Portraits Lighting Black And White Portraits Lighting

Because low-key lighting, by definition, requires deep shadows and a plethora of dark tones, too many lights actually can be a liability. For most low-key lighting setups, a single source is all that’s needed. You can do a lot with just one light.

William Sawalich is a commercial photographer, an educator and a contributing editor for Digital Photo Pro, Digital Photo and Outdoor Photographer. He has written hundreds of equipment reviews, how-to articles and profiles of world-class photographers. Visit his website at sawalich.com.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Don’t be afraid to take the time to move the light subtly in and out of frame, forward and back, up and down, until the effect is just right. As a world-class portrait photographer once told me, when an image is mostly dark tones, the few light tones really matter even more. So position the key light deliberately to put those highlights exactly where you want them.

With a few simple adjustments in Lightroom, it’s possible to boost the effects of your low-key lighting setup.

Without a fill light, the shadows on the subject’s face facing the camera are very strong and create a highly dramatic look.

As long as you’re thinking about placing sources, look to the classical lighting patterns as a guide. When it comes to low-key portraits, the butterfly/Paramount pattern works very well, and loop and split lighting also do a fine job here. But it’s Rembrandt lighting that really excels in short-lighting, low-key situations. Watch for a diamond of light spilling onto the subject’s otherwise shadowed cheek, and you’ll know you’re on your way to beautiful, dramatic lighting.

I’ve already mentioned keeping the light close, but where exactly should it be? I find one of the most effective placements of a key light in a low-key portrait is to create short lighting, where the side of the face that primarily faces the camera is in shadow and only the smaller side of the face—or even just a sliver—is illuminated. Better still, consider backlighting for a rim effect to create separation between subject and background.

Sometimes not only is a studio unavailable, anything indoors is unavailable. But low-key lighting can still be created. Even on a sunny day, you can use a strobe to overpower the sunlight and make the background fall to black. To do this, increase the shutter speed to the maximum sync speed. This is often a shutter speed of 1/250th. Then set the ISO as low as possible (100 or 50, ideally) and set the aperture to the smallest opening (ƒ/22 or ƒ/32, depending on your lens). Take a picture with these settings and check how underexposed the scene is. If you’re able to shoot at 1/250th at ƒ/32 and ISO 50, even on a bright, sunny day, you’re going to create a photograph that’s at least four stops underexposed. There still may be some visual information evident if it’s really bright out, but on an overcast day or any other situation where the light is low, the ambience should be very dark, maybe even pure black. Then you can add your strobe—placed close to the subject—and dial up its output to match the camera settings and create the appropriate illumination for the subject. This “day for night” effect can make practically any location look like a darkened studio.

Usually, I use the back edge of the light so the softest part is in front of the subject. Here, I did the opposite. Using the front edge of a 7-foot Westcott Silver Bounce Umbrella with a white diffusion cover at camera left, I lit just a slice of Stetina’s face. Since there was no light in front of him to create a wrap-around or fill, the back of his head falls off into shadow.

The 7-foot umbrella  was used to evenly light the background in conjunction with a large white panel. This was used to bounce light back onto the background at camera right yet tilted away from Stetina to keep the right side of his head dark.He had arrived to the shoot from a training ride, and the directional lighting shows some of the real-life character of being a road racer, like the sweat from his jersey in the portrait.

In a lot of commercial portraiture these days, there’s an emphasis on high-production values. Whether from exotic locations or from using a lot of lights, it seems the conventional wisdom is generally “more is better.

” But, in fact, when trying to create a moody, dramatic or intimate black-and-white portrait, sometimes less actually is more. With a simple setup, using strobe lights or constant sources, in a studio or even on location, photographers can create beautiful, low-key black-and-white portraits that prove minimal lighting can deliver a maximum effect.

Once you have your RAW files in the computer (you do shoot RAW, don’t you? It’s particularly helpful when working with low-key image files because of the retouching latitude), simple Lightroom adjustments can really refine your images. For an image that is very dark and contrasty, the Shadows and Blacks sliders will slightly bring up those values, while dragging down the Highlights and Whites sliders in the Develop module will keep the very brightest pixels in the scene in check. With Lightroom’s Adjustment brush, these edits easily can be applied selectively, like dodging and burning.

If you can diffuse the source, that’s even better. True, a bare-bulb, specular light definitely will make for some dark dramatic shadows, but until you’re skilled at illuminating faces with a hard light source, I recommend starting with some diffusion. If you insist on working with slightly harder light, consider a beauty dish, which is a great compromise between specular “pop” and beautiful diffusion.

