Friday, March 25, 2011

The High Key Effect

The high key effect is a modern style of shooting and I am sure that it came out of necessity. You achieve this effect when you have a good amount of the highlights blown out while still maintaining decent exposure on your subject. This happens most often when your subject is between you and the sun. The other aspect of the high key is the lens flare that you get which gives the photo a washed out look. Here of late this effect has become very popular among professional photographers. Partly, I am sure be cause it has become very popular with their clients. Personally I find it fun to shoot. I am not really sure why since I usually hate blown out highlights.

This effect can be used when you might otherwise have a distracting background that you must deal with. If you blow the highlights out enough you eliminate the problem. So, how do you get this High Key Effect? How do you eliminate it if you decide that you do not desire the effect?

Obtaining the Effect
First, you place your subject between you and a light source (or very close). Then, you open up by about 2 to 3 stops depending on how bright the light source. If you have your blinkies turned on then the camera will be flashing at you on the review of the image. You need to make sure that you check your main subject to ensure that no highlights are lost. If you get a lens flare then great! When it is time to process these images backing off the saturation of color is a good effect.

Overcoming the Effect
The first suggestion is to simply move to where you have a shaded or dark background. Also you want to ensure that the light from the light source is not in hitting the lens directly. This method will eliminate lens flare and the High Key Effect. The second way to eliminate the effect is to use a flash to overpower the main light source (usually the sun). You still need to make sure that there is no direct light contact with the lens to reduce lens flare. Then, you need to take a meter reading of the ambient light and stop down one to two stops. At this point you can add a flash to hit and properly expose the subject. Your background will be slightly underexposed but your subject will be correct. This has an additional benefit of separating your subject.

This effect isn’t for anyone but if you are out shooting give it a try… You and/or your clients might like it!!!


  1. Oh. How. Cool.
    Either I paint or shoot photos - that is the choice.

  2. LOL... My guess is you will go for the brush but if you ever want to come over to the darkside just let me know and I can help!!! LOL