Lighting: High-key or Low-key lightning?


Julie Babcock | June 3rd, 2010


There are many ways you can use light to alter the mood of your movie. Knowing what kind of movie you’re making will help in deciding what kind of light you will need to set the desired mood. There’s nothing scary about a well-lit scene, and you wouldn’t necessarily want shadowy, mysterious lighting for a comedy, either. Before you start lighting your set, you should ask yourself, “does this scene call for high-key or low-key lighting?”

A common misconception regarding the terms high-key and low-key is that they are describing the strength of the key light. Though the key light is part of the equation, it will always remain constant and should focus on good exposure of the subject. The “high” and “low” are actually referring to the strength of the fill light.

Once the key light is set for proper exposure, the fill light can be adjusted to light the opposite side with either a high or low amount of light. High-key lighting means more fill light. This will give you little to no shadows on the subject and their surroundings, which will result in a cheerier, normal looking scene. Low-key lighting means less fill light. With less light to fill the shadows, your scenes will appear to be more mysterious or suspenseful. With other lighting techniques, such as chiaroscuro or cameo lighting, you might not use a fill light at all.

Your lighting choice should reflect the type of movie, or scene, you’re shooting. Good lighting choices can enhance the mood of your movie and add impact to each scene. Don’t stop at 3-point, high-key and low-key lighting. There are many specialty lighting techniques you can use to get that desired look and feel.


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