A low-key image is one where the background is much darker than the subject. When that happens, in the normal matrix-metering mode, the camera will tend to overexpose the frame. How much it over-exposes will depend on the amount of space that the subject occupies? In such situations, in order to get the exposure on the subject right, one would need to under-expose the frame (in the matrix-metering mode). If (and when) you manage to nail this, the subject would pop-out of the frame and look quite stunning. This is the basic understanding one needs to have when you are trying to make low-key images. Of course, there is another way using spot-metering that one can adopt to get the same results – but I have not been a big fan of that metering mode. Let me present a few pictures shot a couple of weeks back to illustrate this.
My personal favourite, however, is the following image of the Southern Coucal. I thought that it is interesting for a couple of reasons. One – as I just explained, I was getting the hang of making low-key images (I had a nice dark back-ground of the forest where I was sitting). And two – as you can see from the preceding images, I was equipped with my big bazooka (the 600mm FL lens) and knew, when the Coucal decided to pay a visit, that there was no way I could fit the big bird in the frame. So I had to think differently. With such a big prime at this close a distance on a large subject I had to try and focus on the most distinctive feature of the bird – which to me were the eyes. They were stunning to look at through the viewfinder and I knew instinctively that this needs to grab the attention in the picture.
I felt that the end result is quite a show-stopper. What do you think?