Glamour Lighting SetupsSubmitted by Michael on Thu, 2010-11-04 05:56

Lower back? Low key lighting! - The little Low Key Tattoo

A lot of excellent photos benefit from concentrating most of the light on the one important spot that the photographer wants to bring across. Low key photography is a good strategy for this type of composition. Let’s say you have model who not only got beautiful buttocks, but she also got a nice little tattoo right there - is that then probably the spot at which you want to concentrate most light? Well, at least I would - as you can see in this video.

Since I am photographing her “low”er back, I guess it’s a good idea to use “low” key lighting. In this photo shoot we are posing our model in a low key lighting setup that throws quite soft and dimmed light light onto her lower back from two interesting angles. See how it’s done:

If you look at the video and particular at the lighting diagram in detail, then you might notice that I truly underexpose my frames. Low key lighting straight in camera.



Yes, that’s different from conventional wisdom which might tell you that you should expose correctly, even if you shoot low key and rather dim the photos later in postproduction. I’m perfectly fine with this traditional method. However, with my current camera I cannot see differences in quality between the two approaches - even though theoretically there must be some. Since I shoot my photos for the practical purpose of making human beings happy and not for scientific quality benchmarks, I personally prefer to directly underexpose the low key photos in camera. This way they have the low key character straight out of the camera. I like it when everybody involved in the photo shoot can directly see the results. Maybe I am just lazy to do stuff in post production - but I won’t admit that right here and now. I understand that there are other approaches which have their benefits too.

If your current postproduction workflow involves a lot of standard adjustments like exposure, white balance, saturation and sharpness, then how about trying to shift this things to the time you shoot the photo? How about getting it right in camera, just for the fun of it? Not because generations of photographers before us had to get pretty much everything right in camera when they shoot on film, no, who cares? Just for the sheer fun of it. Try it out and use the settings of your camera. Chances are that they are working much better than you expect.


Model: Kate
Photography: Michael Zelbel
Postproduction: Gina Hernandez
Graphic Design: AlexZlatev



I wish you good light!
-- Michael


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Hard to get my thick German accent? Here's the transcript!

Michael: Hey fellow photographer how is it going? I am Michael Zelbel and with me today I have cousin Kate. Kate got the tattoo of a Chinese dragon on her wonderful lower back, yeah exactly and we will shot photos of that tattoo, of that dragon. Kate one question, does that dragon have a name?

Kate: Yes her name is Lucy.

Michael: Lucy! Okay Lucy today we will shot portrays of yourself will be low key portrays. Kate, when you got Lucy was that painful this tattoo?

Kate: Yes a little bit pain

Michael: A little bit pain! Okay we will make it very pain free today, at least for me as a photographer because we will do very simple lighting. The lighting set up is like this. Our model is standing in front of a grey backdrop, probably 6ft / 2m or something away and there is light coming from camera left, which is angled, 45 degrees towards the bottom and it is going through a big shoot for umbrella. Then on the camera right, there is also a big shoot for umbrella and both speed lights are on TTL minus 1 to have the low key effect. In old school photography you might have learnt to expose it on plus minus zero and then later on in photoshop, turn down the exposure 1 f-stop in order to get better quality however when I tested that I didn’t find any difference in quality so I don’t care and I directly go to minus 1 and have low key photo straight out of the camera. There is an additional speedlight which is standing in front, directly close, in front of the great back drop, it’s zoomed back to 14mm and it is on TTL minus three, this is to get a little bit of vignett effect into the grey background.

Then the camera settings are 1/200 of a second, just because it is the fastest zoom speed of my camera with the flashes. It’s at f11 in order to have a bit of depth fo field. It is on ISO100 because it is just good value for my camera and on 5600 Calvin just to match the flashes. That is already it!

Okay I’m really really loving these low key photos and what I think is a good take away from this is low key lighting is introducing a little mystery, a little mystery which is going on well together with such a bright tattoo. I think it is also matching a lot of other subjects. So whenever you have a subject which you can amplify a mystery, low key light is your friend. I hope you found that useful and I hope to see you on the next video on Thursday and until then, I wish you a lot of fun for photo shoots and good light!

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