The separation between the background and his face is so subtle that it would be lost if the light or background distance had changed just a few inches.

If your goal is lots of darkness and minimal light, it can also be helpful to ensure your subject is wearing dark clothing, as well. A light-colored outfit will distract from the place in the frame where you want the eye to go: the few pixels that are brightly illuminated, often the face. I use a black cotton or velvet cloth as a drape to camouflage bright clothing and make it easier to achieve a truly low-key scene.

One caveat when it comes to light placement: A light like this can create a raking effect across the subject’s face. This is certainly dramatic, but it also can emphasize any texture on the subject’s skin. A diffused light source may help, as will subtle tweaks to the subject’s face or the light’s position. It also can be defeated with fill light, but too much fill flattens the scene and changes the key. Ultimately, it’s simply a technique that may not work for every subject.

Adding a fill light to the scene evens out both the shadows and the skin tones.

Another refinement for low-key black-and-white images is toning. Because low-key images can easily come off as too stark, a bit of toning or split-toning can really add some dimension. Simply use Lightroom’s Split Toning controls to add a hint of warmth in the highlight (by first selecting the appropriate yellow or beige tone, then using the Saturation slider to increase its appearance) and balancing it with subtle blue or purple tones in the shadows. Failing that, consider using a Photoshop Adjustment Layer with the Filter adjustment dialed in to exactly where you need it. The Warming Filter is a personal favorite.

Lastly, clean up any skin texture produced by the raking light position. The Frequency Separation approach is a great way to isolate texture from tonal values, or just use the Clone stamp and Spot Healing brush to eliminate the most egregious bumps and wrinkles.

In the studio, creating a one-light low-key portrait can be done with either strobes or constant lights such as LED panels, compact fluorescents or even HMIs and tungsten hot lights. Whatever equipment you choose, it’s important to be able to move the light away from the camera. So if you’re using a hot-shoe speedlight, invest in the necessary accessories, such as a stand and remote trigger, to be able to move the light around the subject and away from the camera (more on placement in a moment).

Let’s be clear on some definitions, first. What is low-key lighting? Unlike high-key lighting—which creates a scene that’s very bright and low contrast—low-key lighting is darker and higher contrast. Low-key lighting features prominent shadows and many near-black tones, with minimal midtones and highlights serving as poignant counterpoint to all that darkness. And it works very well in black-and-white.

If you’d like to consider adding lights, you can. Just keep them behind the subject so they create edge lighting, and use a frontal fill for detail illumination, as needed. This technique is popular in edgy sports portraiture in recent years. The edge lights really define the shape of a muscular body, and the frontal fill adds the polish to this lighting approach. Without that frontal fill, the shot can still work—it just becomes a graphic, almost abstract outline of the human form.

There’s a black-and-white-specific advantage when it comes to dodging and burning a low-key image, too. Using the individual color sliders that adjust the black and white mix, whether that’s in Lightroom’s Develop Module or Photoshop’s Black and White Adjustment Layers, it’s easy to brighten or darken specific areas of an image that correlate directly to the original colors in a scene. Blonde hair, for instance, can be lightened or darkened easily with the yellow luminance slider, even though the image is now grayscale.

These effects can be achieved in Photoshop, as well. You’ll likely find that Adjustment Layers are the perfect tool to add selective brightness and darkness to an image to polish it off. If you have dark areas that need to be darker, you can always use Photoshop’s Paintbrush tool to paint away unwanted details in the darkest shadows.

Want to sharpen your lighting skills? Our guide to Portrait Lighting Essentials provides instructions on the must-know basic lighting techniques, and provides tips for making a memorable image.

I find that a very subtle fill from a reflector or very low-powered strobe positioned close to the lens works wonders to add a hint of detail to shadows. This might be a garment or a cheek or even a subject’s hair. Because too much pure black shadow can be overbearing, a little bit of fill can be a big help.

This article is courtesy of lifestyle photographer Jay Watson. It first appeared on Rangefinder.

Using one big light source created three things for this black and white assignment for Bicycling magazine of road racer Peter Stetina: an evenly lit background, edge light, and contrast due to fall-off.

A small softbox, an umbrella or even a light bounced off a white reflector can create just enough diffusion without scattering the light all around the room. Too much spill on the subject’s body or background will ruin the low-key effect. To fight this, use carefully placed flags. Not only can they prevent spill, they will help to stop lens flare when the light is placed beyond 90 degrees from the camera axis. And that’s often the ideal place for low-key lighting.

