What is The High key photography?, It is a style of lighting that aims to reduce the lighting ratio present in the scene. It is used to get the best photos that suggest an upbeat, low contrast, and happy looking mood. The terminology comes from the higher balance in the ratio between the key light and the fill light in a traditional three-point lighting setup.
In high key lighting setups, we use bright lights to eliminate shadow and to reduce the contrasts in the picture. Modern high key shots typically have a large proportion of whites. White on white shots with only minor tonal variation is a common and a prominent feature of the high key genre. High key methods were originally developed as a solution to screens that couldn’t properly display high contrast ratios but has developed into more of a stylistic choice.
The histogram of a high key photo shows the following characteristics
- It has low tones spreading up to the left side (black tone)
- The average tone or media is relatively high.
- It is shifted towards the right side (white tone)
The following figure shows a histogram of a high key photo.
When to use Low key photography
The high key method is used regularly for model photography, flowers, babies and other subjects that are relatively feminine and delicate in nature. Another area perfect for the high key is product photography. Practically speaking, the bright nature of the photo really highlights the product and attracts the viewer’s eyes. Product photos shown on white background tend to suggest that it has a high quality or upscale in nature.
The photos below are some samples of high key photos.
The high key photography technique is basically the opposite of the low-key photography. So, all you need to do is to do the opposite of what I mentioned in my post on low key photography. Here are some general guidelines:
- Use a non-distracting background. That means the background tones should be continuous and preferably white, and it should not have deep shadow regions.
- Light the background enough. You need to overexpose it by 1 or 2 stops to make the light bounce off the background. But make sure there won’t be any blown out highlights.
- Keep your subject close enough to the background (around 1-1.5 meters.)
- Use enough Key light and fill light sources to illuminate any shadows on your subject. Place the light sources close to the subject, the closer the distance, the softer the light you get.
Indoor High key Photography – studio setup
There are many ways to get a good high key photo; the following setups are just to give you a good idea of one of the most popular methods of achieving the effect.
You need a seamless white backdrop of some kind. Many professionals mount a 2-2.5 meter wide roll of paper high on stands and then roll it down across the background and onto the floor of the shot. If you’re on a budget or in a hurry you can try using a sheet (watch for wrinkles) or an empty, clear, and white wall.
Use two background light sources to illuminate the background, these lights will act as both background lights and rim lights. Make them close to the backdrop, don’t be afraid that the light may bounce from the background; it is sometimes required to create halos around your subject. It is also recommended that you keep your background lights at least one f-stop over your subject lighting.
Use two symmetrical key lights on each side of the subject. The key lights should provide a soft light and it doesn’t have to be placed very high up, just slightly above the subject head level. This setting will create a catch light in the eyes of the subject.
You may need a fill light and/or reflector to reduce the shadows on the face or neck of your subject. The following setting suggests using a reflector and a light source to be directed towards the reflector to bounce off the light towards the face of the subject.
Outdoor High key photography- natural Light
Usually, the key tones in any image are the mid-tones. So, high key means we are mapping the key tones or mid-tones to a higher level. I.e. we are brightening the key tones, as simple as that. So, normally, the highlight tones become whiter and the shadow tones are mapped to brighter tones, too. In natural light, you can’t control the light. To take a high key photo in natural light is a matter of choosing the suitable scene to apply this technique. For example, if you can find a background that hasn’t have any deep shadow regions and has only bright tones, you can easily take a high key photo. Another aspect of shooting a high key photo in natural light is to look for a low contrast scene.
The high key photography is about eliminating harsh shadows and creating a bright and low contrast photo. It is generally used to convey an upbeat, funny or beautiful subject. It is also used in products photos. If you want to shoot high key indoors, it’s best to have some studio lighting available, preferably 3-4 flashes: two on your subject, two on the backdrop. Also, make sure your camera’s settings are optimized to allow lots of light to reach the camera sensor. Make sure there’s enough light to brighten the scene considerably without blowing out the subject.
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