In photography, there are two main types of lighting used to create images: high contrast and low contrast. Most of the time, photographers are after a high-contrast look.

It’s the go-to for most portrait photography or for when you want to create images with bold colors and distinct shadows.

How do you create high-contrast lighting? You could use any number of lights, from a single fill light to harsh strobes.

But the easiest way to create high-contrast lighting is with a single, bare light bulb. That’s what we’re going to cover in this guide – how to use a single light bulb to light your subject.

One of my favorite things about high-key lighting setups is that they’re easy to achieve with just a few lights!

high key lighting

what is high key lighting?

High key lighting is one of the most common lighting setups used in film and photography. It’s characterized by bright, overexposed images with little contrast and dark areas.

High key lighting refers to a style of photography that uses bright, often white backgrounds and produces images with little contrast and dark areas. This style creates a sense of happiness and positivity.

In film, high key lighting can be seen in films like Little Miss Sunshine (2006) or The Breakfast Club (1985). In these films, the background is usually white or light colored and the actors are generally lit brightly.

High key photography has many uses. It can be used for fashion shoots, magazine articles, wedding photos or any other kind of photo where you want a bright and airy feel.

High key lighting is also great for portraits because it makes them look more flattering than other types of lighting setups.



What Is High Key Lighting?

The first step in creating high-contrast lighting is using the right kind of light bulb. The classic photojournalist setup uses an incandescent bulb, which produces warm light that flatters skin tones and makes colors pop more than other bulbs.

The incandescent bulbs produce a more yellow-tinged white that comes closest to natural sunlight, so it’s ideal for shooting portraits outdoors on sunny days.

To take your photos from average to exceptional, you need to pay attention to the lighting in your images. The best way to make solid and bold photographs is high key lighting.

Off-camera flash is a beautiful tool. It can make your photos look professional,  illuminate areas that are too dark in your scene, and give you better quality images than you would get from natural light.

But it’s not always the best tool for every job. Using off-camera flash with a lot of power can wash out some of the detail in your photo.

High key lighting can help you avoid this problem. High key lighting has a lot of power behind it but softens that power with diffusion materials and modifiers.

This can be as simple as a shoot-through umbrella or as complex as a softbox. What matters most is that the light doesn’t have any hard edges and covers a broad area of the scene rather than casting harsh shadows.

High key lighting is excellent for products because it strongly contrasts them from their backgrounds.


It may help us to distinguish between different types lighting within shots before we move on:

Trap: A photo with a single light source at a 45-degree angle will create shadows and separate the subject from the background. This makes it ideal for high key photo shoots.

Harsh: A photo with one harsh light source in the centre of the frame will wash out the background, creating a very dramatic effect. This is ideal for low key photos.

Soft: Soft light is created by one or two light sources that are placed near or above your subject, casting shadows on the opposite side of the face to which they are pointed. Use this type of lighting for most of your photos to achieve an all-round glamour shot.

Early Days Of High Key Lighting

This lighting style has its roots in the 1930s, when advertisers used it to signify happiness and prosperity.

High key lighting became popular throughout photography because of its versatility. Photographers use it for various applications, including: 

  • Portraits: Portrait photography requires high key lighting for a soft, even look on skin tones.

The high contrast between light and dark areas leaves little room for shadows and wrinkles to show up in portraits. High key lighting is especially effective when photographing someone with fair skin tones or albino features.

  • Advertising: High key lighting is particularly effective in advertising because it creates an upbeat, positive message without being too dark or dramatic. The white backgrounds often used in advertising are perfect for this type of light because they make colors more vibrant and contrast more pronounced without being too harsh on the eyes.

And much more!

What Is High Key Lighting In Film Used For?

The main characteristic of high key lighting is that the levels of light on the subject are bright, and the background is dark. This creates a very bright, flat and even overall effect.

This type of lighting is commonly used in creating a sense of purity or innocence within an image. This could be used in portrait photography or when photographing still life objects.

Systems that use high key lighting include film and some digital cameras. Some film systems were designed to use this type of lighting to make it easier for photographers to adjust the settings and get good quality images with little experience.

High key lighting is also achieved using photographic light sources such as flash guns and continuous fluorescent lights. High key lighting can be used effectively to show a subject in isolation, without any distractions around them.

It also functions well with a subject that has prominent white elements, such as flowers or snow scenes. It gives these subjects a sense of purity and innocence which would not have been captured using other types of lighting.

This technique is often used for filming beauty and fashion videos and advertising purposes in general.

