Take Great Low Key Portraits with DIY Softbox

This blog is in continuation with the high key blog , In this blog I will show you how you can use one Off Camera TTL Flash and a DIY softbox.

DIY Softbox

I wont be going in detail of how i created the softbox but would like to point out that if you dont want to spend a lot of money on Professional Softbox Kit and just want to experiment then follow any one of the DIY Softbox instruction available online. My softbox looks like this

    diy softbox from cardboard

Things needed for the DIY Softbox

cardboard boxes (atleast 2ftx2ft)

Lots of aluminium foil

Lots of Electrical tape( I used electrical black tape)

Thick thermocol sheet ( this i used to create custom frames, one for flash and other for bulb)

Things needed for the low key setup ?

One Off Camera TTL Flash and DIY softbox.  You can use any lens for this setup a 50mm 1.8g prime lens or a Nikkor 24-70mm F/2.8 or regular 18-55mm lens. Canon user please use any of these lenses

Canon EF 24-70mm

Canon EF50MM F/1.8

low key portrait setup


The Actual Photo shoot

As shown in the above figure the Off Camera TTL Flash should be facing the subject either from the side or slightly at a 45 degree angle depending on which part of the subjects face you want to show in the portrait. One out of my three photos i placed the DIY softbox right below my face.

Pre-requisite for this type of portraits is take photos of the shooting backdrop or wall and keep increasing the aperture until you see the photo as complete black. Keep the shutter speed higher than the focal length and also the power of the flash about 1/32 or 1/16th so that the softbox exposes only the subject and not the background. If possible use a black backdrop and not a light color one. For my scene i used a cream background and had to darken it in post processing.

Since the aperture would be higher (for me its f16) you would definitely need a Tripod. And again in my photo i was the subject of the photo so i also used a Wireless Remote Camera Shutter Trigger which i pressed when the entire setup was ready and i was in front of the camera. The camera mode was aperture priority.

Post Processing

low key portraits post processing lightroom

As you can see in the above comparison since my background was light it got exposed a little bit by the Softbox light. I selected the background and darkened it by increasing the blacks and reducing the shadows. The settings on the far right are from lightroom, I added a some amount of exposure. Increased the contrast, decreased highlight, increased whites and reduced the black. I also added bit of clarity to the photo show the texture of the skin shows and looks real. The other 2 photos also have the same setting almost with one photo being color instead of black and white low key portraits

Camera settings for the photos

Lens : Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G Prime Lens

Camera: Nikon D610

Shutter Speed : 1/80th second

Aperture for Low Key Portraits: F16 ( this is needed to get dark picture without the flash on)

ISO for single portraits: 100

Focal Length: 50mm

Flash Settings

Mode M

Zoom 50mm

Power : 1/32th

Angle: 45 degree up


Hope this blog will encourage you to ask question and post comments. Guys please share your thoughts so i can keep posting for you.

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