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Kill the light

A couple of weeks back I wrote about having to shoot in low light. Not by choice either. Events and concerts are usually dark places. In the case of one concert I shot recently there was virtually no light whatsoever. 

Now I want to write about deliberately creating a low light situation - or more so, killing the ambient light you have in order to create low light, or low key photographs. This type of shot is often used in portraiture, lifestyle and fashion photography. 

Below are some examples of some shots i took during a shoot with a musician this week. These pictures were taken in a small living room (ca. 20 square meters), using one flash. Wait - flash? Shouldn't that mean bright, well lit pictures? Well, not always. The technique used here is known as killing the light, or killing the ambient light.

The method?

Well, don't worry about how bright the room is you're shooting in. Obviously, shooting outside in bright daylight or in a room flooded with midday sun isn't the best thing, but a light room won't derail things too seriously.

First, set your cameras shutter speed to the highest sync speed of your speed light - this is usually around 1/250th of a second. You may be able to go faster if you can use high speed sync. Next, select ISO 100 so as to make your cameras sensor as resistant to light as possible.

Finally, play with the aperture and get shooting. You basically want to end up underexposing your shot to the point that the picture is dark. Black in fact. Once you've metered your camera for darkness, it's time to add some flash. 

For the best results you should have your flash stand and subject as far away from a background/wall as the space you're in allows.

Set your speedlight(s) firstly to low power and fire some shots - they may still be on the dark side, but you've got a good starting point from which you can then work with your subject and increase flash power as necessary until you get the desired result. 

Here's some of my shots - don't forget, this small room was flooded with daylight, there wasn't much separation between the subject and wall either, but enough to provide a virtually non-existent background to remove in post. Dark and a little moody was what I was looking for, which I think I pulled off fine.

Kit used for these shots: Canon 7D, Canon 70-200 F2.8 IS II, Canon 580EX, light stand and 60x40 softbox.