For example, tape lighting is something we see often used in beauty tutorials or makeup tutorials that mimics the effects of high key lighting!

 It is a simple set-up that can be purchased at any hardware store. All you need to do is attach the lights to a piece of tape on the wall, and you are good to go!

High Key Lighting Tutorial

There are many different ways to achieve the High Key Lighting effect. The method I’ll show you here is quite easy and will cost you almost nothing.

Tutorial: First, we need to set up a simple white backdrop. Get a large piece of white artboard and attach it to the wall using thumb tacks or push pins.

Then, turn off all the lights in your room and use a lamp to light up the artboard. Make sure that it’s far enough from your back-drop so that there is no spill over onto it.

If you can’t see it well enough, turn on the light for just a second todouble-check. Get your camera, set it to manual mode, and adjust the settings like so:Shutter Speed – 1/50 sec ISO – 100 Aperture – f/8. Set up your tripod and camera (I’m using a Canon 5D Mark II).

Align the lens with your backdrop by lining up the top of your lens with the top of your backdrop (there should be about 2 feet between them). Once you’ve done that, zoom out so that both the backdrop and its reflection are in focus (unless you want blurry photos).

High Key Lighting Photography Tips

High key photography is one of the easiest and most common forms of portrait photography. This is because it’s fairly simple to set up, and even the beginner photographer can produce some great images with just a few basic tips.

This form of lighting works best when used with the right subjects, so if you’re looking for high key portrait ideas, keep reading.

  • TIP 1: Only use high key lighting for full-length portraits: High key lighting is usually used for full-length portraits, so if you’re taking new headshots or closeups, don’t force yourself to use it.

Not every style of photography will work for this style of lighting, so if you’re a portrait photographer who shoots anything other than full-length shots, don’t worry about it.

  • TIP 2: Watch your background: Keep in mind when shooting high key portraits; the background can make or break an image.

If your subject is wearing bright colors and there’s nothing but black in the background, you will have a problem. This can be easily solved by switching up your backgrounds or using a reflector to bounce some light back into the shadows on their face.

You might also consider moving your subject further away from the background since a smaller backdrop will be less noticeable behind the photographed subject.

How To Produce High Key Lighting For Stunning Photos

How To Create A High Key Look For Your Videos:

Now that you know what high key lighting is, let’s talk about how you can use it to create a more glamorous look for your videos. When using high key lighting, your goal should be to get as much light as possible on your subject while still having a soft and flattering effect.

Here are some tips on how you can achieve this look:

Lights should be placed above your subject with no reflectors or diffusion materials behind them. If there are other people in the room, ask them to move so that their body doesn’t block the light from hitting your subject directly, ensuring that you get plenty of brightness.

Adding light to a picture is one of the most common techniques to make your images pop. Lighting is an essential aspect of product photography. Without good lighting, your products will look dull and lifeless.

  • Equipment requirements: All you need is a camera and some basic studio lighting equipment like a few light stands and a couple of umbrellas (if you’re on a budget). I’m using a Nikon D70s, an older model camera that doesn’t have built-in flash, so I had to add my own using an SB-80DX manual flash unit.

If your camera has one, you might get away with just using the pop-up flash. But if not, adding some external flashes will go a long way in making your pictures look great.

There’s no special gear or fancy lighting equipment that you need to try out this technique.

  • Setup: Set up your softbox about 3′ from your subject and turn it so that it is at an angle between 45 – 60 degrees to the subject.

If you are using a strobe, choose a power setting that is high enough to create a well-exposed image but not so high as to create any highlights on the shadow side of the subject. You can meter this while holding your camera in live view using a light meter app or by using your camera’s built-in spot meter.

If you are using a softbox without an umbrella, you can use it without a stand or mount it directly to your light stand. However, if you are using an umbrella, you will want to attach the umbrella to the flash head using either an umbrella swivel or a speedring adapter ring.

Repair High Key Backgrounds In Photography

A High Key Background is a bright white, highly reflective surface. In photography, this usually means a white wall, or sometimes, a piece of cardboard with a light shining through it (which makes it look like a white wall).

If you ever see pictures that have blown out whites, the photographer didn’t use a high-key background. Trying to repair high key backgrounds in photography can be tricky.

You can’t just go in and use the paintbrush tool and try to fix it. The problem is not just the blown-out areas around the subject but also in the fine details of the image.

The easiest way to repair high key backgrounds in photography is by using the patch tool.