Tulip in Low Key

10 04 2011

I will start generally. Low key lighting which is used in photography or film industry is a technique using usually only 1 light source and working with a strong contrast. You will find monochromatic or almost monochromatic images in low key very often. Photos created with this technique evoke feelings of darkness, deep sadness and strong tension. If I say “noir” and “Sin City” I think you are at home.

Or I can say it even more simply. Low key photograph has all the information (or at least majority) in lower half of the histogram. In opposite high key photograph it is vice versa. See histogram below for one of photos in this post.

Since I took first photos in high key more than one year ago (look at this post about it) I always wanted to try a low key photo of some flower. I always imagined a dark flower with black or very dark background even though  it is posible to make a low key photo with almost any flower, or generally any subject, no matter if it is bright or dark. Still I wanted to try it with dark flower. I really liked the idea of “dark on dark”.

When I was in a flower shop to buy something to shoot with during unexpectadly free day couple weeks ago I saw beautiful very dark violet tulips with ragged petals (parrot tulips?).

After lunch when light in our dining room is optimal (we have a big window there so it’s my temporary studio) I started a session with these beautiful tulips. I took quite a lot of photos and was able to process only part of them. Very first one was the photo in this post and as you can see it wasn’t a low key photo at all. Still I took the session with intention of creating low key images. Quite soon I realized a problem with natural lighting. For high key image you need a strong ambient light (indirect light or shade is a must for flower photography) and just keep an eye on a histogram to not overexpose a single pixel. For a low key image ambient/indirect light isn’t enough. With dark flowers there is always danger that even the ambient light will create reflections on some parts of the flower. In this case I got ugly reflections on petals and I needed to additionally shade the flower. This resulted in very limited light then. Fortunatelly it was enough for some decent aperture times. Finally I was able to process 2 images below which would make for a nice diptych in my opinion.

~ FLK #1 – Tulip ~
1 sec. @ 100 mm, f/5.6, ISO 100
~ FLK #2 – Ragged ~
1/2 sec. @ 100 mm, f/6.3, ISO 100

As I wrote in the beggining, low key technique works with higher contrast. Here the contrast is more than twice higher in comparison with my other/”normal” photos.

I am so happy with these photos that I decide to start a new series with them. As I already have Flora in High Key series, the new one is called analogically, Flora in Low Key. It is true that I haven’t seen much floral photos in low key so far so I think it is quite original and I’m really looking forward reactions of viewers and yours as well, of course.

Enjoy spring flowers in full bloom!

Technical information: all photographies in this post were taken with Canon EOS 450D camera and Canon EF 100mm USM macro lens mounted to a tripod, in natural conditions, indoors.

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4 responses

11 04 2011
Bernie Kasper

These are unique Tomas I can see why you would be happy with them..this should make for a great series !!

12 04 2011
Tomas Turecek

Thanks, Bernie. I’m glad that you like them.

14 04 2011
Barbara Kile

I saw these on flickr but seeing them again is reminding me of their rich beauty.

14 04 2011
Tomas Turecek

Thanks, Barbara. I post all photos on flick these days but here they are in higher quality and with some accompanying text which is hopefully interesting and valuable (at least I try to make it so).

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