We received another question for our “basics” series at Photofocus -What is high key portrait light? While this isn’t a white paper and just a first blush attempt to answer the question, you should understand the concept by the end of this post.
High key portrait lighting is simply lighting that doesn’t offer a wide lighting ratio. High key set ups usually result in a bright or white background and bright light on the subject with a low contrast ratio.
It’s important to light both the background and the subject in a typical high-key portrait. The goal is to evenly light the background so that it is not noticeable or at least not prominent. The background should be at least one to two stops brighter than your subject.
High key portraits have few shadows. Remember that light illuminates and shadows define, so fewer shadows mean less definition.
High key portraits are perfect for hiding a model’s flaws since there is a lower contrast ratio, skin tends to be more porcelain in appearance. High key images are usually intended to evoke a happy or upbeat mood but can also be interpreted as other worldly or Angelic.
It usually takes more than one light source to obtain a true high-key shot. In the movie business, where high-key lighting was originally perfected, the high key set up involved three or more lights. It’s important to note that a truly high key shot will have zero harsh shadows. So one light that illuminates only part of the subject will by design, create shadows on the other side. That’s where additional lights or reflectors come in – to fill those shadows on a one-to-one basis.
You generally want the model to wear light-colored clothing and use softer poses. Soft lights (large, closely placed lights) usually provide a more pleasing high-key result than hard lights.
If you want to create a soft, ethereal look, high-key portraiture is for you. It’s great for babies, nudes, boudoir and even product shots. Give it a try.
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