Come to the Dark Side – Low Key Photography

How to create low key still live photographs

How to get the low key look in photography

Low key photography is full of dark, black backgrounds, shadows and moody lighting. Highlights define the outlines of objects but there are spare mid-tones. Low key photography requires careful lighting, you need to provide just enough light for the subject without lighting the background.

Low key photography is highly cinematic, film noir like, and dramatic. In the world of painting it would be called “chiarscuro” which has a full range from deep dark blacks to pure white highlights.

Low-key lighting is a style of lighting for photography, film or television. It is a necessary element in creating a chiaroscuro effect. Traditional photographic lighting, three-point lighting uses a key light, a fill light, and a back light for illumination. Low-key lighting often uses only one key light, optionally controlled with a fill light or a simple reflector.  Low key lighting has a higher lighting ratio, e.g., 8:1, than high-key lighting, which can approach 1:1.

Examples of Low Key Photography

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Photography Prints

Photography Prints

Photography Prints

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Photography Prints

How to Achieve Low Key Photography

Low key photography can be created with lighting techniques in a dark room or within Adobe Photoshop by manipulating the highlights and shadows in levels.

In the above examples the old car was shot during the day and then worked in Photoshop to create a more dramatic low key look.  Same with the silver spoons with leaves.  Shot on an overcast day and then manipulated in Photoshop.

The other examples were shot with a single, low light source in a dark studio, often with against a background of an open door leading to a dark room.  Lighting was from the side to minimize any light hitting the background.  Any background elements that did appear in the shot were burned in Photoshop to make them fade into the shadows.  Highlights are typically dodged to increase their value.

How to Dodge and Burn in Photoshop

In the old darkroom days, a photographer would dodge (block light) and burn (allow more light) certain areas of the print to achieve the look they wanted.  You can do the same in Photoshop.

Dodging and burning contact sheet example
Dodging and burning “map” on a Richard Avedon portrait shows how much dodging and burning goes on in a traditional black and white fine art image.

Design a room around fine art photography

Decorating with photography

Photography: A Tried and True Design Element

“In the early days of photography, art aficionados didn’t consider photographs a “real” form of art. Today, we know that isn’t true. You can purchase a vast variety of photographic art or create your own – and it’s just as beautiful and engaging as any other form of art you can display in your home.”

Modern Farm House Decor Dining Room
Modern Farm House Decor Dining Room by Edward M. Fielding – www.edwardfielding.com

Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer. Fine art photography stands in contrast to representational photography, such as photojournalism, which provides a documentary visual account of specific subjects and events, literally re-presenting objective reality rather than the subjective intent of the photographer; and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to advertise products or services.

 

The Grid method of art display
Going for the Grid
When hanging a collage of themed photography, rely on the style standby of matte black picture frames. They don’t compete with the artwork and provide an elegant boundary. In this display, the repetition of black and white photography is what provides the excitement. The punctuation pop of the red lampshade doesn’t hurt, either.

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Decorating with Contemporary Fine Art Photography in the Modern Home

Black and white flower photography by Edward M. Fielding
Black and white flower photography by Edward M. Fielding

Until the mid-1950s it was widely considered vulgar and pretentious to frame a photograph for a gallery exhibition. Prints were usually simply pasted onto blockboard or plywood, or given a white border in the darkroom and then pinned at the corners onto display boards. Prints were thus shown without any glass reflections obscuring them. Steichen’s famous The Family of Man exhibition was unframed, the pictures pasted to panels. Even as late as 1966 Bill Brandt’s MoMA show was unframed, with simple prints pasted to thin plywood. From the mid-1950s to about 2000 most gallery exhibitions had prints behind glass.

Since about 2000 there has been a noticeable move toward once again showing contemporary gallery prints on boards and without glass. In addition, throughout the twentieth century, there was a noticeable increase in the size of prints.

Old Red Vintage Tractors Prince Edward Island Framed Print
Old Red Vintage Tractors Prince Edward Island Framed Print by Edward M. Fielding with barn wood frame

But for the home,  most people like a mat and frame or simply display the photography without a frame either printed on canvas or floating on the wall via a metal print.