To view more portraits from this shoot, read These Legs Were Made for Cycling on Bicycling.com. To hear more about this lifestyle photography assignment, visit Jay Watson’s blog. Check out another one of Jay’s effective 1-light setups here.

With an image that was too bright at the time of exposure, drag the Exposure sliders down to darken the overall look of the scene, then grab and hold the sliders corresponding to whites and highlights and drag them to the right.

As with every kind of portraiture, it’s the combination of quality lighting and just the right amount of retouching that make an image work. With low-key lighting, the effect can be as classic and timeless, or as hip and cutting edge, as you want it to be. Either way, these lighting and editing techniques go a long way to creating successful low-key portraits.

Smart photographers know that a single light source can deliver unbelievably beautiful illumination. (Don’t believe me? Watch a sunset.) By moving a single light source far from the subject, the illumination gets flat and less dramatic. Moving that source close to the subject, however, allows the faster falloff from highlight to shadow to make for more drama. This approach also helps to create the darkness in the background that sets the mood and isolates the highlights against a canvas of dark pixels. With a subject far from the background and the key light very close to the subject, the background is bound to go dark.

Highlights and shadows give us a range of tones in black-and-white photography, yet too much of each can give us too much contrast. The visual style here required the background tones to be a flat, light gray while the portrait needed to be soft with a bit of contrast and some fall-off.

Sharpen Your Lighting Skills With Our Portrait Lighting Essentials tutorial

This also works exceptionally well with a profile pose. To create this rim, position a specular light source directly behind the subject, aiming toward the camera, but ensuring that the subject’s body casts a shadow on the lens. If you’d like the light to wrap around a bit and provide more illumination on the subject’s cheek, simply move the light incrementally from behind the subject to the side. These subtle key adjustments, or subtle moveme nts of the subject’s head position, make all the difference.

Low-key lighting can emphasize the contours and shapes of your subject, while drawing the eye to the image more effectively than high-key lighting.

Enhance the effect by starting with a dark or black background. In the studio, a dark wall or roll of dark gray or black seamless paper provides the perfect backdrop against which to set your low-key scene. If you’re not in a studio, choose a space that’s large enough to put some distance between the subject and background so any falloff from the key light has dropped to nearly nothing by the time it reaches the background. Underexposing the ambient light in a large room works very well for low-key lighting when a black backdrop can’t be had (more on that in a moment).

Related Images of Black And White Portraits Lighting
Actor portrait two profoto lights black and white
Photograph test by denis kartavenko on
Cara delavigne by simon emmett ugh the lighting is so perf
Black and white dramatic garage lighting photography by kate t parker
Side lighting this image captures side lighting perfectly the model is set in a very natural comfortable position as well the light is only glowing on
Black and white photography handcrafted in virginia repinned by long beach california portrait studios http linnealenkus com
Would love to get into black and white painting on black canvas portrait photography lightingman
Diletta photo lightingportrait lightingdark
Tips to making black and white portraits
Black and white portrait
Black and white portrait photography
This photo uses shadows to add a new type of contrast to the portrait the shadow is efficient in creating a different meaning for the photo
Black and white photography lights woman portrait
Super pic
Tumblr portrait photographyphotography ideascreative photographyfashion photographyphotoshop ideasblack white photographyportraitsbeautylighting
Advertisements
Http artistsinspireartists com wp content uploads 2011 05 black and white portrait photography by benoit courti 14 jpg
Portrait of man looking down lit from the side
Related Post of Black And White Portraits Lighting
Tupac Black And White Images Black And White Photography

Tupac Black And White Images Black And White Photography

Tupac Black And White Images Black And White Photography Tupac Black And White Images Black And White Photography Tupac Black […]
Black And White Photography 2016 Tumblr

Black And White Photography 2016 Tumblr

Black And White Photography 2016 Tumblr Black And White Photography 2016 Tumblr Black And White Photography 2016 Tumblr . . […]
Black And White Photographers Today

Black And White Photographers Today

Black And White Photographers Today Black And White Photographers Today Black And White Photographers Today Best instagram photographers jason peterson. […]
City Skyline Blackandwhite

City Skyline Blackandwhite

City Skyline Blackandwhite City Skyline Blackandwhite City Skyline Blackandwhite Panama city skyline in black watercolor on white vector image. Bournemouth […]