Lighting in Portrait Photography

High-key versus Low-key Lighting in Portrait Photography

March 28th 2018 By Kimberly

Two differing schools of photography are “high-key” and “low-key.” The lighting techniques used in each type of photography produce different outcomes and different feels. Each is distinct and strives to reach diverse goals.

Here are a few thoughts on the two styles:

High- Key Lighting

High-key images are usually upbeat and very positive. Or they can be very soft and warm. While high-key images can be done easily in a studio, it usually takes at least a four-light setup and a white background to get the very white backgrounds some photographic artists like. Randy prefers to compose high-key portraits, “I prefer the mood portrayed, usually bright and cheery. Sparkling eyes, smiles and a good emotional projection.”

A High-Key lighting portrait by Randy Jones at Studio 3P

Low-Key Lighting 

William discusses “low-key” photography: “It reminds one of the Renaissance masters, with a touch of Vermeer. Low-key is about contrast…and focusing attention on form while heightening a sense of anticipation. Shadow equals drama.” Randy says: “A low key portrait can have the subject lit to draw attention to the eyes and expression.” A low-key photograph will have no true whites, no bright tones."

A Low-Key lighting portrait by William of Carolina at Studio 3P
Comparison of High-Key and Low-Key Lighting

Which do you prefer?

As you can see in the examples here, both approaches can produce excellent results, depending upon the artistic look being sought. It is important to discuss your desires while planning a portrait session so that the proper path can be taken to arrive at the desired results.

High-key or low-key, the skilled photographers at Studio 3P can suit your desire, helping you choose what will capture and convey your mood and personality best.


Contact us today to discuss your goals for your individual and group photography.

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