Welcome to the dark side! This dramatically lit photograph of an old vintage typewriter by fine art photographer Edward M. Fielding illustrates the idea of “low” key photography or art. What makes a photograph “low key” is the abundance of dark tones. The black painted typewriter against a black background with only the highlights showing to make the object “pop” in such a dark setting requires careful lighting as well as many hours of post processing time after the shot is taken. The values of light and dark have to be carefully balanced to make the shot convincing yet not be so dark that the subject is obscured.
Low Key Photography: Low key refers to a style of photography that utilizes predominantly dark tones to create a dramatic looking image. Where high key lighting seeks to over light the subject to the point of reduced contrast, low key lighting intensifies the contrast in an image through intensely reduced lighting.
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.
A couple more examples from Edward M. Fielding’s portfolio of fine art photographs: