How to shoot high key images
February 7, 2018

What is a high key image? A high key image is a flashed out image produced by light color tones and whites. This term originated during early cinemas and television shows since the film and the sensors failed to tackle the strong contrasts involved. So to eliminate all shadows, three point lighting was brought in. These days, high key photography is used to showcase the artistry.


A high key image can be produced with a key light and a fill light with the intensity of the key light being twice or thrice that of the fill light.

In high key images, the mid-range tones get a lot brighter, the whitish tones become entirely white and the white tones remain as they were. This almost flashes out the image. A high key photograph generally has a happy and positive feel to it due to the enormous amount of brightness present. There is a misconception though, that blacks have to be eliminated.


True blacks are crucial in high key photography. True blacks bring in a touch of contrast in the photographs which separates high key images from plain overexposed ones. The true blacks actually stand out as objects of attention, for example the pupils of your subject will get all the attention in an absolute flashed out high key image. 


Let us discuss how to produce high key images.

Introduce a two point lighting system wherein the key light has twice the intensity of the fill light. The background has to be entirely bright. So it has to be lit separately. Avoid dark tones in your background. It is preferable that the model too wears light colour clothing. The background lights have to be significantly brighter than the lighting on your subject. In case you want to try out high key photography using natural lights, choose a mildly overcast day. Since such a day will give you flat lighting. However, even flat lighting produces slight shadows which can disturb your image. Fill in those shadows as well using a reflector. Experimentation with your exposure compensation is a must.

Start from +1 all the way up to +3 to get the desired result. Once again, the background selection will be crucial. Make sure there is no dark tone in your background.

In high key images, you can do a bit of post-production work as well. Although it is best to get things right in the camera itself, a bit of post-production always enhances your photographs.



Desaturation of the image will give you a black and white photograph. Play with the curves to bring out the intricate details of your subject.


Do not get confused between a high key image and an over exposed one. You may be having an outright bright background but your subject is still having a range of light tones which are perfectly exposed and not blown out. The detailing of your subject stays. A very bright image is produced while retaining all the minute details, thus separating it from a flat over exposed image.

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