High Key vs Low Key Lighting: What’s the Difference?

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Profoto B2 First impressions review portraits with Lauren (3 of 8)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 2.8

Low Key Lighting, notice the shadows

What is High Key and Low Key lighting? The folks over at Adorama TV try to explain it to you in under three minutes. Dan in the video after the jump explains that high key lighting is when your lighting is very low contrast with almost no visible shadows. This is done often in portraiture and is very forgiving.

In comparison, low key lighting has very high contrast. It can make a subject really pop in a scene.

Dan’s video is after the jump, but we’ve added extra examples of High Key and Low key lighting after the jump.

High Key Lighting

Very high key lighting, notice an almost total lack of shadows.

Very high key lighting, notice an almost total lack of shadows. To do this, we shot Amanda with a flash in High Speed sync mod and filled the shadows in with direct flash

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Phottix Indra500TTL Images portraits with Erica (1 of 4)ISO 2001-180 sec at f - 1.4

Erica was shot with flash diffused through a giant Umbrella and also added fill from the natural light of the window and the flash bouncing off the panels. The wrap about light helps to eliminate much of the shadow but not all of it.

Model: Bec Fordyce

Model: Bec Fordyce

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony A99 images with 135mm f1.8 (4 of 8)ISO 400

By backlighting a subject and overexposing for the shadows, you can also create very high key lighting

 

 

Low Key Lighting

Because of the strong contrast in this photo, you can consider it low key

Because of the strong contrast in this photo, you can consider it low key

ISO 400, 1/100th f2.8

Low key lighting. While the light still look flattering, there is a strong contrast to bring out specific details in the image

The shadow and fact that this image was lit on only one side makes this very low key

The shadow and fact that this image was lit on only one side makes this very low key