What does HIGH KEY mean in photography?

What is high key photography?

High key photography is described as creating images that use mostly lighter tones and whites. These images have less contrast in them, have little to no shadows and are typically photographed with a white background.

What makes high key photography fun to shoot?

Using bright whites, brilliant light and less dark or black tones in an image conveys a brighter, cheerier feeling to our photographs. This feeling is passed along to the viewer making them feel a little lighter and brighter themselves. We can also get more artistic with high key photography when shooting subjects like portraits or products.

Low key image of ocean baths

Check your histogram as you are shooting. You’ll want it to peak more on the right side, but be careful not to overexpose the image. Photographing bright subjects can sometimes cause your camera to struggle with auto focus so it may be better to manually focus when shooting high key.

How do you create high key image?

Creating high key photographs is more about lighting your subject on a light background and less about overexposing the image. There are several ways to do this. You can use a bright white backdrop or sheet to place your subject against and then light them accordingly. Photographing directly into the sun or light source is another way to create a lighter, brighter image.

Be sure to move around your subject and watch how and where the light hits. Always pay attention to anything around your main point of interest that might be distracting. Remove the distraction or move around until it’s not showing in your frame.

What are good locations to use for photography high key images?

You’ll find that anytime the surroundings are naturally light you’ll be able to easily create high key photographs. Snow, sand dunes, and beaches are all ideal backdrops and locations for shooting high key images. Other locations might be bright rooms with white curtains or in cities with the sun shining on buildings makes it easy to shoot high key architecture.

If you need some inspiration or want a better idea of what high key images look like, check out the Pinterest Board.

Photo BootCamp Magazine

Let’s see how our BootCamp members did with creating their high key photography images for this month’s challenge.

And be sure to check out how you can join BootCamp at the end of the magazine!

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Alternatively if you have a slower connection you can view this magazine Here on ISSUU.

Below is a small sample of what’s in this magazine…

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Inside BootCamp Magazine

Featured Artist

Let’s take a look at this month’s magazine. Here is our featured artist of the month, Rodney Charlton, from Australia.

For this high key photo, a close up of some tiny petals on this flower about the size of a golf ball. He positioned himself low and looked up slightly so that the flower was against the overcast sky.

Comment: Brent Mail“Really like this version with the distraction removed Rodney. This is exactly why I love BootCamp – the feedback helps us become better photographers. Something that attracts me to your image is the little fuzzy bits and the spiderwebs from that stem in the foreground. Love it.”

Cover Image

This month’s featured magazine cover image is also by Janet Rhead from the Australia. This is her first post for over a year, and won’t be the last for another! She is not sure whether this photo qualifies as high key but she liked the way the jetty extends out over the beach into the distance.

Comment: Laura Griffiths“Hi Janet, Love this hazy look leading the eye down to the water’s edge. It makes me think of midday sun, almost blinding light throwing back from white sand and highly reflective water, one of those blissful summer days on the beach. And yet, without the discomfort of the heat and narrowed eyes scrunching up against the sunlight… Great composition and details captured in the woodwork.”

Active Members

Let’s take a peek at some of our BootCamp members’ high key photography images.

We’ll start with Belinda Swan from Australia. A photo of her daughter who has been patiently modeling for her. She used lighting on the backdrop and off-camera flash lighting Miss M.

Comment: Romy Villanueva“Hi Belinda, you’re very lucky to have a lovely and willing model. Nice focus on the eyes. Well shot.”

Next, we have Keri Down from Australia. She said to Brent that she was so excited about this challenge because she has always wanted to take a photo of a white horse and this challenge was perfect. She went out and tried to find a white horse. She has looked since the challenge started and all she managed to find was a shetland. So here is her little model.

Comment: Rodney Charlton“Well done Keri. The lines and triangle between the eyes and mouth get my attention.”

Laura Griffiths from South Africa is next. For this challenge, she wanted to create a high key portrait. Edits done to the image were a -34 on the dehaze slider and that was it. Laura still felt that the hat and hair were too dark so she did an adjustment brush adjustment on them and took clarity, dehaze and texture down to -100 and the exposure up to the maximum 4.00 to soften the hair colour and hat. Laura tried many shots with her magical 85mm f1.8 portrait lens but too many had only one eye tack sharp and the other soft. That depth of field is so difficult. In the end, she resorted to f2.8 and used the human eye detection feature on autofocus just for fun.

Comment: Denis O’Byrne“Hi Laura. I have used my 85 on several shots and find it difficult as well. You have managed a nice capture here. The hair and hat in particular. The face is a tad washed out for my liking even with High Key. I Think a little colour in the cheeks might help. Well done.”

Then we have Brenda Potts from the United States. Since it’s now rainy and stormy in the US Pacific Northwest, she is planning on shooting some high key indoors this weekend. In the meantime, here’s a high key shot of the native Rhododendron flower that she took in the Spring. It was already a light image, but she bumped up the exposure a bit more and softened the overall image.

Comment: Belinda Swan“You’ve captured a lovely image with the stamen gently swooping down and leading your eye back up into the soft colours of the petals.”

And last but not least, is this image from Carol Pesek who lives in the United States. She is new to the care and feeding of orchids and this one blessed her with these pretty blooms. It just happened to be placed against a white wall and had a natural sunny sidelight from a nearby window.

Comment: Peter Dwight“Gorgeous shot Carol, I think if you lighten the shadows on the flowers a bit you’ll be fine, it is very hard to change a great shot to be over exposed when it doesn’t make sense in your eyes.”

These are some of the awesome images that our members created in response to the high key photography challenge.

You can also share your images by joining Photo BootCamp Academy and can count on the community to help and guide you along the way. If you are not yet a member of this awesome family now is the best time to become one.

You can check out the complete BootCamp Magazine and see for yourself!


  • High key photography is when we create images that use lighter tones and whites with less contrast in them.
  • Using bright whites and brilliant light helps to convey a brighter, cheerier feeling to our images.
  • Creating more artistic images is also another outcome of high key photography.
  • High key photos are more about the light on your subject and background and less about the exposure.

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Please leave me a comment below – I’d love to know what you think. Brent

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