Modern Home Modern Photography
Modern Home Modern Photography

Try a display wall of black and white photography

Art walls of simple black frames, white matted black and white photography works great as a collage wall or as a more formal arrangement because each element adds to the over all effect without any distraction of color.

The photography can be themed say around old vintage tractors and barns or it can be random as the common elements of black and white monochromatic tones brings everything together.

Art wall of black and white photography
Art wall of black and white photography
Display wall of black and white photography
Display wall of black and white photography
Collage wall of black and white fine art photography
Collage wall of black and white fine art photography

Milestone: 1200 Art and Fine Art Photography Sales

Allow me to toot my own horn, as I can’t wait for others to do it. I sell my photography, design work and art on a variety of platforms from Rights Managed Stock via Arcangel to rental art via Turning Art as well as on Red Bubble and Society6 but by far my most successful selling platform to date has been Fine Art America and Pixels.com.

I have my largest portfolio on edward-fielding.pixels.com and this site offers the most combinations of museum quality prints in the form of framed and matted prints, canvas, metal, wood and more.  Plus decor products such as throw pillows, phone cases, bags and more.

In the past few months I’ve punched through the 1,000 sales mark and my collectors keep growing, discovering new, never sold before images from my portfolio of nearly 5,000 fine art photographs and artwork as well as repeat sales of fan favorite images.

Decorators have also discovered a few of my images for their clients and have received a professional discount for large volume buyers through Designer Prints which is a service to those in the trade who need to purchase in volume for their clients or for resale.

Here are some of my top sellers:

Art Prints

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Photography Prints

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If you want to sell your own artwork take a look at some of my advice on selling artwork articles:

About Fine Art America and Pixels

Selling Art – Search Engine Optimization SEO

5 Don’ts of Selling Artwork Online

Can I make a living at this?

Understanding Print On Demand – Part One

The Story of Ronnie behind the scenes at a Sato puppy photo shoot

The Wilson family got more than they bargained for when their Hanover High School senior Daniel signed up for the “Surf and Sato” March Intensive program. Each spring the high school in Hanover, NH (home of Dartmouth College) offers a week of out of the ordinary educational experiences, everything from analyzing classic horror films to hut to hut cross-country ski treks to intensive Shakespeare, drama trips to NYC, college tours in Boston and a trip to Puerto Rico to help with the street dog problem and maybe try a bit of surfing.

Rumor has it that Daniel was under strict instructions to resist all attempts of adorableness and not to return with a puppy but then Ronnie’s cuteness prevailed and after a week of being surrounded by lovable puppies, one managed to come back to New Hampshire. Luckily I was able to persuade the family to bring Ronnie over for a modeling session.

What is a Sato?

Sato is the name for mutt i Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico has a large population of stray street and beach dogs.  Some estimates put the population of stray dogs at 500,000.

Dead Dog Beach is located on the South-East coast of the island. A dumping ground, it is known for its stray dog population, and the abuse that has occurred on the isolated beach including gang rituals, target practice, and cars running over helpless dogs and puppies.

Dogs are dumped here everyday. The Sato Project, a rescue group founded by New Yorker Chrissy Beckles, is their only source of fresh water and food, and rescues them as their resources allow it. Dead Dog Beach is one of the many beaches of the island overran by stray dogs. (source: http://www.sophiegamand.com/deaddogbeach/)

From The Sato Project Org – Satos are usually small dogs under 30lbs.  The majority have terrier in them so they tend to be incredibly smart and quick to learn.  The street or beach is a very hard life for a dog and the majority do not make it past their second birthday.  Nature seems to have sensed this and females are giving birth to increasingly large litters of puppies.

You can see Puerto Rico dogs who need a second chance on PetFinder – https://www.petfinder.com/pet-search?shelter_id=PR04

About the Photo Shoot

Being a puppy, Ronnie was quite the handful as a modeling subject. I’ve grown accustomed to Tiki the Westie ability to sit for a very long time, knowing that a treat is coming at some point. At this point Tiki anticipates treats when ever I make a move towards my studio strobe lights. During the photo sessions for the book “The Quotable Westie” Tiki was so good I could set him up on a chair and then remember that I forgot the SD card or prop or something, leave the room for a few minutes and he would still be stilling there patiently.

