Keyboard Illumination Locked? It’s the Light Sensor

Sep 22, 2011 - 23 Comments

Keyboard Illumination Lock icon

Can’t turn on your MacBook Pro or Air’s keyboard backlighting? No it’s probably not broken, it’s most likely the light sensor. If the ambient light sensor on MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models detects too much light, the keyboard illumination will disable itself and refuse to turn on, showing the above locked image instead.

You can force the keyboard illumination to turn back on by covering up this ambient light sensor, which is located directly to the left of the iSight/FaceTime camera on MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models:

MacBook Air Light Sensor Location

If you look carefully at that area on the screens border, you’ll see tiny perforations where light is detected. Covering the sensor will enable the backlit keys to turn on, usually instantly, and you can then adjust the backlight as usual with the F5 and F6 keys.

Backlit keyboard illumination on a MacBook Pro or Air

Why does this happen at ll? It’s actually a power saving feature. Your MacBook determines that if it’s bright enough, the glowing keys aren’t needed, so it disables them to maximize battery life. Now you know.

Great question from reader Andrew O.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting

23 Comments

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  1. Grant says:

    Wow…i have always wondered why that happened. Thank you so much for the info!

    • David says:

      Yea I always wondered that too. I thought it was strange when I was use my MacBoom Pro out in a “well-lit” area and I would attempt to adjust the keyboard light level to usually off and I wouldn’t be able to do so

  2. Bonneswe says:

    For me the problem is that everything LOOKS ok on the screen, but the light doesn’t lit up even if the bar is on max. If I put a light (a lamp) at the sensor I get the correct image above as well… can there be a small cable loose or something?

  3. Brad says:

    If you want it always on you can disable the auto adjustment!

  4. Ted says:

    download “lab-tick”, it’s great for overriding apple’s lumination settings.

  5. AnonMac says:

    Or better yet, download Lab Tick.

  6. Leef says:

    here’s a question along similar lines:
    I sometimes get the same disabled icon with sound on my 27″ imac. is there a way to disable the external sound port altogether so it plays through the internal speakers?

  7. redtek says:

    Awesome – thanks for the Lab-tick link. I’m using it now on a well lit, but slightly shadowed table. The built-in sensor kept turning it off and I couldn’t see the keyboard or turn it back on. Now I have lab-tick I can! Perfect!

  8. Ben says:

    I was just about to return my Macbook to the shop thinking it was broken!!! I wondered why the keyboard lights would come on when I lowered the screen down and then the keyboard lights would go out when I moved the screen back up. Behind me, facing the screen was 3 halogen lights :-)

    • Noel says:

      I was thinking of doing the same thing. Bought my first mac (macbook air 11 inch) and only discovered this a few days later so I thought it was already broken but later in the day “miraculously” it worked again… lol

  9. homeion says:

    Thanks. I just needed that. Sitting by a lamp, and still needing backlight.

    PS: I have disabled the automatic feature in System Pref. No need for Lab-tick.
    https://skitch.com/kobayashi/8g6xx/keyboard

  10. Marco says:

    THANK YOU SO MUCH !!! i thought my new (and first) macbook pro was broken, so thank you so much for this ! :D

  11. Bill says:

    Thank you! This was driving me nuts.

  12. Lisa says:

    Thank you!!! Mine was just turned all the way down and I didn’t know where to turn it on! Duh!

  13. Anupama Daniels says:

    Thank you so much for your info…it really helped me.

  14. Anthony Tanas says:

    Now I know.

  15. JDC25 says:

    Many Thanks – I, too, thought my new macbook air was busted….thanks for taking the time to put this out there.

  16. Joe says:

    Thank you!!

  17. V says:

    Thank you so much! I actually called, and this person gave me a complicated result.
    turning off the laptop, and pressing some buttons for restart…
    blah blah blah…

    then googled the question, led me to your site.

    thank you so much, for making fellow apple users’ life easier!

  18. Laura says:

    I have never had this happen before and I’ve had my mac for almost a year now. Thanks so much for the easy fix!

  19. muaaz says:

    its not working help please!!! im on mac book pro 2011 17″ i tried all the way but nothing shows up i can decrease it but cant increase help please

  20. Ray Z says:

    Thanks…that totally worked. It used to frustrate the heck out of me. Great job…

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