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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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.

American Auto Icon The 57 Chevy Bel Air

Chevy Bel Air at the Beach

The 1957 Chevrolet is a car which was introduced by Chevrolet in September 1956 for the 1957 model year. It was available in three series models: the upscale Bel Air, the mid-range Two-Ten, and the One-Fifty. A two-door station wagon, the Nomad was produced as a Bel Air model. An upscale trim option called the “Delray” was available for two-ten 2-door sedans. It is a popular and sought after classic car. These vehicles are often restored to their original condition and sometimes modified. The car’s image has been frequently used in toys, graphics, music, movies and television. The ’57 Chevy, as it is often known, is an auto icon

 

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Life is good when you head down to the beach for sunset, snap a few photographs of an American Bald Eagle chewing on a Sheep Head Fish, get chased out by no-seem-ums and catch a classic vintage red and white Chevy Bel Air parked right up on the sand.

With moments of light fading and the threat of the owner, keys in hand, wandering back towards his baby, the brain has to think fast. Settings, ISO, shutterspeed, composition, aperture, how angle the shot to keep that garbage can out of the frame, owner approaching just over the bend, yikes can I get it? Shots taken within moments and then the moment is gone. Car, beach, sky, captured. Post processing to bring out the car’s beauty along with the colors of the perfect evening at the beach.

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What a day dream to find such a beautiful car parked as if it was ready for a magazine shoot. One of those moments you can plan, you just have to be ready for these special life moments. Sure you could plan it. If you had a fashion spread budget, hired the car for the evening, had a light crew or perhaps a movie budget. But perhaps its somewhat easier to simply put yourself at the ready and in place for these moments of serendipity.

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Recently sold – 20.000″ x 13.375″ print of 1957 Chevy Bel Air to a buyer from Kenosha, WI.

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Bonus feature: Cars in the Wild

Somehow my path and these great old vintage cars seem to cross here in New England.

To make more interesting photos, become more interesting

“If you want to make more interesting pictures, become a more interesting person.” – Jay Maisel

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Legendary NYC photographer and workshop instructor, Jay Maisel is a quotable fellow and one of his most famous sayings involves the idea of being a more interesting person leads to more interesting art and photography.

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Being more interesting requires being well-read, exposed to new ideas and different points of view and seeing all that life offers. Think about who the most interesting people are at a party. Is it the guy talking about his new lawn mower and the snow tires he bought at Walmart or is it the gal who likes to eat exotic things and just came back from a trip backpacking through India?

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Who do you think comes back with the most compelling photographs? The one who dusts off the camera every time the roses are in bloom, or the one who ventured into an abandoned factory to capture dust swirling in the air?

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To make interesting and compelling images one has to have a sense of adventure and purpose. Playing it safe or standing in the Kodak moment spots in the most visited National Parks ain’t going to result in exciting images. This is more of “I was there” or “I saw a buffalo” type images that clog up the arteries of Facebook on a daily basis.

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Creating something new, something unique, something exciting requires leaving the beaten path and finding your own voice. Giving yourself permission to follow your own interests and passions, not the “approved” photography subjects that have been done to death.

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Artist, designer and fine art photographer Edward M. Fielding strives to live an interesting life.  Next  stop:  A 10 day trip around the Ring Road in Iceland in an RV.  Should be an interesting adventure of a life time.

The rule of thirds in composition

Well composed photographs stand out from snapshots because they are concisely planned out.  Where a casual snapshot often puts the subject dead center in the frame, leading to a forgettable image, the well composed photograph invites the view to explore the frame and contents of the foreground, middle ground and background.

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The “rule” of thirds is a good place for any beginner photographer to start creating more intriguing images.

The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersection points, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section.

The rule of thirds applied in a vertical subject.
The rule of thirds applied in a vertical subject.

The rule of thirds divides the scene in thirds from top to bottom and from side to site.  Where the lines intersect are known as golden spots – great places to place the main focal point such as an eyeball.

The idea is top off set the image so that horizons or subjects don’t land dead center.  The result is a more compelling image with open space to lead the viewer to the subject and allows the viewer to explore the image.

Rule of thirds example
The rule of thirds can be use vertically an horizontally or both.

Example from a recently sold photograph

Today I sold a photograph to a buyer from Phoenix, AZ which is good example of the rule of thirds and executing it when the need arises.  Like any “rule” you learn the point is not to be a slave to it, but when you practice these well accepted “rules” of composition, they become second nature and you’ll instinctively use them in your work.

