High-key photography or lighter photos are key to Instagram success.

High-key flower photography outdoors, pink bloom, apple tree in bloom, notting hill

Instagram has more than 600 million active users – this is double the U.S. population, yet, only a few manage to look Instagramable. So how can you improve your photography and get a more photogenic feed on Instagram? The secret is simple, start taking lighter and cleaner photos with High-key photography. What follows is a simple guide to lighter photography with the High-key technique for a DSLR camera.


Lighter photographs always perform better on Instagram
, don’t just take it from me, Analytics firm Curalate analysed more than 8 million Instagram images and came to the conclusion that lighter photographs get more likes.

High-key photography will help you here as this technique is all about exposure (amount of light per unit area). In a nutshell, the aim is to produce an image that’s very bright and has an upbeat look without too much editing. Such artistic style allows to highlight the subject well and transmit positivity.

This technique can be used in and out of the studio. Getting the right effect in a studio environment can be challenging as it requires a lighting setup while outdoors high-key photography is quite easy as it relies on natural light. Read on to see how to nail high-key photos.

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So what does high-key mean? Traditionally, the key tones in any image are the mid tones. Accordingly, high-key means we are setting the key tones or mid tones to a higher level. To be precise, we are brightening the key tones. This technique results in whiter highlight tones and shadow tones, basically eliminating shadows by letting more light into the camera.

All modern cameras will try to set a good level of illumination in manual mode. The camera is protecting you from over and under exposing your photographs. However, when taking photographs for Instagram you may want to overexpose them as you are after lighter look.

A step by step guide for High-key photography outdoors.

I am using flowers in my example, but your subject can be different.

Step 1: Place your flower against a non-distracting background. We need a background with continuous tones. For instance, it should be free from deep shadow regions. If you have a background which mainly contains bright tones, then you can easily make a high-key image. However, on some occasions, such background would not be present. But, do not worry. You can fix background imperfections later during post processing.

Tip: Sky is a perfect example of a non-distracting background.

Step 2: Overexpose the background. Once you have a suitable background, you need to overexpose your image by 1 or 2 stops. But make sure that you are not blowing out any highlights when you overexpose the scene.

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How to overexpose the background

1.) Switch to aperture priority mode and point your camera to the background.

2.) After setting the aperture, change the EV value to +1 or +2 (in Canon cameras) or -1 or -2 (in Nikon cameras) to overexpose the background.

You can get the same effect in manual mode, but getting settings will be challenging for beginners and so we skip it.

NOTE: When using the high-key technique with very slow shutter speed, you should use a sturdy tripod to prevent blurry shots.

There is no standard setting that will yield you a great high key photograph under any condition. You need to evaluate the exposure in such a way that there should be more light being let into the camera. So keep experimenting with various aperture settings and pick the best image.

3.) Make sure that you got the shot before moving on. Built-in screens can be quite misleading. Your image may look ok on the screen but be a total miss when reviewing on a bigger screen.

You don’t need to carry a big screen around as you can check image exposure with the histogram. The histogram of a high key photograph shifts to the right. This will help you to make sure that you got a great high key photograph on site.

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Notes:

Not every scene can be turned into a high key photograph. Forget about using a black background if you are shooting a high key image.

Overcast days are the best for high key photography, with their characteristic flat light, although you might also have to fill in the shadows with a reflector.

The final image will be flat, and less saturated.

Why are high key photographs popular on Instagram?

So far we established that key characteristics of a high-key photography are:

– High lightness

– Low saturation

– Cold tones

All 3 happen to be image qualities which drive more likes on Instagram according to the Curalate. If fact with a high key technique you get 3 image qualities in an image out of 6 possible.

High key images are being described as ethereal, delicate and dream-like, which are perfect characteristics for a female dominated network.

Hope you now know how to make your Instagram feed look good.

Conclusion:

This technique is all about finding flattering light and overexposing an image to make a high-key photograph. Overexposed image without right light is just an overexposed image.

If you have any questions, please drop them as comments.

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Feel inspired and want to photograph blooming trees then check out my post on flowering trees photography.