The quotable Westie book
The quotable Westie book https://www.createspace.com/4070210

I’ve dealt with puppies before but its been a while. When I photographed Max, Pete, and Jeanie, my main camera was a micro-four thirds camera, a Panasonic Lumix G3 which had a handy feature for photographing moving objects – an LCD screen in which you could touch a spot on the screen and it would focus and fire the shutter.

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With my Canon 6D and its minimal focal points (only nine) I found myself having trouble getting little Ronnie in focus. I also made the mistake of starting out on the tripod. Not good for a guy in constant motion. But I did manage to get some good shots.

The other challenge I had was too narrow depth of field.  The Canon 6D is a full frame camera which has a narrower depth of field than a micro four thirds camera like the Panasonic G series.

In order to nail the focus on the eyes with a constantly moving subject like this little puppy Ronnie, I had to shot a lot of shots.   I first tried pre-focusing on a certain spot on this antique high chair I was using as a prop.  But the entire first set of photos were ruined by the focus being off ever so slightly.

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I end up re-shooting the entire scene later with with the studio lights cranked up to maximum and the aperture increase to f16 in order to make sure I got his cute little face in sharp focus.

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I also started to abandoned my carefully composed set ups and took the camera off the tripod so I could move the camera main focal point to the dogs eye, fire and worry about composition later with cropping.

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Some Tips

A few things I learned that worked in this latest dog photo session.

  • With puppies, be prepared for puppies.  They don’t know how to stay put, they need potty breaks, they are likely to climb out of what ever you put them in, and they are going to tire out and fall asleep on you at some point.
  • Safety – work with an assistant and try to create an environment like a basket with soft towels in the bottom to help contain the puppy.
  • Use chew toys, bones or a bit of peanut butter on a the edge of a basket to keep them interested and occupied.
  • Use squeaker toys or a weird noises to get their attention.  Don’t be afraid to sound like a wild animal or a complete wacko to get some great expressions.
  • Have plenty of paper towels handy.
  • Limit the number of assistants in the studio so the dog doesn’t get too distracted.
  • Shoot with a fast shutter speed and be prepared for motion.  I don’t recommend a tripod unless the dog can sit still.
  • Get on their level.  I used a small coffee table to raise the puppy up but watch that they don’t try to jump off.

Photography Prints

Photographs of Old Tractors for a Retro Decor

Old Tractors Photographs by Edward M. Fielding

Photographs of old tractors
Photographs of old tractors by Edward M. Fielding

Living in the rural Upper Valley region of Vermont and New Hampshire, I have the opportunity to find a lot of old, vintage tractors still at work in the fields or stored in barns around the area.

I’ve come to know of a lot of old tractors around these parts. Some are restored beauties brought out by the local antique tractor clubs and showed off at country fairs while others are simply old family heirlooms that just won’t die and are still hard at work in the fields each summer.

You can see my entire collection of old tractor photographs, watercolors and artwork here: http://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/tractor

Old Tractor Wall Art

Photographs of old tractors make a handsome nostalgia statement as wall art. At home in an old farm house, country estate, a restaurant with a homey, back to basics, farm to table concept or even in a office as a look back the fine machinery of yesteryear.

Large tractor image makes an impact in a contemporary decor.
Large tractor image makes an impact in a contemporary decor.

Tips for decorating with old tractors for a retro country decor

  • Decorating your home with farm and tractor decor can provide a sense of peace and coziness that other styles can’t deliver. Rustic tractor and farm designs are perfect for a country kitchen, busy farmhouse or noisy chicken coop – to decorate your favorite room in country style.
  • Display in groups of three.  Odd numbers of items look more appealing and displaying three old tractor photographs will have more impact than a single tractor image.
  • Go big for a modern look.  A wall of smaller items has an old fashioned look, for a modern contemporary style using retro photographs of old tractors, go big with a single large canvas print.  Canvas prints are lightweight and can easily be hung and moved if needed.