I usually am more aware of the rule of thirds when my camera is on a tripod and I’m taking a carefully compose landscape shot, but this beach scene was on the fly.  I was walking down Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida for a brief visit after my son toured Ringling College.  I came across to scene and quickly composed.  Because I have practiced the rule of thirds and other composition suggestions I was able to get a nice composition within a matter of seconds.

Edward Fielding sold a 12.000" x 6.750" print of Couple Sitting On An Old Jetty Siesta Key Beach Florida to a buyer from Phoenix, AZ.
Edward Fielding sold a 12.000″ x 6.750″ print of Couple Sitting On An Old Jetty Siesta Key Beach Florida to a buyer from Phoenix, AZ.

The sky is given about two thirds of the image.  Even though there are no clouds to provide interest, the blue field provides some “white space” for the image.  The horizon and and jetty define the bottom third of the image and the couple and gap in the jetty with the wave provide points of interest in the “golden” intersections.

More at: http://www.edwardfielding.com

 

Champagne Bottle Still Life, deconstructing a fine art photograph

I recently sold a large canvas print of “Champagne Bottle Still Life” which is a black and white fine art photograph of an empty champagne bottle, cork and glasses but there is a whole lot more to this image than these elements.   The arrangement, lighting and focal point create the story.

Champagne Bottle Still Life
https://edward-fielding.pixels.com/featured/champagne-bottle-still-life-edward-fielding.html – framed fine art photograph sold to a buyer in Ramona, CA

Champagne Bottle Still Life was created early in my re-booted career as a fine art photographer.  I uploaded this image to my portfolio back in February 15th, 2013.  At the time I was still experimenting with Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses, trying to sell enough prints to justify a leap to full frame Canon cameras.

I was studying composition and learning the tricks used by painters to create dynamic composition as well as trying to create stories within the single frame.

If you study the photograph you can see all sorts of composition tricks based on the arrangement of the objects that work to tell the story of the night perhaps of a honeymoon, anniversary or New Year’s Eve party.  Which is why I think this image sells well every June during wedding and graduation party season.

In the photograph the sharp focus is centered on the cork and the background of champagne bottle and glasses are allowed to fade from focus into the dark background.  Black and white is use to highlight the black of the champagne bottle and the darkness beyond.  White highlights contrast the bottle label and champagne glasses while the cork is bathed in a rich light that highlights its fine, soft texture which contrasts against the  hard glass surfaces of the bottle and glasses.  So you have small but detailed object vs. large but minimal shapes.  Black vs. white.  Light vs. dark.  Hard vs. soft.  Textured vs. smooth.  The contrasts of objects work to add intrigue and interest to the photograph.

The scene might look natural and random but the placement of each element of this photograph was carefully chosen.   The cork is highlighted by being in the plane of focus and place in the bottom third according to the rule of thirds.

The cork is centered in the frame but the wire is placed to the side and slightly behind to bring the eye off center.  The other objects are arranged in a zig zag fashion to pull the eye back into the photograph.  The viewer is drawn from cork to wire, to bottle opening, to front wine glass and then to the back wine glass.

Notice also how the background is divided in roughly thirds with two thirds being black and approximately one third being the wood which also includes leading lines heading towards the back, drawing in the viewer.

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Let’s face facts, Westies are irresistibly cute!

Westies or more officially West Highlands White Terriers are an adorable breed of dog. Small, smart, loyal, and ferocious, this Scottish breed is all terrier and you won’t forget it if a chipmunk is around.

Here are some highlight photographs from the “Quotable Westie” sessions for the small gift book.  Prints are available as well as images printed on tote bags and other products.   See the entire portfolio of westie photographs and art work by fine art photographer, Edward M. Fielding by clicking the link below.

You can see all of the westie dog images for sale here – https://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/westie

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Tiki the Westie is a wonderful model who works for kibble.  He’ll sit in position under the studio lights until he hears the “ok” and he gets his treat.

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A smart dog breed for sure.  Knows his name as well as many word commands such as sit, car, ride, walk, dinner, treat, food, tick etc.

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Always up for an adventure and places to sniff and explore.  Keep this breed on a leash as a random chipmuck can sent them flying off into the woods.  And these little dogs are fast on their feet!

