After reading this blog you will find it easy to shoot low key portrait with minimal gear.

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. This photographic style is usually used to create a mysterious atmosphere. It ads a dramatic and cinematic effect to the picture. Every amateur photographer does not have a huge camera gear and not enough money to spend on huge gears of photography like flash, reflector, background canvas. The aim therefore is to tell you how to click dramatic low key portrait with the existing camera gear.

Minimal requirements:-

  • Camera or Mobile Phone
  • Black background
  • Source of Light
  • Tripod
  • Lens

Camera or Mobile Phone:

It is not necessary that you need a expensive DSLR camera to shoot a low key portrait, you can also use a smart phone to click really amazing low key portraits.

Black Background:

Some photographers have a black canvas, if you don’t have that , you can also use a black chart paper that will roughly cost you around INR 10-15, paste the chart paper on the wall using double sided tape.

Source of Light:

Well, Low key photography is all about positioning/angle of the light on your subject. In fact, the whole photography is about the lights. If you have a external flash light then use it. And if not, you can use the flash light of your mobile phone but make sure you choose a dark location.


You are shooting a low light photography, you need a tripod to click better and sharp images. You can also skip using it but make sure that you keep your hand steady.


You can use any lenses to shoot low key portraits, but if you have a prime lens please use it, you will get  a really classic click but if you don’t then NO WORRIES, again here you can use Kit lens that everyone has. And if you are clicking with mobile phone you need not to worry about all these technicalities. You just need to paste the black chart paper on the wall and turn on flash light and turn off the room lights and Start clicking.

Camera Settings

1. Aperture: 

Whether You are using prime lens  or kit lens keep the aperture lowest. Prime lens allow the light to enter more in the sensor for example, Nikon or canon 50mm lens with aperture f/1.8 will enter more light into the sensor as compare to the Kit lens that offer minimum aperture of f/3.5. And you can not put down your shutter to very low as it will give you a shaky image. So, it’s better you keep the aperture as low as you can. You can increase the Aperture if you can afford to have keep the ISO more than 1000. Or if you are using the flash light.

2. Shutter Speed:

Keep your Shutter between 1/80s-1/15s depending upon what lenses and aperture you are using.

3. ISO:

Adjust your iso accordingly, with the shutter speed and aperture to get the perfect exposure with the black tone in the images. Keep it between 500-100. After Iso 1000, you might start getting grains in the images in some of the basic cameras.

Post Processing:

 1. Shoot in RAW:

Always go with raw, keep your camera shooting mode in raw or raw+ jpeg. Shooting in RAW gives you a flexibility to correct the things in post processing.

2. Subject bright:

Brighten the Subject when you are editing. Adjust the brightness according to the needs.

3. Reduce Noise:

Noise is always an issue when it comes to low light photography, Specially when you are not using the flash you have not choice other than  increasing the iso, that will definitely bring a lot of grain in image. So, use noise reduction tool in post processing.

4. Adjust the White balance accordingly:

Adjust the white balance to get a contrast in dark and light tone.

5. Play with Lights:

Please do not confuse that low key photography is about shooting in black and while. No it is no so, You can try with different colours and add the dramatic effect to the image. And While editing you can also adjust the Hues, Saturation and Lightening in HSL Panel in editing software.

Here are the some of the Low key portraits with the EXIF details that will help you to get a rough idea about the camera settings and you will also able to click such an amazing shots.

Aperture– F/4.5 , Shutter– 1/100s , ISO– 800 , Fl– 18 mm
Aperture– F/4.5 , Shutter– 1/80 s , ISO– 500 , Fl– 18 mm

Bonus tips*

Sometimes you have to think out of the box and be creative. This is what happens when you play with light and the camera settings. Low key technicalities say that you need a dark room, and a small amount of light on the subject. But The next picture of a girl portrait has been shoot in the morning with the help of direct sunlight coming through the window on the Subject. This is the picture with the Exif details

girl portrait
Aperture– F/4 , Shutter– 1/80 s , ISO– 800 , Fl– 25 mm

Things to shoot other than Portraits:

  • Try with the products
  • Try with the shapes and texture
  • Go with Nude
  • Low key of Pets like Dog

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