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Explaining High Key lighting and how it invokes positivity

Positivity is the name of the game when it comes to streaming, as it encourages the formation of a community. Pairing a technique known as “High Key Lighting” with a positive tone is a strong draw to your channel. In fact, this technique is commonly used by photographers to dictate a positive atmosphere in their work.

Before we go into detail about these lighting positions, we highly recommend reading our article about the importance of a key light. It will introduce you to the concept of lighting, and it’s importance.

Also, when choosing a key light, please don’t choose RGB.

Finished reading? Great! We’d like to give you a bit of a history lesson on how high key lighting came about.

The origin of High key lighting – Technical limitations and the birth of innovation

As with most innovations, this technique was born to solve a limitation of the hardware at the time. See, back then, things like exposure adjustment and gain were difficult to adjust. But it needed to be since media of the time didn’t do well with high contrast ratios (18+ content warning). So to compensate, the creators of the time had to physically manipulate their light. Doing this allowed them to adjust the amount of light that would reach their subject, as well as the angle of said light

Streamer's Haven is the place to get viewers on Twitch, Mixer, and YouTube. Picture of a Studio Set with three softbox lighting, a white photography reflector sheet for use in photography. This setup isn't using a  high key lighting configuration, but it can easily be configured to do so.
This picture portrays a standard photography studio. The lights are on a light stand, allowing the photographer to set up either high key light or low key light at the photograph’s needs.

Enter the light stand: literally, a light on a stand. This is an adjustable tube with a tripod at the bottom to stabilize the light so that it doesn’t fall over.

The answer the creators of old came up with was this little invention, and it forever changed production.

Here are some of the best light stands for streamers, while we are on the subject

T-bar & Boom arm style stands

  • Odyssey T Bar LTP2
    • T bar design allows the mounting of four separate lights
    • Full-extension length – 12 ft
    • The maximum load capacity is 80 lbs when evenly distributed. 
  • Neewer Boom arm stand
    • Boom arm design allows you to get top-down lighting, or a camera mounted for a top-down perspective. Useful for DND sessions!
    • Full-extension length – 13 ft
    • Load capacity dependant on the counterweight. Will easily handle a c920 if you choose to use that. Max 11 lbs.
    • A bit harder to use, more versatility.

And some lights to go on them. No point in a light stand with no light…

When purchasing any light and light stand, ensure the mounting screws are the same dimensions. There are a few different standards out there.

There are also hundreds of others to choose from. We feel panel lights are the best option for streamers though. Ring lights are also acceptable, and in fact, are better if you are using a single light setup.

You have a light stand already? Good, good… Alright, let’s get that high key setup!

Nature is the best at high key lighting

Now you can start putting your key light up high and pointing down, instilling a sense of positivity. It doesn’t get more simple than this, as you now have the right tool to do it.

Simply mount your light on the stand, angle it down about 45 degrees, and send it up! Then check your preview, and ensure that you adjust your webcam settings. (Or DSLR/mirrorless, if yer the fancy type!)

Once you dial in your exposure, gain, and other settings, Take a screenshot.

Then put some blue masking tape on the three points where the tripod was. Next, move it to another spot, and repeat the exposure/gain settings, and take another screenshot.

The tape is so you can put the light stand back in the same position if you liked that one more.

Compare them, and see what you like best. Fiddle with the height too. Lighting is a lot of trial-and-error, but once it’s set up, you’re pretty much good. At least until you need to move it.

That’s basically it, really.

Congrats, you’ve drastically upped your production value by raising your light up higher! Easy, right?

When Low-key is preferred over high key lighting

low key lighting  of a pear
Low key lighting in a nutshell…or rind skin? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

One size does not fit all, of course. In the world of art, there are certain emotions that are portrayed by different lighting conditions. In fact, lighting is the cornerstone of art.

Say, for example, you are doing a Halloween stream event. Well, everybody and their uncles are in the mood for dark and dreary; Lower that light down to below your eye level, pointing up. This will create hard, dark shadows, and look a bit on the spooky side.

Changing your exposure to a lower level might also help to convince your audience of the horror look. Be sure to crank that gain to ZERO. Just make sure people are still able to make out your face, even if it is only a silhouette.

And Mid Key, the standard eye-level configuration

Nowadays, we aren’t limited by the flaws of early film and television limitations. We are able to put the key light in line with our eyesight and focus in on the subject.

This is a balanced approach to lighting your subject. In this case, you are said subject. Your darks aren’t super dark. Your lights aren’t super bright.

Not much else to say about it really. With the moderate tones, this configuration can portray just about anything. It isn’t well suited for evoking strong emotion, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Anyways, for more lighting tips and tricks, check out these videos by cinematographer experts:

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