How to make great low key portraits without any studio setup

We all might have come across with many gorgeous low key portraits in Instagram, Flickr, Behance and such different social media platforms and wanted to copy them once in a while but no idea of where to start.

In Frame: @swati_mahato
ISO 1600, 1/25 sec, f 1.8

You may find different tutorials speaking about studio lighting and setup for making such portraits but trust me, after experimenting with light and shadow for almost an year, I can tell that you only need a couple of household items to make such portraits.
So let’s begin!
What is a low key portrait:
It’s a genre of portrait photography in which your subject is highlighted and the background is completely dark.

Basic requirements for a low key portrait:
1) A normal room having proper window light facility
2) BLACK cloth/ chart paper (optional)
3) Post processing

Now how to start:
Remember the fundamentals behind any photograph i.e Lighting. Lighting can make or break your photo. So choose a room that’s partially dark with only source of light being window/door light.
If you have got any black cloth/chart paper then place it behind your subject or else leave as it is.
Camera settings:
Now if you are beginner to this kind of photography, then you need to do a little trials with the exposure to find the perfect lighting. Suitable is ISO 400-800, in case the room is completely dark you may go for ISO 1600 but that will bring grains into your final picture.
Aperture: keep the aperture as wide as possible i.e (1.8-4.5)
Shutterspeed: that’s again depends upon your ISO. if you are clicking around 400-800 ISO then Shutterspeed must be in between 1/40-1/100.
You need to perform a couple of trials to get desired condition according to your room lighting.

Post processing:
This is the X factor. It plays the most important role while shooting in natural light and when you don’t have any backdrops.
Which app to be used: Any app having dodging/burning options. SNAPSEED is a great app for this.
How to post process:
Your RAW picture look like this.

Now you have to make your background completely dark.
1)So decrease the shadow and increase the highlights.
Dodge : expose one portion of the photo
Burn: darken one portion of the photo
So to darken your background you can use burn tool. Zoom the picture and apply brush tool to burn the background. You have to be very careful while darkening the background as it might ruin your subject.
You may go for any Bnw filter that suits your need.
Here is our final image:

ISO 800, 135mm, F4.5, 1/60 sec

Some more low key portraits I shot in my room using natural window light:

ISO 400, F 1.8, 1/40 SEC, 35MM
ISO 800, 135 MM, 1/60, F 4.5
In Frame: @swati_mahato
ISO 1600, F1.8, 35 mm, 1/40 sec

So let’s start experimenting and do let me know your queries in comment section.

Visit my Instagram: for more photography series.