Photographing Old Keys

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The keyhole and the key. Sounds like the tittle of a novel doesn't it? It's just another photographic project which by its uniqueness, offers the photographer many possibilities and varied perspectives to apply to the theme.

The concept is not as simple as photographing a key in the keyhole, or a key or even a keyhole. But it does involve images of the aforementioned subjects. Look for many keys that are interesting to look at, skeleton keys are excellent. Try visiting antique stores for some samples.

"These keys were common in both cabinetry and door locks in early Colonial America and remained in common usage within the United States through the 1940s, giving way after World War II to the pin tumbler lock. Most skeleton keys and their locks were formed of brass, although pewter was sometimes used as well. They were commonly available at hardware and other stores. Today, skeleton keys are associated with fine cabinetry". Wikipedia

These skeleton keys are not that expensive but finding them could be. There are many varieties and made from iron and other metals but mostly brass. If you find good samples, record their images before and after polishing them. Also photograph them while in the keyhole keeping in mind that the keyhole has to be one fit for this type of key.

Take these photos in close up modes and with a narrow beam of light such as the one from a photo snoot and DIY projects abound. Only the subject; the key, the keyhole should be illuminated. Better yet if the door where the keyhole is located is made from wood and antique or very old.

Other images can be of various keys bunched up together against a dark backdrop and illuminated by a narrow beam of light and again in close up mode. Other more interesting photographs can be achieved by using a telephoto lens placed very close to the keyhole much like how you would be if attempting to peep through it. The image works best if there is something interesting that can be recorded at the other side of the keyhole.

An alternative is to use two images and digitally combining them. One image is of whatever scene or subject will be the sight on the "other side" and on top would be one of the shape of the keyhole. Here is a link with detailed instructions in doing this plus a free download.

Other uses for these keys are to make them into a "wind-chime" and photograph them as such. Macro photography also works very well as some of these skeleton keys have very intricate detailed etchings and shapes in them. Pay attention to reflections if doing macros and if the key or keys have been polished to their original "like" new appearance. Always use diffused light and with a narrow focused beam.

A variation that can be fun to do, with a little know how, is to use a keyhole and shine a strong light from behind, even better if you add a color filter to the light source to give the light "color" and consequently photograph the keyhole with the light shinning through it.


These shots are very pleasing simply because of their sheer simplicity. The keys made from brass also exhibit color and hues that are hard to match by almost any other subject.

To make the entire project that much better it is worth to photograph some samples of keyholes against a weathered wood backdrop where you can tell that the surface is old and has been through the effects of the elements.

Do not use muted colors for this, rather rich reds, blues,greens and yellows work best when paired against old wooden surfaces. Aim to include some rust if present on the keyholes as most of the metals from which they were made will be susceptible to it. Also, if the keys or keyhole surface has a natural patina record its image as such. Patina shows quite well in photographs.

Some antiques stores carry wooden doors that include their respective keyholes or they can be bought separately. If possible have a carpenter install them to prevent the wrong installation thus the image and the position of the subjects being off. Their images can really be exceptional and very pleasing.

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Comments 9 comments

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Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

Amazing shots and I adore skeleton keys. I use them a lot in my scrapbooks.

LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Thank you know...I think I'm going to try going upside down for a

Cara.R profile image

Cara.R 5 years ago from New York

Beautiful images,reminds me of my love of taking photographs of doors.

LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

Cara.R: Thank you. Sometimes the simplest things, like doors, make for really beautiful images

trusouldj profile image

trusouldj 5 years ago from Indiana

Very interesting.

anusha15 profile image

anusha15 5 years ago from Delhi, India

Great topic to write about, very nicely presented too, and amazing images. You often add a new dimension to my perspective of photographing subjects. Great hub.

LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

trusouldj: Thank you

LuisEGonzalez profile image

LuisEGonzalez 5 years ago from Miami, Florida Author

anusha15: Thank you, glad that you feel that way

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Lynn S. Murphy 5 years ago

Hanging upside down has its moments! I highly recommend it! LOL!

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