creating a low light portrait photography


Creating a Low light Portrait

                                    By Wendy Atkins



Creating a low key portrait is a great technique to add to your photography arsenal.  It allows you to create a shot that is moody and emotional and it is easily done by controlling the light.


Maybe you want to make a portrait that is suggestive of an emotion such as sadness, melancholy, solitude or even thoughtfulness? A low light portrait is a perfect technique to use.  What you will create is a soft image with mood.


The way to do so is to use one direct light to create a photograph with shadow and some detail on one side of the face and soft bounced light on the other.  You can try this technique with any light set up, I have suggested using studio lights below but the same techniques can be used for speedlights.


This is how you can create a low light portrait photography


  1. Position a flash with a soft box on the right hand side of the model. The larger the image you want to produce the larger the soft box needs to be.  For a full body shot you may need to use one long soft box or two smaller ones (one lighting the top half and one the bottom half of the body).
  2. To the left of the model you need to add a black board or hold up some black card out of shot but at the edge of her face – this creates some shadow (and incidentally has a lovely slimming effect on people’s faces).  You can also see what different effects are created using white and silver card here each of which reflects the light in a different way.
  3. Place the model about one metre in front of a dark background and light the background with a single flash fitted with a snoot, this will create some background separation from the subject and avoid the model sinking into the background.
  4. Position another black board / cardboard at the front, horizontal to the model and to the camera’s left, this will avoid any flare spilling from the soft box into the camera.
  5. Finally if the hair needs a spot more light you can hold a small white reflector board up behind the model to throw some light onto the hair and produce some nice highlights.


This is an easy set up to employ and provides stunning results with just one side and one background light and you don’t need a lot of space to do it in either.


Remember that if you don’t have any card / reflectors handy you can improvise – use a black bags, use a newspaper at point 4 to avoid the camera flare, use a white teeshirt etc


I love to use this method to create sultry, moody images that are imbued emotion.



Shot: F5,6, 1/125, ISO 100



Lighting Diagram



About Christian Tudor

professional photographer, main editor at Academy of Photography and owner and principal photographer of Tudor Photography