High Key Photography: Tips and Examples

Photography is all about light and color. Balancing the light and colors in your photo leads to a professional output, yet in some cases the unbalanced light or color may be used to create inspiring project examples.

The high key photography is one of the techniques that depend on the over usage of light and white color in the shot producing creative and dreamy style photos (Understand the Basics of High Key Photography).

However, taking high key photography is challenging as you need to prepare the composition very well and have good understanding to light and color tunes in the shot in order to choose the proper high key photography setting.

There are three factors that should be considered when shooting high key photos; the background, light and colors in the scene. These high key photography settings should be considered in both indoor and outdoor differently.

High Key Photography Tips

Below are some of the useful tips that can improve your high key photos:

Stick with the white color background

The high key photography depends on the increasing light and white levels in the shot. The first tips to apply this, is to use white solid background. The white background has two main functions (Maximize the Background in your Composition).

Frosty by MaciejKarcz
Frosty by MaciejKarcz

The first one is to remove the destruction and increase the focus on the person or object in the high key photos. The second method is to increase the white level in the photo and provide reflection to the white color behind the object.

Use Flash or Sunlight as Background in High Key Photos

As you need to put the focus on the object and fulfill the rest of the composition with white, placing the flash behind the object can increase the light level on the background as well as the focus of the object.

Photo by by Chamaelirium
Photo by by Chamaelirium

The sun light can be great substitution for the flash light especially in the outdoor photography. However, you need to observe the sun direction and avoid the time where sun in the middle of the sky as it will fulfill the whole object.

Control the background color

As you increase the white balance and light on the background, make sure to not over expose the background light or it will reflect on your object. The results will be dramatically bad and lose all the contrast between the object and the background.

Photo by LenScapist
Photo by LenScapist

Place the Light Sources Properly

If you are using a white background, you need to place the light properly. Usually, you need three of four light sources: one key light source, one fill light and two background lights.

I by L30Nde
I by L30Nde

While the key light is the main light directed to the object, the fill light works to remove the harsh shadows on the object and background. The background lights help to increase the back light and in contrast to the light applied to the object.

High Key Photography Setting

The camera settings play an essential rule in creating the different high key photography styles. The first setting is the aperture value that should be wide in order to create shallow depth of field that produces the blur background (Understanding Camera Exposure).

The shutter speed should not be fast in order to allow enough light to get exposures inside the camera. You can overcome the stability of the shot by using a tripod.

As the light is correctly controlled around the object, you can use normal ISO setting such as 100 in order to avoid the over-exposed shots (Understanding Camera ISO).

In white by Mcdarius
In white by Mcdarius

To sum up, the high key photography requires good understanding to the light and white color in the shot in order to place the light properly in the scene. The secret behind the good high key photos is to eliminate the shadows and increase the light in the shot carefully to not over-expose the photos with light.

The high key photography setting include choosing the correct values in the camera setting such as the proper aperture, shutter speed and ISO. As the high key photos above shows, the best way to learn is to see and practice different high key techniques and examples in order to have good control over the different scene elements.


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This is Photographytuts editorial team. Photographytuts.com provides Photoshop tutorials for photographers, photography basics, Photoshop actions, resources, and photography marketing tips.

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