Low Key Portraits: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey
Low Key Portraits: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey

In his video I’ll be looking at how you
can shoot low-key shots in a small home studio. AdoramaTV presents Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey Hello I’m Gavin Howy and you’re watching
AdoramaTV, brought to you by Adorama the camera store that has everything for us photographers. And this video is all
about low key lighting. Now low key shots are those where there is a large
proportion of really dark tones in the image but don’t be fooled into thinking
that means you’re under exposing. You still want to have some highlights in
there as well to show a full range of tones. It’s just the vast majority are
going to be at the dark end of the scale. Now shooting low key in a small studio
is a great idea because you can do it with a single softbox or a single
speed light. You can add in more light if you like but simplicity is the key. A great low key shot will have a dark
black or a grey background and plenty of contrast in the shots too. Small studios
really lend themselves to this style of photography ok let’s get a model in set some lights up and take some pictures. So once again I’m joined in the studio by Ferne
who’s going be the model for this low-key shoot. Now I set myself up in a
fairly standard position 45 degrees from the model and it’s metered out at f8 and Ferne is
stood against a black background. For low key shots if you want a black or dark
background you can pretty much get away with anything, material, paper or a pop-up
background like this and in a small studio black is a really good choice.
However, if you’ve got a grey background check out my previous video on the
Adorama Learning Centre where I talk about how to make grey go black.
Ok, let’s take a picture like this, see how it comes out, Superb, and that works really well we get some
fantastic low key shots lots of lovely dark black backgrounds. But still detail
in the highlights, however if I want this to be even more low key, there is a simple
trick I can do. Add more shadows to the shot and I can do that by either moving
the light further back and that’s not really possible, cause I would go through the wall. The simple answer is to ask Ferne to step
a little bit further forward so if you can take a little step forward. So now
the light is in a different angle which means I need to rotate around of course.
Otherwise it would completely miss our model. But if I take a shot like this, watch watch what
happens to the light went on is looking at the camera. As you can see it doesn’t really work
because of course the light is coming almost from behing and end result is not getting any light on the face. The solution is really simple I just asked Ferne to look towards the light, ok Ferne do you want to turn and I do a profile shot. As you can see those pictures look
fantastic with lovely contrasty light There is still highlight detail on the face but also
some shadows and in black and white it still looks amazing. Now if you’re wondering where did the
softbox go, because it’s really close to Ferne, and yet it’s not in the
pictures. Well there’s a little Photoshop trick that I’m going to show you at the
end of this video. So once you’ve worked out a basic lighting idea why not take
it a stage further, and there are many ways you can do it. One of the simplest is just by
including a prop into the scene. Props come in all sorts of sizes and
shapes, for this one it’s going to be a really simple prop, I’m just going to use a
bit of material. I’m going to talk about props in a later video, in this little
series, but for now just take my advice invest in some material. It really is one
of the most useful things you can have around your studio. I’m going to ask you to
use it as a head piece really so if I give you that, I need to take a meter
reading for this cause I move my light to the other side. Let’s get the flash
meter, pop it underneath Ferne’s chin, point it back at the light, you’re always going to meter
towards the light you want to know the strength of f8, that’s perfect let’s
take a shot like that and see what we get That’s a really simple prop, but boy does it make a
massive difference to the look and the feel of the shot and a little bit of red
is always a good thing. With low key lighting you don’t necessarily need
expensive equipment you can use a single bare Speedlite. Now normally bare Speedlites
