Measuring Exposure Part 1. (high key and low key photography)

For the first exercise I need to take four to six photos where each one is deliberately lighter or darker than average. Photos that are lighter are known as high key and darker images are low key.

I’m going to start by looking at high key images.

High key photography gives a positive, lighter feeling. It is used most often in

Flower photography

Portrait photography

Commercial photography. (Going back to the psychology of colours white denotes professional and good quality products.

Quote from Digital Photo Secrets “This style of lighting was originally developed for films and television, back when the technology wasn’t very good at capturing high contrast ratios. Today high key is purely an artistic decision – photographers and filmmakers choose it when they want an image or story to be upbeat, optimistic or youthful. – See more at:

I realized that taking a high key photo wouldn’t be as easy as just over exposing the image, that would produce blow out highlights and loss of detail. I researched through several websites on how to create high key photos. I didn’t want to use flash and other studio equipment instead I focused on the best light, the sun which was certainly beaming down. I used the histogram instead of the image review button as the lcd screen can sometimes be misleading. When the histogram had huge peaks on the right hand side (denoting the white areas) I knew I had a high key photo. Though even despite using this some of the photos still we’re high key enough.

I chose the white blossom tree in our garden, set the metering to evaluative metering so it would take the reading from the background (I had to choose one which was free of major tonal contrast) and took a few photos.


I think the brightness benefits it and brings more of a wow impact to it. It also reinforces the fresh bright feeling of Spring and new life. Though the focus could have been a little better.

Half way through Arran, my cat joined me and I took a few photos of her not expecting much as she is a black cat and I think the low key section would be better for her. As it was she produced quite a high key image. I edited this one so the background was completely white and love the effect, it looks like she is walking off into a desert.


This didn’t go as well as I overexposed by too much.


This one worked naturally though I prefer the edited one as it is sharper and the composition more interesting especially with Arran’s gaze ( a gaze you can’t escape when she’s hungry)


I love how each low and high key can bring a different atmosphere to a photo.

My final high key photo is a close up portrait of my friend, Kitty. I placed her against a white wall, set the camera to evaluative metering taking a reading from the background and over exposing. It took several shots but I quite like this one though the overexposure makes her hair appear quite colorless. The white denotes purity and I like the effect.

Some other photos I took.

IMG_0715 IMG_0720 IMGP9901




Low Key

Low key produces dark and powerful images that have a distinct moody atmosphere.

Using an ISO of 100 to retain all image detail and making sure light didn’t fall on the background

I found these flowers in a darker part of the garden and underexposed it by several stops. I found that by using such a low exposure the image was rendered almost black. I read that the effect that low key photography aims to achieve is creating a black image but with the light on the part you wanted to stand out. A torch was too dim and I realised I should be doing this at night. I wanted to experiment though and by putting my hand three inches in front of the flash I was able to single out the flower while the background was in darkness. I like the deep dark red against the black, it really stands out.


I was practically touching the plant on the other side of this flower and saw that this spider was only a centimeter from my hand! I got close up with my Pentax as my Canon had earlier gone flat half way through a long exposure (There was my model standing for ages waiting for it to click, whoops.) I angled the camera so the spider was against a pale leaf and while it’s not my best photo I like the dark mood around it and the focus on the spider.


Arran came to join me wondering what I was doing practically lying in the flowerbed. I took this photo with the focus on the branches and Arran blurred out into an ominous silhouette through the branches, reinforced by the low key this created a dark foreboding mood.


I put my Pentax camera in a little cupboard surrounded it by books and set the Canon up on the floor, balanced on a dvd to give it extra height. Product photography usually uses white background to show professionalism and good product so I was interested to see what happened when I used low key. I quite like the dark effect though the white version would be more apt for product photography.


Here are all the other low key photos I took.

IMG_0899 IMGP9917 IMG_0883







I really enjoyed this part of the course, it’s funny how fun it can be to learn everything a certain way then forget it all and do something completely different. High and low key photography is something that I am going to be using a lot more in the future.


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