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The West Highland White Terrier, commonly known as the Westie is a breed of dog from Scotland with a distinctive white harsh coat with a somewhat soft white undercoat. The modern breed is descended from a number of breeding programs of white terriers in Scotland before the 20th century. Edward Donald Malcolm, 16th Laird of Poltalloch, is credited with the creation of the modern breed from his Poltalloch Terrier, but did not want to be known as such.

Westies are often featured In advertising by companies such as Cesar dog food and Scottish whisky Black & White. It is a medium-sized terrier, although with longer legs than other Scottish breeds of terrier. It has a white double coat of fur which fills out the dog’s face, giving it a rounded appearance. The breed can be good with children, but does not always tolerate rough handling. The Westie is an active and intelligent breed, and is social with a high prey drive, as they were once used to hunt rodents.

 

Sell More Art – Understanding Buyer Motivation

Modern Farm House Style Decor https://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/farm
Modern Farm House Style Decor
https://edward-fielding.pixels.com/art/farm

Recently on the Fine Art America artist forums a member was talking about setting up an art auction site. Other members had a lot of questions about establishing trust, curating the art, and other concerns. Things provided by well established art auction houses.

The “entrepreneur” brushed off these concerns saying “we are the sellers here, not the buyers.”

Sorry folks but if you don’t understand the motivations of the buyer, you are not going to do much selling.

Train photography by Edward M. Fielding
Train photography by Edward M. Fielding http://www.edwardfielding.com

Motivations of the Seller

As an art seller it doesn’t take too much soul searching to understand why you want to sell our art. There are several reasons. The major one being money. You need money to pay for equipment, supplies, food, rent, models, studios space, gas, trips to the dentist etc. Everyone needs money for their time and effort.

The other motivation is a personal satisfaction of knowing that someone else appreciates the work you are producing. Other motivations include career advancement, prestige, reputation, fame, branding and other achievements. But all in all its rather straightforward. You are producing a creative product and need to find buyers who will support your ongoing efforts.

Motivations of the Buyer

Motivations of the buyer can range from wanting to cover a crack on the wall to wanting to make a financial investment. The motivations determine if someone buys art on sale at Walmart, buys from an artist at an art fair or buys at a high end aution and stores the art in a bunker for ten years.

If your method of selling does not match the motivations of the buyer, you are probably not going to sell much art or photography. Let’s some reasons people might want to buy art.

  • They need a gift for a wedding, graduation, birthday, housewarming etc.
  • They want to decorate a room.
  • They want something cheery to greet them in the morning.  Something uplifting that will make them laugh or smile.
  • Something that will remind them of something – a trip, a place, a time, a location.
  • To impress.  They want to impress their friends and co-workers with their good taste.  The art enhances the owners self-esteem or self-perceptions of its owners.
  • To collect.  They enjoy collecting art of a certain genre or theme.
  • To inspire.  They want art or photography that will inspire their own work.
  • To think.  They want art that will make them think and question.
  • To relax.  They want art that is calming or relaxing to look at.
  • As an investment.  They want to park their money somewhere and hope it appreciates.
  • Price.  The art was a good deal or it was in their budget.
  • To make a statement – social or political statements, philosophies, beliefs or values that the art embodies.  The art expresses the buyers views.

When it comes down to it “the art we buy is as much about who we are as it is about the artists who create it”

Winter Arrives - Barn wood frame
Winter Arrives by Edward M. Fielding – Barn wood frame http://www.edwardfielding.com

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Classic vs. Trendy – what kind of framing do you like for your artwork?

As far as framing photographs and artwork, I’ve typically gone with the traditional looks I see in museums. Natural wood frame with white mat and glass or black metal or wood frame with glass. Nice thing about this type of art framing is that you can group several pieces together on the same wall and they match with the similar frames.

Lately I’ve been ordering some frame less photographs printed on metal for a modern look that floats on the wall. Trendy designers say a white on white framing style is all the rage. I’ve seen a few of my photographs and artwork ordered that way recently but most are either ordered as prints for framing locally or at home or in the traditional style of black frame and white mat.

