Day 17 | Key Light
The key light can be "hard" (focused) or "soft" (diffused), and depending on the desired setup can be placed at different angles relative to the subject. When part of the most common setup, three-point lighting, the key light is placed at 30-60 degree angle (with the camera marking 0 degrees). In addition to the horizontal angle, the key light can be placed high or low producing different effects. The most common vertical position for the key light is at a 30 degree angle (i.e. slightly above the eye line, the nose should not cast a shadow on the lips).
- If the sun is at it's brightest, it shouldn't be used as exposed key light. Move your subject into the shade and use ambient light as your key light.
- There are many different ways you can diffuse the sun and use it as your key light, umbrellas, standing in the shade of a building or a tree, or a cloudy day are all ways to achieve diffused key light.
- When using studio lights, the most flattering position for key light is 45 degrees from your subject.
- Placing your subject up close to a north-facing window creates soft and flattering light.
- Light brings emphasis and dark brings emphasis. Make sure your key light falls on what you would like to emphasize.
- Your key light should be focused on your subject's face rather than their body or surroundings.
Levels of ambient light are most frequently considered relative to additional lighting used as fill light, in which case the ambient light is normally treated as the key light. In some cases, ambient light may be used as a fill light, in which case additional lighting provides the stronger light source, for example in bounce flash photography.