Low-key Images

An image of the moon in the dead of the night is generally qualified as a Low-Key Image. Just like a High-Key image which has a completely white background, a low-key image is one that has a completely dark/black background. Such kind of images generally have the subject lit very well, which makes them stand out very well. The key is to first identify the opportunity. The simple rule is that the subject should look (to the naked eye) much brighter than the background. Now sometimes the difference is in identifying and creating this opportunity. Take a look at the following two images

For the one on the left I was positioned slightly higher, giving me a brown background. When I went lower still, the background changed to an even darker area (a dark stone wall in this case) of the forest and I could achieve the effect that I wanted. So once you have got hold of the background, how does one shoot it because by default if you are using C-W or Matrix/Evaluative metering the camera will over-expose the bird beyond repair.

There are a couple of ways of shooting these kinds of images.

  1. Under-expose the image because as said earlier typically with a dark backdrop, the camera will end up over-exposing the scene.
  2. Spot Metering on the subject and add some under-exposure above it.

Following are a couple of examples of this in the field. Please note that opportunities for Low-Key images are generally mucsmall niltavah lesser than that for high-key which makes these images generally more appreciated than others. 


All that you need to do is keep an eye out for situations where the background is very dark compared to the subject and then use the under-exposure or spot-metering to get those fantastically dark backgrounds. Even with spot metering there might be times where you would have to still dial in an under-exposure for achieving this.

Macro photographs clicked with Ring Flashes which are extremely directional and have a short range also qualify as Low-key images but that would be part of some other blog later on


So, the next time you venture out for photography, watch out for strong lighting on the subject and keep an eye out for these opportunities. Under-exposure here will change a lost opportunity into a pretty darn good image.

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  1. Magal Sanjeev March 10, 2017 at 4:10 am #

    Thanks a ton Guruji for the tip! The western egret that we shot in Gir was a perfect example; I do remember the moment you spotted, the first thing you screamed was, guys – spot metering! πŸ™‚

    • rahul.sachdev@gmail.com March 14, 2017 at 2:29 am #

      πŸ™‚ It was a good tip buddy…hopefully we will meet each other on the field soon again

  2. Vishwatej Pawar March 10, 2017 at 7:28 am #

    Very nice info and amazing photos too! Thanks for sharing Rahul(sirji)! β˜ΊπŸ‘πŸ‘

  3. RUTA R KALMANKAR July 17, 2017 at 10:11 am #


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