How to Get Stunning Low Key Portraits with One Light Source

Find out how you can achieve great low key portraits with a simple light setup.

Do you have a portrait project in mind that requires a contrasty, low key look? Unlike high-key lighting, this technique usually lets you play with light and shadow to lend a dramatic mood on your portraits. However, it’s also possible to get beautiful results without all the harsh shadows dominating your subject’s features. Daniel Norton shows us how to put together a simple setup for clean-looking low key portraits in his recent OnSet episode.

In his recent video tutorial on the Adorama TV channel, Daniel used a simple studio setup for his one light, black-on-black low key portrait session. He used a Duvetyne light block-out cloth as back drop to ensure that the background doesn’t reflect light and stays completely black. For his single light source, he used a Profoto B1X monolight paired with an Off Camera Flash reflector.

We’ll let you watch the quick video below and see how it’s done from Daniel himself:

Pretty nice and easy, right? With the flash bouncing off the white background placed in front of the subject, Daniel makes sure he’s washing the light forward to illuminate her evenly. With the model in all-black attire and the block-out background, the light only illuminates the right parts of his subject. This setup also allowed Daniel to achieve a nice separation of the model’s dark hair from the background. At the right angle, the hair’s shine catches the light and reflects it back, creating a subtle outline.

Now, if you want to experiment using Daniel’s camera settings, he used an aperture of f/5.6, shutter speed of 1/200, and ISO 100. A test shot showed him that he got a complete black background. With the off-camera flash and bounced light setup, his subject was illuminated nicely and cleanly, even her hair, which added a nice texture to the portrait. Apply your custom black and white style or preset and you’re done!

Do check out and subscribe to Adorama TV on YouTube to watch more video tutorials from experts like Daniel Norton.

Screenshot taken from the video