High Key Photography Guides

The artistic-seeming tones of white on white brings to mind the innocence of youth, the fabric of dreams and long, hot summer days. In photography, the effect can be easily achieved by choosing elements of a white or pastel color placed on a white or very light background.


White curtains blowing in the breeze, white birches tufted with cotton snow, or a feather storm of a pillow fight are qualifiers for a high key photo. The center of interest benefits from a darker tone, contrasting with the light tones of the surrounding environment and bringing the eye to the action. Subtle shades of white and gray enhance the colors or darker tones of the main subject.

Often, a white vignetting filter can be used judiciously, blending the portion of the subject with the background. To make a vignetting filter, cut a four inch square from some colorless, pliable, and translucent material. In the center cut a small (one half by three quarter inch) hole with a nail scissors. Place the vignetter in about one half inch in front of the lens. Extra light may be aimed at the vignetter for a whiter effect. Vignetting can also be achieved with the computer. In your photo editor, choose the airbrush set at 300 pixels wide and 50% strength. Pass the brush repeatedly around the edges of the image, creating the fade out effect. When making the original exposure set the camera to overexpose the subject one f stop. The reason for this is that the camera light sensor will try to expose whites as light gray, underexposing the image.

In printing, care should be taken to insure a proper ratio of white, near white and deeper tones. If the photo is printed too dark, the high key effect is lost, and if printed too light, no detail will be discernible in the near-white tones. For a water color effect, leave lots of room around the edges (white) and mat carefully using white, black, or delicate pastel colors. A water color filter will further enhance the high key effect. If you have children, make a list of the white clothes available for a magical white on white shoot. They’ll all come out like angels.

Written by kchoffman71@juno.com

See also: Photography Tips

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