What is High Key Photography?
High key is a style of photography that creates bright, high contrast images where most of the tones are in the right half of the histogram. This creates a cheery, upbeat atmosphere to the image, where everything has a “glow” about it. Originally created as a solution for film screens that could not correctly display high contrast ratios, shooting in high key is now a favorite of the fashion and beauty industry, as well as an ideal way to market products.
When To Use High Key
High key photography is most often used on portraits where you’re wanting the mood to be light and upbeat. It works best when most of the tones in the scene are already light-colored. It’s also a great choice for flowers or other subjects that are somewhat delicate in nature, especially if you’re wanting to give them an ethereal, dream-like quality.
These days, however, a new venue has popped up where high key photography really excels: product photography. The brightness of the lighting can create some exceptional, attention-grabbing contrast and really highlight the product at its best. Also, the white background tends to suggest high quality in the mind of the viewer.
How to Shoot in High Key
To shoot in high key you’ll want to have a strong “key” light that fully lights up your subject, as well as something to fill in the shadows on the part of the subject that isn’t being illuminated by the key light. This “fill” light can come from either a secondary fill light or a reflector of some sort. If you’re using a reflector, use the silver side rather than the white side because high key really works best with low contrast. Beyond that, you’ll also need a light or white background. (For photographing small to medium-sized products, using a light box really works.)
For best effect, makes sure as much of the scene as possible is lightly-colored. If you’re photographing a model, for instance, make sure they’re wearing light clothing. If you have any props, they should be light-colored as well. This helps to reflect the light.
Making an Ordinary Photo High Key in Luminar
Want a high key photo but didn’t shoot it that way? No problem. Luminar’s high key filter can provide that light, cheery glow and high-contrast look. Simply add the high key filter your workflow and experiment with the sliders to get the look and feel you’re looking for. The filter comes with sliders controlling the amount, glow, standard high key, dynamic high key, saturation, blacks, and overall contrast. A particularly cool adjustment is the dynamic high key slider, which allows you to brighten the image without washing out your model’s skin tones or your product’s detail.
With a little experimentation, you’ll be able to add the perfect glow to what would otherwise be an ordinary photo.