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All About Hi Key Mode with instax

Posted by Fujifilm Instax November 9, 2018

If you’ve played around with the settings on your instax camera, you’ve probably noticed the “hi key” mode on the brightness dial. But just what is hi key mode, and how can you use it to take better pictures?

In short, hi key mode is a simulated form of high-key photography—a low-contrast technique photographers love to use in certain situations. This technique traditionally involves specific camera settings, flash settings and lighting adjustments, but when used at the right time and place, the instax simple hi key mode can make a dramatic difference in your shots. Here’s what you need to know.Hi-Key Beach Image                @lostboyfromthefuture

Selecting Hi Key

Most instax bloggers talk about the camera’s primary brightness settings: Very Sunny, Sunny, Cloudy and Indoors. On most models, however, there’s also the “hi key” mode right next to the Indoors setting. Turn the dial to that mark, and you’re ready to shoot in high key!

What It Does

High key photography involves purposefully overexposing a photo to produce a bright, homogenous picture with very few dark spots and shadows. Often used to convey positive emotions and an upbeat feel, these photos have a very soft appearance. In contrast, low key photography involves a great deal of shadow and contrast, and it’s typically used to capture darker, moodier settings.

High key was originally used to dampen the high contrast ratios common in the early film industry. Along with a “key” light, cameramen would use backlights and “fill” lights to achieve the desired lighting effect from one angle, without producing too great a contrast at other angles. While today’s high-key setups have become much more sophisticated, the instax achieves a good approximation of the effect with the flick of a switch!

Where to Use Hi Key

To make the most of the hi key mode, you’ve got to know where (and when) to use it. Ideal settings are indoors, outdoors at dawn or dusk, and shadowy areas. Nighttime shots can work with hi key, as well, so long as your subject is in-frame enough to be well-lit by your camera’s flash. Overall, hi key shines in settings with low ambient light. If you’re at a dim restaurant or dark nightclub, for instance, hi key may produce a more desirable shot than the Indoors setting.

Mountain Hi-Key Image                                    @polaroidbutik

Choose the Right Background

For effective high key photography, your background is just as important as your lighting. You’re trying to minimize contrast and shadows, after all, and a dark or busy background will only hamper the effect.


Professional studio photographers generally opt for solid white backgrounds when shooting high key. If you can’t control your setting to that degree, however, a variety of bright, solid-color backgrounds will do: a clear sky, a bright wall or a body of water, just to name a few.

Choose the Right Subject

Just as hi key mode is intended for specific settings and backgrounds, it works best with particular subjects. Since our goal is a low-contrast, soft appearance, we generally want to pick similar subjects. For instance, outdoor photographers often use high key when they want to shoot trees, leaves and other plant life without too much background noise.

Position Accordingly

Positioning your subject off-center often produces a great artistic effect. With hi key mode, however, your subject needs to be more centered. Since we’re aiming for uniform colors and low contrast, we need to avoid the contrast produced when the flash’s light hits an off-center subject at an angle. A straight-on approach will produce the softer look you want.

When not to Use Hi Key Mode

Last but not least, one of the most important things to understand about using the instax hi key mode is when not to use it. It can produce some wonderful effects in the right settings, but in the wrong lighting, you’ll just end up with washed-out shots. A good rule of thumb: if your environment is bright enough that you wouldn’t use a flash, it’s probably too bright for hi key mode.

Wanting to take your instax pics to the next level and feeling crafty? Check out our Ultimate Decorator’s Guide!

Topics: Instant Photography Tips, Fujifilm instax, instax

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