You can see my entire collection of old tractor photographs, watercolors and artwork here: http://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/tractor

Old Tractor Black and White Square
Old Tractor Black and White Square – http://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/tractor

 

 

 

 

Tractor art in the living room
Tractor art in the living room – http://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/tractor

Rustic farm equipment and photographs of old tractors make a fine way to create a masculine rustic effect in your decor. Hardworking, sweaty, manly farmers and the work horses of the farm – the tractor are as masculine as it gets. Large canvas prints of old tractors would give a large space a modern yet retro masculine look while a more traditional approach is to group a lot of framed images on a single gallery wall.

Vintage Ford Tractor Square Framed Print
Vintage Ford Tractor Square Framed Print – http://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/tractor

How to Succeed in Fine Art Photography

How to Succeed in Fine Art Photography with Brooke Shaden plus further reading.

“Anyone can become a fine art photographer, but not everyone can become a gallery-represented artist.”

Talent alone will not bring you recognition as a fine art photographer. For that, you need exposure to collectors and museums. Galleries can give you that exposure, but first you need an effective marketing plan to reach the galleries. You will find that plan in From Photographer to Gallery Artist.

Author Kara Lane conducted hundreds of hours of research, and contacted over sixty galleries, to find the best strategies for getting your fine art photography into galleries. Now she is sharing the secrets she discovered with you.

In this complete guide to finding gallery representation, you will learn:

  • The criteria galleries use to evaluate fine art photography
  • Three primary resources for identifying the best galleries for you
  • The tools you need to showcase your images and experience
  • Six major marketing strategies for attracting gallery representation
  • Key issues to discuss with galleries before agreeing to representation
  • How eight famous fine art photographers achieved their success
  • Self-assessment questions to help clarify what you want from your life and art
  • Lists of recommended portfolio review events, art fairs, juried shows and competitions, art magazines and blogs, artist websites, and other resources to help you become a gallery-represented fine art photographer
  • With your talent, effort, and persistence…and the research and marketing strategies in From Photographer to Gallery Artist…you can achieve gallery representation!

Did you know? Fine Art Photography – Known also as “photographic art“, “artistic photography” and so on, the term “fine art photography” has no universally agreed meaning or definition: rather, it refers to an imprecise category of photographs, created in accordance with the creative vision of the cameraman.

“Fine art is about an idea, a message, or an emotion. The artist has something that they want to have conveyed in their work.

That idea or message may be something small, a single word such as abandon, or it may be a whole statement, like exploring the way the moon affects the tides. It is a start. It is like a hypothesis.”


In recent years as the field of photography has exploded, many photographers consider selling their work to make a profit and to help defray the high costs of equipment. But, many photographers don’t have the business and marketing knowledge required to successfully sell fine art photographs; and many of those who have tried have been met with disappointment. Until now, little information of value has been available.

In Marketing Fine Art Photography, Alain Briot offers practical, up-to-date and field-tested marketing techniques from the viewpoint of a fine art landscape photographer who earns a living from the sale of his fine art prints.

Briot teaches that by taking control of the selling process, you can increase your profits and, ultimately, direct your own destiny. Briot’s approach is based on offering quality not quantity; and offering something unique, rather than something that is mass-produced. Though directed toward selling fine art, this method can be applied to other products.

After a series of trials and errors, Briot devised a marketing system that allowed him to get out of debt, pay for a state-of-the-art studio, and purchase his first home, all from the sale of his photography. Briot has taught fine art photography marketing to numerous students in seminars, through one-on-one consulting, and through his Marketing Mastery tutorial DVD.

Topics include:

Defining fine art photography
Wholesale, retail, and consignment
Knowing your customer
Where to sell and how to price fine art
Fundamentals of marketing and salesmanship
Profitability and honesty in business
Packing and shipping fine art
Common marketing mistakes
The unique selling proposition (USP)

All About Food Styling

Food styling is the art of arranging food so that it looks tasty and fresh. This is important in a number of situations, particularly when the food is being photographed. For instance, the pictures of food that you see in cook books, magazines, advertisements, and menus have been styled.

