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Liliana will be talking about high and low-key images fairly soon so I thought I might just touch on the concepts for those of you that want to read ahead.

High and low-key images generally have a low tonal range but at opposite ends of the scale. Both present just enough detail to allow the viewer to determine the shape and form of the subject.

High-key photographs generally have an airy, light, happy feel to them. The subject can often appear almost floating or weightless. Low-key photographs, on the other hand, are dark, enclosing and appear heavier. The subject feels more “anchored” within the image. A regular photograph will present a full (or close to full) range of tones within the image.

Stephanie Harrison describes it at its most basic:

High key. Low key. You would think I was talking about playing a musical instrument when in fact I am talking photography. High-key lighting refers to lighting that eliminates shadows, while low-key lighting creates shadows.

The slightly more dry definition from ePhotozine is:

  • A high key image mostly consists of highlights and midtones, is generally bright and even, and delicately toned, often with pastel and/or white shades.
  • Low key: A photograph that comprises predominantly of dark or monotone colours.


Achieving high or low-key images successfully can be difficult but it can be well worth the effort. Even finding good creative commons licensed pictures for the examples above proved quite difficult. Many images classed as high-key are often just brightly lit.

The following articles discuss the concepts further and the techniques required to achieve the result:

DIY Photography: Lighting – High Key and Low Key

Wikipedia definition of high-key

Wikipedia definition of low-key


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