You’ve probably seen high key photography before, even if you haven’t realized it. High key basically equals white; the use of bright light to give you nothing but highlights and no shadows. Besides being beautiful, high key portraits of kids tend to look positive, happy, and upbeat.

hi-key photography by newborn, baby, and family photographer Jane Goodrich

Getting Started with High Key Children’s Photography

If you’re outdoors on a bright day you can try out high key photography (rather than investing in a bunch of lighting equipment).  The most difficult part of working with high key photography, other than getting rid of shadows, is taking over your camera’s settings to force it to “overexpose” for the high key effect.

Here are some steps to take to put together a good high key portrait:

  1. Your background needs to be plain, non-distracting, and a continuous color. Preferably the background is very light or white (such as a blanket or sheet, or the sky).
  2. Learn how to override your exposure from +1 or +3 on Av (Aperture) mode. See this article on exposure compensation for help. You can also use manual mode for full control.
  3. Choose an aperture that is neither large nor small, such as f/5.6.
  4. Learn how to read your histogram, as your LCD screen may not give you the information you need to determine whether you’ve “got” the image (you want all the information shifted to the right). Alternatively, you can take a range of shots at different exposure levels.

Tips for High Key Photos

Not every scene is perfect for high key photography. You want to look for a scene that has low dynamic range – meaning you don’t have too much of a range of highlights versus shadows; otherwise it can be too difficult to boost the exposure high enough to wash out the image.

Learn More

If you really enjoy high key photography, here are a few great tutorials:

How to Take High Key Photos [Photopoly]

High Key vs Low Key [Photofairy]

For some extra inspiration, check out this fantastic arrangement of high-key photos on Pinterest.

Above all with high key photography try to be patient. It’s a shooting style that requires you to be aware of several elements simultaneously, including dynamic range, lighting, and contrast (in addition to worrying about composition). It takes some time, particularly if you are not used to taking manual control of your camera’s settings – so take some time to experiment, you’ll get some really amazing results if you keep at it!

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