February 3, 2018

Style Breakdown: How to Pull Off High and Low Key Lighting

What is high and low key lighting? 

There are many ways to light a scene, but before you actually set up any lights on your film set, you'll have to first figure out what style your scene calls for. Two of the most common styles in cinematography are "high key lighting" and "low key lighting," which require very different lighting setups to produce very different looking images. In this video, Josh Noel of PremiumBeat explains the differences between high and low key lighting and takes you through the process of how to light scenes with both styles. Check it out below:

There are several important differences between low key lighting and high key lighting that Noel talks about in the video, all of which help characterize both lighting styles in terms of their physical appearance and they emotionally affect audiences. He's a really quick and very simplified breakdown of the main characteristics of each style.

Contrast

  • High key lighting: Less contrast, more evenly lit
  • Low key lighting: More contrast, defining shadows

Brightness and tones

  • High key lighting: Brighter, use much more white and fewer midtones and blacks
  • Low key lighting: Darker, use much more blacks and midtones

Shadows and falloff

  • High key lighting: Fewer shadows, slow falloff
  • Low key lighting: More shadows, fast fall off

Emotional connotations

  • High key lighting: Happy, upbeat, safe, joyful, typically used in comedies, sitcoms, etc.
  • Low key lighting: Dark, dangerous, unsafe, mysterious, typically used in horror films, thrillers, and dramas

Lighting setup

  • High key lighting: Lights typically include a key light, fill light to fill in shadows, a backlight, and background light
  • Low key lighting: Lights typically include a key light and possibly some practicals or backlight to add depth/illuminate background elements

So, that's a basic rundown of the differences between high key and low key lighting. Feel free to share your own take on these two lighting styles down in the comments.     

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1 Comment

Nice breakdown and must say, great model. Always awesome to see models of Color [finally] getting their due for our studies. Considering their skin absorbs and reflects light more so than any other, this should happen more often. ESPECIALLY with gel lighting.

February 4, 2018 at 9:41PM

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