High Key Photgraphy – The beginners guide to high key lighting

High Key Photography is a technique were you use very bright lights to almost eliminate all the shadows, leaving you with a bright crisp image.

I really like High Key photography, it’s a style of photography that you see very often in fashion magazines and in virtually everything Apple does.

If you went ahead and opened a Vogue or other such magazine, you would see that perhaps even the cover is in high key. The human brain automatically relates the colour white with cleaness, holiness and purityso if you want to make a girl look beautiful and pure this is the style to use, also the white doesn’t compete for attention with your subject.

The usually white background and complete isolation of the subject lends itself well to showcase the clothes and the softening of the skin provided by the strong lights make it useful for making people look beautiful and when so desired, more feminine.

Without the harsh shadows, you get a soft dreamlike image which is why this style is usually seen in photoshoots with women although that doesn’t mean that you can’t do high key with men, it’s just more common with girls.

Cool, so how do I do it?

Ok so let’s get right into how to take high key pictures.

First you need a white background, ideally a white photography screen, but if none are available then a white wall, a bright cloudy sky or a particularly pale friend of yours would do. (Let me know how this last one works, I’ve used one as a reflector before but never as a background).

this step is perhaps the most important one, you want your pics to have that white clean background to get the full effect.

Once you have that you need light, lots of it. The standard way of doing it is with 3 flashes, one behind the model illuminating the background, one directly in front of the model either just above or just below and a last one placed to eliminate any shadows that might crop up.

the backlight should be cranked up well past the recommended metering to bounce light to the model from behind and create a halo effect which softens the features of the model and makes it look “angelic” or glowing.

So if we’re talking photography terms, the backlight facing the background should be set for instance at f11, then the key light would be set at f5.6 which is where we are going to meter our camera and then the fill light would be set at f4. This setup in fact is the one I used to get the image below

You see how there are almost no shadows? thats’s what you want, overblown highlights and nonexistent shadows.

Having white clothing also works, it adds to the illusion of pureness which this style lends itself to. you can use other colour clothing but then you would get a different effect, I suggest you stick to white during your first shoots and then experiment on your own.

The opposite of this style is Low key, which as it’s name suggests it’s the opposite, I’ll be making a post about that soon so stay tuned


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