Tag Archives: high key portrait photography

Ian Trayner, high key portrait photography

The enduring appeal of high key portrait photography

What is high key portrait photography?

The expression “high key photography” is actually ambiguous. It can mean that the entire photo has a bright, pale look. Or it can mean that the photo uses a pale background, or a bright white backround. It is the latter meaning that I am using here.

Why choose high key portrait photography?

  • Having a plain background helps emphasise the subject, because there is nothing else to distract the eye
  • High key photography is unlikely to “date”, even if the clothes in the picture do!
  • In general, hIgh key photos are “bright” and “cheerful”
  • You need a reasonably skilled photographer to take a good high key portrait. Most high key portraits will have been taken in a professional studio

Tech photo stuff

Why aren’t there any strong shadows on the background? Because the background is lit seperately from the subject, and will probably be lit a bit brighter.

If the light falling on the background is a lot brighter than the light falling on the subject, the background can itself become I light source. A photographer may, or may not, desire this effect. The amount of light that is thrown forward onto theĀ  subject also depends on the distance between the subject and the background. There are lighting tutorials on the web if you want to learn how to do high key portrait photography.

How is it possible to show white clothes against a white background? Because the photographer has used precisely the correct exposure for the clothes. Most fabrics have an uneven texture that gives you variations in brightness. If the amount of light falling on the background is more than that landing on the clothes, the clothes will be slightly pale grey overall. However the eye will still perceive them to be white, because the mind “knows” they are white. Most photographers will use a light meter to measure how much light there is, and adjust it to suit.

Are there different “styles” of high key photography?

Yes indeed. This is a subject I may explore in a future blog post. But for now I will just say that I usually use a main light (falling on the subject) that is stronger than my fill light (falling on my subject). This allows me to use shadows to help show the three dimensional shape of the face.

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