Here are the most recently ordered framed prints from customers of my website – http://www.edwardfielding.com

You can see how the fine art photographs and artwork was ordered. With 100s of framing choices in 100s of styles, colors and matting combinations, the traditional simple wood frame and white mat seems to be the most popular. Perhaps because it is economical or perhaps it matches what the customer already has, plus some of these orders might be gifts.

https://pixels.com/featured/vintage-trout-shop-sign-west-yellowstone-edward-fielding.html
https://pixels.com/featured/vintage-trout-shop-sign-west-yellowstone-edward-fielding.html

40.000″ x 24.125″ print of Vintage Trout Shop Sign West Yellowstone to a buyer from Calgary, AB – Canada.

https://pixels.com/featured/vince-lombardi-football-mug-edward-fielding.html
https://pixels.com/featured/vince-lombardi-football-mug-edward-fielding.html

14.000″ x 6.125″ print of Vince Lombardi Football Mug to a buyer from Victoria, TX.

Classics stand the test of time but trendy homes want to follow the latest looks from furniture to framing.  Furniture trends are heading back to Mid Century Modern and frame and molding makers offer matching frames for the trend of Danish and Scandinavian furniture. This video highlights some of the looks possible at your local framing store.

https://pixels.com/featured/the-four-aces-diner-edward-fielding.html
https://pixels.com/featured/the-four-aces-diner-edward-fielding.html

7.125″ x 10.000″ print of The Four Aces Diner to a buyer from Seatac, WA.

Examples of Low Key Lighting Photography

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 light accentuates the contours of the subject by throwing areas into shade while a fill light or reflector may illuminate the shadow areas to control contrast. The relative strength of key-to-fill, known as the lighting ratio, can be measured using a light meter. Low key lighting has a higher lighting ratio, e.g., 8:1, than high-key lighting, which can approach 1:1.

The term “low key” is used in cinematography and photography to refer to any scene with a high lighting ratio, especially if there is a predominance of shadowy areas. It tends to heighten the sense of alienation felt by the viewer, hence is commonly used in film noir and horror genres.

In film, low-key lighting is associated with German Expressionism and later film noir.

Examples of low key black and white photography by fine art photographer Edward M. Fielding

Photography Prints

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Artists recognized the power of low key lighting long before photographers came around. Painters during the Renaissance and Baroque periods often used a technique known as “chiaroscuro” to achieve a similar dramatic tone for their images. Chiaroscuro comes from the Italian “chiaro” meaning clear/light and “oscuro” meaning obscure/dark.

Chiaroscuro was used not only for drama but also to bring realism to a painting. The varied lighting creates a sense of three dimensional depth that can be quite stunning.

Dark deep shadows and bright highlights require careful lighting techniques, exposure and intense post processing skills to achieve the dramatic look of low key photography.

 

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Decorate With Black And White Photographs

Decorate With Black And White Photographs
Decorate With Black And White Photographs

Photography has only been around for 150 years or so but is seems like there is an age-old fascination with photographs, contemporary residences and semi-minimalist trends.  A wall of smartly framed black and white photographs can create a contemporary, modern look.   Adorning our walls with prints and photographs, especially if they are cohesive with the same monochromatic color scheme can take decorating with black and white photography to new  new heights thanks to improved cameras and the growing inclination to use neutral colors and muted tones.

Decorate with black and white photography
Decorate with black and white photography

Fine are photography from artists such has Edward M. Fielding  have never been easier to obtain and the size of prints possible from modern cameras allow for room dominating, sofa sized prints to be created.

In the past 35 mm prints started to look grainy in larger sizes and maxed out when they were enlarged to anything over an 11 x 14 but new digital prints look great in huge sizes on paper, canvas or metal prints.

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Black and white photography says smart, sophisticated, modern despite being around for the longest.  Color photography still seems to suggest family snapshot if its not displayed correctly while with black and white photography its easier to create a wall of images that look like they belong together.

Sleek an stylish black and white photography.
Sleek an stylish black and white photography.

With home owners and designers sticking to backdrops in warm earthen shades of cool muted tones, an image in color can often disturb the flowing form. Black and white photographs add uniqueness, depth, character and style to walls without upsetting the color scheme of the room.

Black and white images appear to be more timeless than color images.  Removing the color makes it more difficult to put an exact date on a photo. A lack of color in a photograph often accentuates the light and shadows.

Many fine art photographers prefer black and white images for their tendency to distance the subject matter from reality. Humans see the world in color, and a rendition of the world in monochrome makes us pause and look closely. Removing color from a picture helps the viewer to focus on a subject’s emotional state.