Dim the lights

Claire Gillo shows you how to use shad­ows for a low-key light­ing ef­fect

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Use a sim­ple desk-lamp to shoot stun­ning still-life mas­ter­pieces

Low-key light­ing is great fun to use on an in­door shoot, and all it re­quires is a D-SLR, a tri­pod and a ta­ble lamp. You’ll also need a suit­able sub­ject to cap­ture, of course – in this tu­to­rial we’ve se­lected the clas­sic ‘ap­ples and pears’ for a still life setup. How­ever, this light­ing tech­nique can also work well for in­door por­traits, so keep this in mind if you’re look­ing for a more moody and at­mo­spheric way to pho­to­graph peo­ple in­doors.

Low-key light­ing is not a new tech­nique. Its his­tory can be traced back to the Re­nais­sance pe­riod, when artists would base their paint­ings on shad­owed sub­jects emerg­ing from dark­ened back­grounds, a tech­nique known as ‘chiaroscuro’. In pho­tog­ra­phy we can use the same light­ing ef­fect to cre­ate a highly at­mo­spheric im­age.

In pho­tog­ra­phy we can use low-key light­ing to cre­ate an at­mo­spheric ef­fect… Shad­ows help sculpt and shape ob­jects to give them a three-di­men­sional ap­pear­ance

The trick is to use sub­dued tones and, in­stead of avoid­ing the usual ‘dis­tract­ing’ shad­ows, to use them to your ad­van­tage! Shad­ows help sculpt and shape ob­jects to give them a three-di­men­sional ap­pear­ance.

In this tu­to­rial we’ve used a lamp to help us il­lu­mi­nate our sub­ject and softly high­light the bricks in the back­ground. If you’d pre­fer, you could use nat­u­ral light – how­ever just be aware that it’s harder to con­trol. If you’re un­sure about how to light your sub­ject, switch on Live View and have a play around with the dif­fer­ent ef­fects to see what you can get.

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