23 comments


  • Lucas

    Initially It did seem like you were illustrating just a strong backlight with low key. But after the 3rd example I love the technique. It was great that you showed its’ versatility and then the technical aspect. Thanks 🙂

    January 29, 2012
  • BERNHARD

    TOP VIEW: WHERE DID you position the LIGHT ?

    January 29, 2012
    • evanerichards

      I’m not certain which view you are referring to. Where are the lights in which picture?

      January 29, 2012
  • BERNHARD

    yes… exactly… so if you could post a snapshot from the 3d space showing the light-source itself, that would be great !

    or just a small sketch….. thank you so much for posting !

    January 30, 2012
  • Great post! This looks like a really useful technique, specifically as it relates to lighting people with glasses. I have struggled in the past with positioning the key light to avoid the glare when my subject moves their head around. On another note, it seems like a back/rim/hair light would be unnecessary with this setup. Perhaps you could do a really simple one light setup with a strong reverse key and a bounce board for fill, then just adjust the level of background light to the degree you wish to isolate your subject. This is worth experimenting with.

    January 30, 2012
    • evanerichards

      Its funny that of all the examples I included I neglected to include any with a rim light. Its certainly done and done often. Shutter Island has a lot of good examples.

      http://evanerichards.com/wp-content/gallery/shutter-island/shutter-island-236.jpg

      As far as using a single key and a bounce card for fill, I think that’s probably done a lot. The one thing about that technique is you get potentially different qualities to the key and fill light. Harsh light for the key for example would hit the bounce board and illuminate the other side with a much softer and more diffused fill light. But that’s a whole other discussion. Using soft lights for the fill and hard light for the key or vice versa. Or using a colored light for one and different color for the other. There are a lot of very intriguing possibilities.

      January 30, 2012
  • Nicely explained. I didn’t feel your original example of lighting the bottle from the rear with Mr. Draper going forward to most of the stills. Some are a bit past 90º to the rear, adding drama, but most are what I would consider “normal” key lighting–just a wee bit off axis, enough to cast shadows on the face for drop off. Thanks.

    January 30, 2012
  • BERNHARD

    ahaaa…. ok, now I see what you mean.. thx for posting !

    January 30, 2012
  • Jeff Handy

    Nicely done – thanks so much for posting this!

    January 31, 2012
  • This technique is very widely used and is generally called “lighting from upstage”.
    Once you learned it, you see it everywhere : TV, films… 80% of the shots are lit this way. It gives such good results in most cases that it can be tempting to use if all the time and one tends take the easy way out. The question is : “should we ALWAYS light from upstage ?”…

    February 29, 2012
  • Noah Yuan-Vogel

    I’ve always known this as a far side key and usually my preference over a close sidr key unless close side is motivated. I usually characterize a far side key as any key at or beyond the subject’s eyeline relative to camera side. Keys on eyeline are especially flattering since they render faces and noses softer, and shadows minimal while still givings shape and contrast since they are not on camera axis unless the subject is looking into camera.

    March 13, 2012
  • Michael

    This is actually the proper placement for the key light. The key light should be placed so that the subject is looking between the camera and the key light. The key light should be placed as such so that shadow comes to the face, shadow is was defines the face, it’s what gives us all the information about the shape of a face. Without the shadow we don’t have depth which gives us a good idea of what the face actually looks like.

    However, if you’re shooting a pretty woman, you’ll want your key light to be closer to the camera. The closer the key light is to the camera axis, the less shadow there is.

    You should always consider what your light means, and think about why you’re placing the light where you’re placing it, but generally shadow to the front is good, it give the viewer more information. Use the shadows wisely, they can say a lot.

    May 07, 2012
  • […] Evan E Richards | Read the Full Article […]

    May 23, 2012
  • […] Key Light Analysis: http://evanerichards.com/2012/2463 – a stylized way of lighting faces that proves to be not just popular, but looks damn great. […]

    June 12, 2012
  • This is a great article! You explained reverse key lighting very well. Time to do some tests……

    August 27, 2012
  • Matt

    GREAT article Evan! Thank you very much, has totally changed how I light

    October 22, 2012
    • evanerichards

      Excellent! Glad to hear it. It is certainly a good technique to know.

      October 22, 2012
  • […] Key Light Analysis: http://evanerichards.com/2012/2463 – a stylized way of lighting faces that proves to be not just popular, but looks damn great. […]

    February 22, 2013
  • […] Tips for lighting set ups […]

    February 10, 2016
  • […] Richards, E. (2016). Reverse Key Lighting. Evanerichards.com. Retrieved 7 September 2016, from http://evanerichards.com/2012/2463 […]

    September 07, 2016
  • […] found a great article that talks about reverse key lighting which helps give movies and photographs their feelings. Without every knowing what the lighting was […]

    February 19, 2017
  • Vasanth

    In reverse lighting, we need to make a edge light behind the character and then fill the light on the front. Am i right?

    July 30, 2019
    • The key light comes from the far side of the camera, and the fill comes from the closer side.

      August 27, 2019

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