High Key Photography uses unusually bright lighting to eliminate harsh shadows in an image. This technique can convey a variety of different moods and concepts, but is commonly used to create a fun, airy tone for photographs that are feminine in nature.
The term High Key Photography originates from the early days of broadcast television, back when scenes with high contrast were not reproduced well. High Key images were used to create scenes that were visible onscreen. Now, they are used most often when shooting baby photos, floral photos, and wedding photos.
When a subject is positioned against a purely white background, it creates an upscale illusion. It also draws attention toward the subject because there is nothing else in the background to distract the eye.
You do not need to invest in an expensive camera in order to achieve this technique. Any type of camera works for High Key Photography. However, if you are choosing to work inside of a studio, you should use at least four lights along with a white backdrop. If you do not have a roll of paper to use as the backdrop, then you can improvise with a sheet or a blank white wall.
Unfortunately, sunlight against a white backdrop will appear more grey than white, which makes natural lighting ineffective for this technique. When you are ready to shoot, you should face two of your lights against your subject and the remaining two lights against the backdrop.
If you are working with a model, you want to use enough light that there are no shadows beneath the nose or the chin. If you do not have enough pieces of lighting equipment to achieve this outcome, you could try using a reflector held under their chin to throw back some of the light.
Even though you want your background as white as possible, you should be careful with light bouncing off of your backdrop because it could create a halo effect. It could also wash out your picture, overtake your model, and completely ruin the photograph.
If you do not have a studio to use, you can attempt taking your photographs outdoors. However, taking a High Key Photograph outside is more complicated because you cannot control the weather or the overall lighting. You will not achieve your desired results if you shoot on a sunny day because there will be shadows and a bright blue sky.
You are going to have to wait until a day when it is overcast. That way, the light will appear flat bright and there will be clouds filling the sky, working as your white backdrop. In the colder months, you could also use a snowy backdrop.
The opposite of High Key Photography is Low Key Photography where you underexpose the image. In Low Key Photography, lighting is reduced to create shots with dark tones and striking contrasts. Instead of using four lights, you only need a single source of lighting to make the photograph appear dramatic.
Both of these techniques are difficult to master. In order to take the perfect High Key photograph, you are going to have to find a way to overexpose your background while properly exposing your subject.
If you cannot achieve your desired look on your first try, that is perfectly fine. High Key Photography takes a long time to get right. It is a learning experience. You are going to have to experiment with your lighting for a while before you get it perfect, but if you keep trying, you are eventually going to end up with an upscale looking picture fit for the modern age.