What is low key lighting in film ?

July 31st, 2019  |  by perlatkociaj

What is low key lighting?

Low key lighting is a lighting technique for film that focuses on accentuating shadows by using hard source lighting in a scene. Contrary to high key lighting (which aims to minimize shadows), low key lighting aims to increase contrast through the use of shadows and dark tones. In the words of Rob Wood (Lightstalking.com):

“A low-key image is one that contains predominantly dark tones and colours. Like high-key images, they convey atmosphere and mood. But where a high-key image feels airy and light, a low-key is usually dramatic and full of mystery.”

What do you need for low key lighting?

Good lighting kit - Camera gear isn’t the only thing we should invest in. The difference between a good lighting kit and a bad one is the output of light it can give and that’s very important when you’re looking to get hard shadows.

Use a fast lens - As there’s a lot of dark tones that need to be captured, you’ll need to equip yourself with a lens that can allow as much light into the camera to avoid noise on the final image.

Use negative fill - You can use a dark cloth or board as negative fill to absorb light, this helps accentuate the dark tones.

Shoot in RAW (if possible) - To get the best out of the images you’ve shot in post-production, it is highly recommended to shoot RAW.

Tutorials on how to shoot:

Low key lighting doesn’t have any set-in-stone rules, it’s more of a theoretical concept that has been expanded upon over the years. Here are some tutorials that will help you with your shots:

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