Making a Low Key Glamour Portrait in the Studio

by | Feb 19, 2021

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Chiaroscuro is  Italian for ‘light-dark’ and represents the use of strong contrast between light and dark to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects and figures with a two-dimensional frame.

On some of the glamour and boudoir portraits that I post on Instagram (follow me #joefarace) my friend Barry Staver often mentions that I have a trademark high-key look. But I shoot low-key portraits too. Like yesterday’s sorta low-key portrait and this one…

Wikipedia says that Low-key photography is a genre of photography consisting of shooting dark-colored scenes and emphasize natural or artificial light only on specific areas in the frame.

High key portraits often contain small darker areas such as a subject’s eyes to keep the images from being too flat and boring. Low key pictures, on the other hand, concentrate solely on the darker tones, conveying an atmosphere of mystery and use higher contrast lighting where most of the subject is in shadow and has relatively small areas that are brightly lit. It’s also a useful technique for photographing brunettes, such as today’s featured model.

How I made this shot:I photographed Sarah Dean. the lovely daughter of photographer Jack Dean, in my 11×15-foot home studio.  My initial lighting setup (above right) was simple: A single Purple Haze Paul C Buff Alien Bee monolight with the standard seven-inch reflector attached was placed at camera right as shown. A 32-inch 5-in-1 collapsible reflector is at camera left and serving as fill. While the images created with this setup was dramatic, it wasn’t dramatic enough for me so I added another monolight—a red Paul C Buff DigiBee800—and the effect created was exactly what I was looking for. It was still low key but with additional highlights on Sarah’s hair creating a kind of chiaroscuro.

The backdrop used is a 5×7-foot Photo Gray Savage Infinity vinyl background hanging from my even-then falling apart JTL background stands. Depending on how much light you put on this background it can photograph as black. But I have a black Savage Infinity vinyl backdrop as well and you can see the difference in this low-key boudoir portrait. The camera used was my formerly tried-and-true Panasonic Lumix GH4 with Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens at 42mm or 84mm equivalent. Exposure 1/125 sec and f/8 and ISO 200. It was converted to monochrome using Exposure X4, for all the reasons that I’ve mentioned before. The finished image was hit with the Glamour Glow filter that’s part of the previous version of Color Efex Pro,



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My book Joe Farace’s Glamour Photography is full of tips, tools and techniques for glamour and boudoir photography with new copies available from Amazon for $22.15, as I write this. Used copies are selling for the hard-to-beat price price of $8.90 and the Kindle version is $19.99 for those who prefer a digital format.