High Key and Low Key Lighting
The two main lighting methods that you will always find in cinematography, filmmaking and photography are high key and low key lighting. Each one of them offers unique benefits, so first of all let’s see them separately.
High Key Lighting:
High key lighting is a style frequently used in makeup, beauty advertisements and comedies. A high key look provides soft shadows and leaves the subject clean and elegant. It makes use of a large quantity of light which spreads across the whole scene. Additionally, it is helpful for food or product imagery shooting once you want the lighting to be across the full scene.
A high key lighting style habitually includes a soft light straight from the camera: putting the light in front of the subject produces fewer shadows, creates a smoother skin and, also, a gorgeous catch light in the talent’s eyes.
Still another reason high key is helpful in the beauty industry is that the lighting is farther off: because of this, there’s not any light fall off, which makes the transition from highlight to shadow substantially smoother and less sharp. This produces the lighting considerably more consistent even ten feet off. High key illumination is excellent for shots with just two subjects in framework since it helps to ensure each subject becomes lit equally and also scattering fewer shadows.
Whereas high key lighting was the very first and the unique lighting style operable in ancient photograph, it found its own niche in comedy industry, since that it’s a way to brightly color personalities. Thanks to high key lighting style, the audience can see clearly all the space, so it leaves a calm and safety perception.
Low Key Lighting:
Instead of high key light, low key light is quite a bit more suggestive, since that generally entails a lot of contrast and generates almost opposite feelings, compared to high key lighting.
The transition of low key lighting, from highlight to shadow, is quite a bit faster and more striking. This lighting style is really close to the subject, and also the source of light is adjusted to accomplish this. It is precisely for this reason that sometimes when we light a subject on a white background, it will look black due to how close the lighting is to it, producing a very dramatic and emotional scene.
Low key lighting style is very popular today, but it became trendy between 1941 and 1958.
The choice between high key and low key depends on the mood that the shot aims to communicate: the first one transmits happiness, while the second one spreads drama and suspense. Basically, the decision on the high key mode, instead of the low key, is conditioned by the atmosphere that the DoP, filmmaker, cinematographer or photographer wants to communicate to its audience.