High Key and Low Key Photography

Michaela Baldos

Pinoy Techie
What is Low Key Lighting?

Low key refers to a style of photography that utilizes predominantly dark tones to create a dramatic looking image. Where high key lighting seeks to over light the subject to the point of reduced contrast, low key lighting intensifies the contrast in an image through intensely reduced lighting.

The key here is not just to produce a dark image but to use lighting very selectively so that only specific portions of the image are illuminated. Normally as a photographer, you spend your time trying to avoid harsh shadows, especially on faces and around the subject's eyes. For this reason, shooting low key can actually be a fun change of pace.

Instead of avoiding intense shadows, you'll have to consider them as the primary element of the composition; one that defines the mood of the entire photograph. The trick then becomes manipulating your lighting and the positioning of your subject so that the shadows fall in just the right spots to create the look you want.


To sum up, low key lighting is a highly dramatic way of enhancing the contrast in an image that has roots tracing way back to the Baroque period and beyond. You can achieve this effect indoors with studio equipment or some ingenuity and outside at night in a dark area with a well-placed light source.

What is High Key Photography?

High key photography uses unnaturally bright lighting to blow out most or all harsh shadows in an image. 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.

High key images usually convey a positive or upbeat tone. This method is perfect for a subject that is funny, lighthearted or beautiful.

You see high key used regularly for model photography, flowers and other subjects that are relatively feminine in nature. Another area perfect for high key is product photography. Practically speaking, the bright nature of the photo really highlights the product and can make for some great attention-grabbing contrast. Psychologically speaking, a product shown on white tends to suggest that it is high quality or upscale in nature.

The opposite of high key is of course low key. Instead of eliminating shadows as in high key photography, low key photographers utilize dark scenes and heavy contrast to convey a sense of drama or foreboding.


To sum up, high key photography seeks to eliminate harsh shadows and create a bright environment. It is generally used to convey an upbeat, funny or beautiful subject but can be manipulated to communicate a number of moods and concepts.

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 let in lots of light. Make sure there's enough to brighten the scene considerably without blowing out the subject.

If you've got some nice high key shots to show off, be sure to leave a link in the comments and share your methods with us!


credits: https://photography.tutsplus.com/tu...ginners-guide-to-shooting-low-key--photo-3427

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