What Is High Key Photography

What Is High Key Photography?

Exploring new techniques in photography is one of the most fun things you can do. As budding photographers, we are constantly taught to create well balanced, composed and perfectly exposed images. 

However, as your skills grow, and you become more accustomed to working with the camera, you may feel yourself wanting to break away from the rules and the regular types of photography, and play around with new techniques and styles.

One of the most exciting types of photography is high key photography.

This technique can create bright, positive and exciting images, and is a great way to break the rules and explore new skills to help you find your own style of photography. So, what exactly is high key photography?

What Is High Key Photography?

In the most basic terms, high key photography is a style of photography that uses unusual bright lighting to create highly exposed and impressive images.

What Is High Key Photography

These images are not exactly completely overexposed, as you are still able to see detail and color, but they tend to eliminate any dark tones and shadows for a high key look. 

Many photographers prefer this type of photography as it creates very bright, light, positive and cheerful images. As a result, this type of photography is often used for portrait photographs, or to capture images of products for the purpose of sales, marketing and advertising. 

In contrast to this, low key photography has something of an opposite effect. Low key images tend to have a lot of darkness and shadow, which creates a somber and more eerie or depressing tone.

To create high key images, you will therefore need a lot of light, as this will provide the exposure you need, along with the brightness you need.

With that in mind, this particular type of photography does require some additional pieces of equipment such as strobes and softboxes to create that desired bright effect. 

Why Use High Key Photography?

High key photography is used to initiate bright lighting to reduce or completely remove any dark shadows and spots in an image. It can therefore show subject matter in extreme detail, with a positive, lighthearted and upbeat feel.

High key lighting is used to fill the image with light and much softer shadows, rather than having a dramatic effect such as dark shadows and contrasting colors.

This is why high key lighting is often used for model shoots, or for product photography and for beauty products. The extremely high and bright lighting provides the viewer with the ability to see everything in the image in greater detail, and with an uplifting mood. 

What You Need For High Key Photography

If you were shooting low key photography, then you would hardly need any lighting equipment to get the look you want, however, high key photography requires a lot of additional and supplemental lighting for that bright, exposed look. Therefore, there is a little more equipment needed. 

For instance, you will of course need your digital camera, a DSLR or a mirrorless digital camera will do just fine. You will also need to invest in some lighting equipment. We recommend purchasing a strobe. 

This is a must have for photographers hoping to get into studio photography, so you may want to invest in one. It’ll be worth it, as you can use it for additional lighting for portraits, product shots and as a light source for other types of photography.

You can find Strobes from LimoStudio:

and Godox:


Strobes can be costly, so you may want to use a softbox instead as additional lighting. These are more cost efficient, and can soften and distribute extra light, but do not have the same power as strobes, which can blow out any shadows and midtones.

We recommend softboxes such as this one from Raleno:

You may also want to use extra fill lights and background lights. Fill lights will reduce the amount of shadows on your subject matter, and you can position and manipulate these to give your subject matter as much high key lighting as possible, so that there is little contrast and shadow.

In addition, background lighting can also be used to increase the amount of light in your images. 

If you are using high key photography to create studio images such as portraits and product photography, then you will also benefit from a white background as light bounces off white backgrounds and further illuminates the subject for that high key look you want. 

The great thing is that white backdrops are not expensive, and can broaden your horizons if you are thinking about starting up your own photography business or services.

You can find these backdrops here: 

How To Shoot With High Key Photography

When you want to shoot high key photographs, you will need the right equipment, but we have already covered that! In addition to the lighting, you will have to have a good idea of the best settings to use on your camera to get the results that you want. 

For instance, you need to have good knowledge of how to alter the exposure of your images, the aperture and the ISO. You should start by setting up your exposure, and setting your shutter speed in order to slightly overexpose the image. 

High key

You have to have the right shutter speed for what you are photographing in order to get that high key effect. If using slower shutter speeds to photograph still subjects such as flowers, or an object, then you may want to mount your camera to avoid any camera shake or motion blur. 

Then, you have to consider the aperture. You are best off shooting with a fast, wide aperture for high key photography.

You can then alter the ISO, but you should start off with ISO 100 or ISO 200 depending on the settings your camera has, as this will give you the best quality images without grain or noise.

If the image is too dark for you, then you can increase the ISO depending on your preferences. 

You can also do some editing to further enhance your images to make them seem more high key after shooting!

Tips For High Key Photography

The best thing we can tell you is to spread the light! Always have as much lighting as you possibly can, and make sure it fills the space you are shooting in.

You want the subject to be lit from 360 degrees to reduce any contrast and shadows. The more lighting, the more brightness!

Despite wanting to reduce the shadows, this does not necessarily mean that you cannot have any. You may want to use fill lights to offset shadows from the main lights so that you can have more detail and shape in your images. 

Finally, don’t forget that post-processing your images is just as important when it comes to high key photography.

You want to give your images a lot of light, but you don’t want to lose detail, so you can play around with your images once you’re done shooting! 






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