Recommended book:  Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera

Behind every mouth-watering image of food is a dedicated food stylist whose job it is to consider, plan, and perfect every detail from the curve of an apple stem to the fan of a shrimp tail. In Food Styling, master stylist Delores Custer presents the definitive reference in the field—complete with detailed information on essential tools and useful equipment, step-by-step guidance on achieving the perfect shot, and a wealth of tried-and-true techniques for everything from voluminous frosting to mile-high sandwiches. Based on her thirty years of experience styling for advertising, magazines, books, television, and film, Custer shares her expert guidance on how to achieve stunning visual perfection for all media.

What is a food stylist? – A food stylist is a culinary professional whose job is to prepare food for photography, video or film. Making food photogenic is no easy task, and the best food stylists come to the job armed with an array of techniques to make meals look their best – even if it means replacing pancake syrup with 30-weight motor oil.

Food Styling for Stunning Food Photography

Photography Skill: How to work a scene

Professional photographers have a term for exploring ALL of the possibilities of a location. Its called “working the scene”. The typical amateur photographer hops off the bus, follows the crowd over to the designated “Kodak Moment” photo spot, waits their turn in line and takes the same show that has been taken by millions of photographers before them.

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Back in the film days when every shot represented real money being spent, I can understand wanting to get that one “safe bet” iconic tourist shot and then perhaps worrying about how many shots you have left on the roll.  But in the digital age there is no excuse for not exploring a scene from a variety of angles.  Go ahead and take the most obvious shot. The first shot that everyone takes.  Then once that shot is out of the way, take some time to look around and explore the area.

Work The Scene

Move your physical body, not just the zoom lens.  This is when prime lens are really great for beginning photographers because a fixed focal length lens really forces one to move around a scene and look for compositions.  Walk around, look behind you, look down from a higher vantage point, look up from a low vantage point, seek out something unique.

I created this little video just to give you a since of how I might explore a scene here at an old barn complex in Windsor, Vermont.

In the end you are seeking to find a unique vantage point, something compelling, something that perhaps hasn’t been seen before which is especially important if you are photographing a well worn out subject matter.
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It’s also important to return to a scene at different times of day and different seasons.  The photographs above was taken at the same barn complex when there was snow on the ground.

Learn More About Working The Scene

Eric Kim’s video goes deeper into the concept of exploring or working a scene with classic street photographers:

Car Photography

Car Photography by Edward M. Fielding

The above video highlights some of my car photography and highlights the ultimate car photography, capturing great vintage cars in their natural environment rather than parked at a car show covered with signs, awards and coffee cups.

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This old Model T was spotted in the Danbury, New Hampshire area. I talked to the restorer for a bit at the Danbury Country Store (currently closed as the owner was arrested for selling drugs). He was also showing off his completely finished show stopper Model T pick up in front of store.

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After years of photographing, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can make your own luck. If you pursuit photography with intent, keep your eyes sharp and your mind open to possibilities you’l come across scenes like this waiting to be captured.

I just happened by the Danbury Country Store in Danbury New Hampshire while a man who restores old cars had stopped to shoot the breeze with is buddies. The old car in front of the old historic country store just made for a scene right out of history. Ford Model T pickup truck.

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An old classic up near Stowe, Vermont outside a Cider Mill.
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A classic Corvette Stingray at a local car show at the Lebanon, New Hampshire at the airport.

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A classic Ford Edsel parked near the railroad tracks in East Haddam, CT.

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Classic Cadillacs lined up by year at the Annual Caddy Convention, held this time at Lake George, NY.

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An old junker car spotted in the Upper Valley region of Vermont.

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Model of a 57 Chevy Bel Air sedan.

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Classic Cadillac fins at Lake George, NY.

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This old vintage car parking lot used to be in White River Junction but now the area has a new bridge and a row of office buildings. These old cars were patiently waiting restoration.