are going to give harsh shadows. But in low key lighting, well, harsh shadows can
often work really well. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to finish with a simple Speedlite on its own, and just take a shot of Ferne sat down against my
little textured wall here. So let’s get this over to the side, if I want the lighting
to come in at an angle to rake the light across the background and to hit Ferne in the
face with some nice contrasty light. Now that means I have to figure out
where this is going to go so I’ll stop there but I may find a have to move my
light around as we take some test shots. Now, as always if you move the light, you need to
meter the light, so let’s get the flash meter underneath Ferns chin again,
pointing the little dome back at the flash you want to meter. Now that I am getting f9,
now I want to keep shooting at f8, so I’m just going to drop the power ever so
slightly and I’m back to f8. Ok so, let’s turn and take some pictures of Ferne looking off to the side. So those work well, but the direction of light is quite general. Now at the moment this flash is set on it’s 24mm wide angle zoom. Now if I was to zoom the flash in I would get a tighter beam of light with dark top and bottom. If I really want to exaggerate
that to its maximum I’m gonna use a snoot. Now this is the little MagMod rubber
snoot. I’m actually going to use it closed all the way down, which gives about a 40 degree
angle of light and that just pops onto the front of the Speedlite, like that. Ok, now
I need to put my meter in the light itself. I’m getting f4.5 so it’s
taking away quite a lot of light fortunately I can increase the light
here and get back to f8. Ok, let’s take some shots like that. So there you go, by having these Speedlite and very directional angle to the light we got some really great and dramatic low key shots. Ok let’s get
one of the pictures into Photoshop and a little bit of fine-tuning there and we are going to do
that right now. Shooting with a small softbox means that
if you want soft lighting. You’ve got to get it nice and close that makes it relatively
bigger and therefore softer. That means it’s more likely to be in
your shot, add to the the fact you’re shooting in RAW means that sometimes your blacks
aren’t quite as black as you thought they would be and I’ve got 2 problems to
solve here in Adobe Camera Raw. Fortunately, they’re nice and simple and use a very similar method. So, first of all let’s deal with the blacks, and come to the
little arrow in the top left corner of my histogram, and click on it to turn on
my clipping warning for shadows. Now I’m going to come down to the blacks slider
moving across to the left. As I go to the left you see I’m getting this warning
area saying, yep this blue area here is actually pure black. And I can see that by
looking at the RGB here as I move my cursor across, 00 means black, anything
else means, well, not black. And you can see that’s great until I get here where
I got a little bit of color coming in but then I got this large softbox to
remove and I’m gonna deal with that bit in one go. Now I’m going to use one of the
local adjustments and you could you see the adjustment brush. I’m going to use the
graduated filter and what I’m going to do is just drag out a graduated filter
over that area. Now once I’ve dragged that across I can move my slider’s here
because I want to reduce the exposure all the way down to -4. Then I’m
going to reduce the highlights all the way down to whatever they need to be, and
as I do, you can see I’ve lost all the detail here that means I now have pure
black over this whole area I’ve completely removed that from my shot. Now
if the soft box was still visible, if there is any other little bits, I can also
remove whites and blacks, that’ll get me all the way down and of course I can
put multiple, either brushes or graduated filters until that area is
gone. But when I go back to my usual view there is no soft-box anymore
it’s completely disappeared simply by making it really really dark using the
local adjustment tools. I love shooting low-key images in my studio
it’s so simple but so effective. If you want more tips on shooting in a small
studio space, see the rest of the amazing videos from the fantastic
presenters right here on AdoramaTV you know either be doing you’ve got to be
clicking on that subscribe button. I’m Gavin Hoey thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Low Key Portraits: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey”

