As a photographer, whether professional or amateur, in order to keep your work fresh, and interesting, it's important to try new styles and techniques.

A simple and effective portrait style is to shoot a low key portrait, using just one flash. It’s simple yet effective and even dramatic.

As an art technique, it can be seen in chiaroscuro portraits such as Caravaggio’s, and in some Hollywood-glamour style portraits. Chiaroscuro itself means light and dark, and in any art refers to the arrangement of light and dark within the picture.

Here’s a brief introduction on how to take a low key portrait:

Choose a location with low ambient light and with enough room to keep your subject away from your background. A plain black background is ideal, but not necessary.

Adjust your camera settings. You want to remove the ambient light from your images so set your ISO as low as possible. Next, set your shutter speed to the maximum flash sync speed, with most DSLRs this will be around 1/250. Leave your aperture fairly wide open.

Position your subject and start reducing the aperture. Remember, at this stage we're still exposing for the background. Take a few test shots and keep narrowing the aperture until the ambient light is gone.

Once your background is completely dark, set up your flash.

It's important to think about where you want the shadows to fall on the face.

If you position your light right up above your subject, you'll get dark shadows around the eyes; positioning the light to one side will throw the opposite side of the face into darkness. Experiment with a few positions until you're happy with the setup.

If you're finding that you are now illuminating parts of your background, move your lights and subject further forward. If you're finding that your subject is underexposed, turn up the power on your flash. If this isn't an option, simply move the light closer to the subject.

Once you're done shooting, you can adjust your lighting in PortraitPro 12. Use the Modelling, Contrast and Left and Right Shadow sliders to deepen the dramatic shadows on the face. If you'd like to boost the power of your flash, use the Left or Right Kick light.

Don't forget that you can re-position the light source by dragging the circle on the 3D model.

Try it for yourself

Earlier this year we met Pedro Aguilar, a professional commercial photographer, who mentioned that one of his key influences as an artist was the work of Caravaggio. Why not try it out for yourself, and see how the relighting tools in PortraitPro 12 can inspire your portrait editing work.

You can get a free trial for PortraitPro, and you can read about Pedro’s work here. Share your low key portraits with us on Facebook.