How to Make Dramatic Photography Using Low-Key Lighting [DIY Method]

Last Updated on November 22, 2022 by Peter Wood

Low-key lighting is a technique frequently used for portrait images. It enables you to emphasize shadows to create a chiaroscuro effect. Different from high-key lighting, low-key lighting has greater contrast between the dark and light areas of the image with a majority of the scene in shadow. When you want to apply it in your photography, you can learn more about the definition, the method to take low-key lighting portraits with your camera, as well as the post-processing method from the article.

Low-Key Lighting

Part 1: What is Low-Key Lighting, Here are the Tips

The Definition of Low-Key Lighting

Before introducing low-key lighting in photography, you should understand what is the shadow tone. Black and white photography is about shading, black, and white light-sensitive materials recorded in black, white, and gray images. In black-and-white photography, the expression of contrast is one of the important features. Tone includes high tone, medium tone, and low tone, which include low tone lighting.

Low-key lighting is a way of photography that can express a dramatic effect. It is mostly used to show the expression of moody and emotional attitudes. It always evokes a sense of fatalism that hits the soul and is mostly used in satirical films to highlight the emotional dynamics of the characters.

Low Key Lighting Portrait

Low-Key Lighting V.S. High-Key Lighting

Low-Key LightingHigh-Key Lighting
CompositionLow-key lighting with dark gray to black shade levels accounts for the majority of the image, with a small amount of white acting as a contrast to the shade.High-key lighting is mainly bright light tones, most of the image is bright tones, mainly white, even if there is a small amount of black, but also very little, only a minimum part of an image.
LightingLow-key lighting is mainly the use of part of the beam, and the background to produce contrast can be, to present the image of high contrast, while the need to properly reduce exposure compensation.High-key lighting is commonly used in frontal light and scattered light, in the studio and is often required to supplement a large number of lights, as well as moderate adjustment of exposure to achieve the degree of high-key photography.
ScenariosLow-key lighting is mainly used to express contradiction, fear, and contrast. Dramatic photography/film work, still life photography, and portraits are also often used.High-key lighting is mainly used to express a sense of joy, lightness, and joy, mainly in advertising, personal portraits, family gatherings, and more relaxed works.
Emotional ExpressionLow-key lighting forms a sense of gravity, solemnity, and rigidity, but in another environment, it will give people a sense of darkness, eerie, and fear.High-key lighting mainly expresses brightness and lightness, while not highlighting the details, emphasizing the overall brightness, so the more prominent atmosphere is relaxed and pleasant.

Part 2: How to Take Low-Key Photography (DIY Method)

When you need to apply low-key lighting in photography, background, light, and camera are three main elements you should know.

Natural Light

To use natural light, you don't need all unobstructed natural light. Low-key photos need a small portion of light speed. Then how to get a small part of the natural light beam? You can make clever use of occlusion. When outdoors, the most common occluders are usually buildings or trees that can block the natural light while leaving a portion of the beam behind to highlight the contrast. As for indoors, the best use is windows, windows transmit most of the regular speed of light, but also can use curtains to control the speed of light, and the commission is really good.

Natural Light for Lowlight

Artificial Light

The artificial light beam is better to control a beam, what beam is needed can be found. A more special beam is the flash that you use. Because what you need is not a whole light, but only a partial beam, so only a single flash is needed. Try not to consider using it head-on when shooting, try to use it in the upper part of the composition, or at other different angles such as the side, where you can make multiple attempts, so you can create high contrast for the low-key lighting.

Artificial Light for Lowlight

Camera Settings

In the camera settings, adjust to manually set the aperture and try to use a large aperture when low-key photos are needed so that the camera can sense light well in dark backgrounds. Of course, you can also adjust the camera to the following values, f/8 1/125 ISO 100, -2, is a more general value, but you can also adjust it to suit your situation.

Camera Settings


When you need to make a perfect low-key image, a dark background is an indispensable factor. As for shooting portraits with low-key lighting, it should be best to the overall clothing to the dark color aligned. Of course, in the outdoor environment, try to pick the night or outdoor light is dim when you can also create a darker background.

Choose Background for Lowlight

Part 3: How to Post-Process Low-Key Lighting Photography

Once you have taken the portrait shots, how do you post-process with low-key lighting photography? WidsMob AI Retoucher is a versatile photo editor to make black-and-white photos, adjusts different settings, enhances portrait image quality, and more. It provides advanced AI algorithms to touch up the photos automatically. Moreover, there are multiple B/W analog film filters and effects to get the optimal photos.

1. Convert colorful portrait images into B/W ones with low-key lighting easily.

2. Adjust the RGB, contrast, temperature, shadows, brightness, exposure, etc.

3. Provide multiple analog film filters to explore the different low-key lighting.

4. Enhance portraits with skin softening, skin whitening, and shine removal.

Win Download Mac Download

Step 1: Download and install WidsMob Retoucher on your computer, launch the program and click the Import button to upload the desired portrait image into the program. Just click the image, and you can view the properties of the file, including file name, file size, and more.

Import Image Noise Retoucher

Step 2: Once you have imported the portrait, you can choose the Face Clean button to touch up the low-key photo. It will detect the portrait automatically via skin softening, skin whitening, shine removal, eye circles removal, blemish removal, and more portrait features.

AI Portrait Low Key Retoucher

Step 3: When you need to change the lighting of the portrait image, you can simply go to the Filter button and choose the Vivid option to change the lights of the image. Of course, you can also select the Lomo option to focus on the low-key lighting portrait image only.

Change Lights of Low Key Retoucher

Step 4: If you need to change the colorful portrait image to B/W low-key file, you can choose the different black and white analog film, such as Kodak Tri-X 400, Fuji Neopan Acros 100, Ilford Pan F Plus 50, Ilford HPS 800, and more filters to make low-key lighting photos.

Ilford Delta 400 BW Retoucher Ilford Pan F Plus 50 Retoucher Ilford XP2 Retoucher

Step 5: If you are not satisfied with the effect, you can go to the Adjust menu to tweak the different parameters, such as exposure, contrast, highlights, and hint. After that, you can click the Save As button to save the low-key lighting photo to your computer.

Adjust Parameters Settings Retoucher Win Download Mac Download


Low-key images can convey emotions well to the hearts of your audience. But it is not easy to express them with low-key lighting, which you should take full control over camera settings, lighting, and background. WidsMob AI Retoucher is a versatile post-processing photo editor that helps you get the optimal effect easily.