  1. Deepanshu Srivastava says:

    Which software do you use for post production of photos?

  2. abdou sam says:


  3. Mr Geek n Gadgets says:

    I need to get a way better soft box for this. I really love this low key lighting effect.

  4. Danay Machado says:

    where did you get the black background from, the one you are using in this video? and what is the size?

  5. Stephen Soukup says:

    Gavin H is the BEST and my fave teacher. Always spot on. You rock!

  6. Recep Narin says:

    best photography

  7. Eristhenes says:

    Am I missing something?!?!?  That studio is full of light, yet the portraits are full of shadows

  8. WWINC1 says:

    Great strait forward comprehensive tutorial

  9. Olivia Rose says:

    Such a good tutorial!

  10. joshua kingara says:

    what are the settings on the camera

  11. WILL revellet says:

    Wowwww ! .

  12. donzi32 Boats says:

    I'm just getting back after selling all my 2 1/4 format equipment. This is one of the best sites Ive found now that I've started over again. Thank you…

  13. Jar Dom says:

    Wow. What a model.

  14. Bella says:

    but how are the rest of the lights on the room not affecting your image?, photography student and ive been trying really hard to get an image like this in the studio, yet the light of the smallest of cracks bounces around and messes up the effect

  15. Ken Cox says:

    You are just brilliant mate thanks for an excellent tutorial 🙂

  16. Kahee Maa says:

    Hello Gavin. You are my all-time favorite photography teacher. I would like to know one more thing: Do you have a tutorial on how to make or where to buy a Background wall as you have in all your studio videos?

  17. rocksteadyjones says:

    Great tutorial. Many thanks 🙂

  18. SuperNeoooo says:

    Makes it look so easy……..

  19. skdesign says:

    How would you set up a Group Low Key photoshoot?

  20. Jelena Drago says:

    You always have great tutorials Gavin! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!

  21. Kush Kaushik says:

    How to do thor photography?

  22. Vijendra Singh Tanwar says:


  23. Insightful Imagery says:

    Awesome simple and fun thanks.

  24. Daan jansen says:

    Damn that trick with removing the softbox was so good! Learning a lot of your videos

  25. BubblesPothowari says:

    Fantastic Lesson !!! Many Thanks…..

  26. Claude Russo says:

    vraiment top tes videos

  27. Erivelto Martins says:


  28. mariano de miguel says:

    thanks for such a great tip!!

  29. Susheel Marcus says:

    Great video. Thanks.

  30. Prasenjeet Gautam says:

    Thanks for short & crisp information

  31. mangesh tayde says:

    my favorite photographic chanel…thanks gavin sir …

  32. tajcountrywcs says:

    Very nice. Several fantastic nuggets of great info throughout. Well done.

  33. Ilham Ideaz says:

    Thanks Gavin!

  34. Richard Amsuel says:

    What a great inspiration

  35. jorge giron says:

    ¡Qué buen tutorial! Gracias. (Guayaquil, Ecuador)

  36. Shane Warren says:

    Unbelievable photographer, lost count of how many times I've watched your videos

  37. Camil Iamandescu says:

    Beautiful pictures ! Yes – the best photographic tutorial I' ve seen so faar on the net ! Congratulations, for the ideas, for the pictures, for the simplicity in which you are explaining !

  38. jitu Yadav says:

    Nice photography sir ji

  39. Charles Fara says:

    Gavin that was great! How do I get rid of a blown out softbox in a background that isnt black though?

  40. Dom B says:

    What size is that collapsible black background? Where can I get one? Many thanks

  41. Two Masyutas says:

    Phenomenal, best photographer and educator on the internet! Amazing energy!

  42. Gibosn Fender says:

    fotoğrafçı burda fotoğraf makinesinin flaşını açıyor mu

  43. Ivaylo Petrov says:

    Very helpfull

  44. armando cobian says:

    you are the best gavin thanks

  45. MARRRRC0P0L0 says:

    LOVE this, thank you.

  46. Nathanael Ernest says:

    Not to judge, but I paid much attention to the model. She was so humble.

  47. Lenscore studio says:

    I watch this so many times

  48. bruno jordao says:


  49. himanshu gupta says:

    Nice video too helpful

  50. NICK WEST says:

    Here we go, Fern. LMAO! 2:42

  51. Marce Mania says:

    Gracias! Muy bueno!! 👍👏👏

  52. Leon O says:

    Another Amazing tutorial! I probably learn more from Gavin in 5-10 mins since its no fluff compared to some tutorials that take 45-60 mins to view. Thanks!

  53. Kimaka Director says:


  54. yourleftnut1 says:


  55. Sean Benton says:

    Thanks to the iPhone portrait mode cheat😂

  56. Angelus Comfort says:

    I understand every word u speak out.
    I like your video

  57. mahindra patnaik says:

    Sir please can u provide subtitles

  58. Brian Kenneth Kondas says:

    shooting in manual mode and spot metering the subject with the camera and confirm exposure using exposure indicator readings for highlights, midtones, and shadows is better way than using external light meter. To makes exposure adjustments you can simply change shutter speed.

  59. Cássio Costa says:

    Do the same effect with your smartphone https://youtu.be/KhgkCOtI0eE

  60. Matthew Ruddleston says:

    I'm a bit of a newbie to this, Why F8 when the clarity of the background is irrelevant. Why not the lowest F number on the model. Sorry if this is a dumb question, but like I said I'm new to it.


    Gracias Adorama por estos videos tan explicitos y de mucho contenido.

  62. Ron Villarreal says:

    As always, very informative! Thanks for sharing.

  63. jubayer Ahmed says:

    gadar bacha

  64. Larry Media says:

    Thanks for this low key lighting tutorial. It helps a lot.

  65. Lifetime Hunter says:

    Awesome tutorial! And very easy to understand from Italy!

  66. Deshawn E says:

    what was your flash output?

  67. Christoph Krull says:

    I love your videos, Gavin! I wonder why the pictures are not brighter, because of the white walls. Got. white walls, too in my small studio but i don‘t get such pretty dark shots. Please help me. Thanks

  68. Ahmad Rahimi says:

    Never saw before such a great speech

  69. Taboo Eight says:

    What is your post treatment application?

  70. S Tra says:

    You have an internal Mr. Bean dying to get out.

  71. Alex Wing says:

    Thanks Gavin, that Graduated Filter in raw is so neat and I just got to know it after 10+ years of PS. Great great tutorial!

  72. Péter Bonnez says:

    Excellent, thank you

  73. Charles Alvear says:

    Sir, you just earned your self a new subscriber. Thank you for this! Bookmarking for later 8:14

  74. Sam says:

    You do an amazing job. I always learn something and I also buy from Adorama.

  75. swil 03 says:

    I know her…

  76. Skytalker777 says:

    One of the best tutorials I have seen. Thank you.

  77. ዲያስፖራ ቲዩብ says:

    How can I get moon light?

  78. jay r says:

    Gavin the man great teacher

  79. Jason says:

    Great educational clip, just what I needed. Thank you for doing the hard work 🙂

  80. lordwelhim esaga says:

    wow! nice

  81. AlienMobster06 says:

    Hi Fern.

  82. Andrew Senyolo says:

    Thank you much. Very useful

  83. 53421 555 says:

    Awesome photoshop trick

  84. Aswin says:

    Great work, what power of flash you used?? Can you share it

  85. Numanali Syed says:

    Will you please make the another same video via male model plzzz with different poses

  86. Numanali Syed says:

    Will you plz make sir a video related to camera setting for beginners and which will make beginners a real photographer at beginning

  87. Julius Murillo says:

    Can I use Lightroom to get rid of the softbox???

  88. Zardos Spinosa says:

    I never understood the f metering lighting concept

  89. Dark Photos says:

    hello I just discovered your youtube channel excellent work

  90. Dark Photos says:

    can you give me your opinion on my photos

  91. Hamed Tolouie says:

    Where can I find that collapse background ?

  92. Moaz Qadri says:

    The first image you took was at f8 .. why not go for a smaller aperture like f2 or something. Get more of that light .. though you won’t be getting any Bokeh here..

  93. HiGH 5 LEARNING says:

    Very nice video bt I hv a question.. Does Direct flash doesn't hurts eyes?

  94. mohamed hamdy says:

    How can i get like this background

  95. raju. pampana says:

    You make it look so easy… Definitely Best Tutorial sir…

  96. Darrien Ollivierre says:

    Very informative. I’m buying a flash and umbrella soon to begin trying out both flash photography and portraits. I have seen you use a light meter in a few videos, are they necessary? Is there perhaps a phone app that can be recommended as a low budget alternative?

  97. Iwan Iswanto says:


  98. Servant of the LORD says:

    Thank you hoey

  99. Tech Gamz says:

    One of the best photography channel on YouTube.

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