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How to photograph a car: Best Practices Video

 Car Show Photography Tips


How to photograph and light cars in the studio with the Lamborghini Aventador

Ye Old Barn – Working a Scene in Photography

Working a Scene – Vermont Barn

The beginner photographer approaches a scene, raises their camera and “takes” the picture. A seasoned photographer “works” the scene, studying all the possibilities of composition from various angles.  Unless you work out all of the possibilities of a scene, you don’t come away with the best possibility.  Often this requires revisiting a scene more than once, perhaps in different seasons.

In the video above fine art photographer Edward M. Fielding (www.edwardfielding.com) comes upon an old historic New England barn and explores the possibilities of the scene at a location in Windsor, Vermont.

This old barn complex in Windsor, Vermont is eye catching when driving by with its complex arrangement of buildings, weathered boards, red painted doors etc but capturing the feeling of the place is different than snapping a shot from the road.  You have do actually engage in the landscape and explore the various angles and arrangements of the composition.  Bottom line is to get into the scene and make an photograph rather than take a snapshot.

Below are some photographs of this area taken at different times of the year as well as some thoughts by other photographers on how to work a scene in photography.

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“Making a picture just right takes time, even when the thing you’re photographing isn’t moving. Instead, you do the moving — closer, not so close — change lenses, commit to a tripod, micro compose some detail, step back, reconsider, recompose, repeat. And when it looks right it also feels right — just so.”
— Sam Abell, from The Life of a Photograph

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“The compositional dance is about figuring out a way to move you and your camera, which in turn moves the smallest of details inside your viewfinder for maximum visual impact. You can make use of all photographic techniques to create the atmosphere or emotion you are feeling and want to transmit. It’s about recognizing and understanding what it is that attracted you to the subject matter in the first place, and then determining — through concentration and instinct — how best to communicate those feelings through the photograph.” – Steve Simon

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“We don’t always have the time or opportunity to revisit a given scene many times in order to make ourselves happy; however, we should at least be convinced that we have produced the best possible image given the limitations of our own visit. This means that even if a scene is immediately interesting/ arresting, the first image may not necessarily be the best one. Sometimes our instincts are right, sometimes our timing is lucky, and it is; more often than not, there’s always something to be improved.

If you take a look at the work of great photographers immediately before and after a famous image – the Magnum Contact Sheets book is highly recommended for this because it puts the chosen frame in context of what happened immediately before/ after by showing the rest of the frames on the roll – you’ll see that they all have something in common: they spend a lot of time experimenting with variations on the same basic idea, exploring options, and usually end fairly soon after getting the shot they want.” – Ming Thein

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“If you’re walking around a city or village and you stop to take a photo, that means something caught your eye (enough to make you stop and photograph it, right?). Don’t just take one shot, shrug your shoulders, and move on. Remember, something made you stop, so there’s probably something there, and taking one quick snapshot probably won’t uncover it.

Your job as a photographer is to “work that scene” and find out what it was that captured your attention. The first step is simply to slow down—stop, look around for a moment, and see what it was that drew your eye in the first place. Was it the color, was it a doorway, an archway, was it some little feature, or something big? If you can figure it out, then you’ll know what to shoot, but more often than not, we can’t exactly describe what it was that made us stop and shoot, but it definitely was something.

Your job is to find it, and to work that scene by trying these techniques: (1) Shoot the area with different focal lengths—shoot a few shots in really wide angle, then try 100mm, then zoom in tight, and see what you find. Stop and look at your LCD to see if you’re getting close. If you see something that looks like it has possibilities, then (2) try changing your viewpoint. Shoot it from a very low angle (get down on one knee) or try shooting it from above (look for stairs you can shoot from or a rooftop angle). This can make the shot come alive. If that looks really good and you’re getting close to nailing the shot, then (3) try varying your white balance (try changing it to Cloudy and see if having the shot look warmer looks better, or try Shade for a warmer look yet). Try all these things (work the scene) and my guess is one of those shots will bring a big smile to your face.”  – Scott Kelby

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More award winning Vermont Barn photographs – http://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/barn+vermont?page=1