High Key definition

High-key lighting simply refers to images that are mostly bright, with a range of light tones and whites and not very many blacks or mid-tones. In high-key photography, tones that generally would have been mid-range become much brighter, near-white tones become white and white becomes, well, white. High key is purely an artistic decision 


A common misconception is that a high-key image does not need to have a true black. And while that is sometimes true, high-key images can and often do have very small amounts of black. These very small areas of black and middle tones will prevent the image from looking washed out. That small point of black – your model’s pupils, for example, or a shadow under her hair – can mean the difference between a high-key image and one that is just plain overexposed. 


High key is best achieved in a studio environment with different flash units.


However, you can achieve this effect with whatever you got if you keep in mind a few points. Succeeded can be achieving, using only a compact camera and the available light.


Taking High Key shots without flash


The ideal outdoor lighting situation for high-key images is flat light such as what you’ll get on an overcast day, though ideally a brighter day vs. one where, say, there’s an ominous thunderstorm on the horizon. Flat light by itself is probably not going to be enough, though, you’ll also need a reflector to fill in your shadows.


Backgrounds in outdoor settings are trickier, too, since you can’t just rely on a brightly-lit white backdrop to give you that high-key effect. Instead you need to choose a simple background that is free from dark tones and shadows. Meter for your background and then set your exposure compensation to +1. Shoot, then bracket to an exposure compensation of +2 and shoot again. You may need to go as high as +3 before you achieve the right effect – it’s really more of an art than a science, and experimentation will probably yield the best results.



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