Keyboard Illumination Locked? It’s the Light Sensor

Sep 22, 2011 - 66 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.


Related articles:

Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting


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  1. jordan says:

    Alright, I did not know my Macbook even did that. Now that I know this, how can I stop the Macbook from turning off the keyboard backlight?

  2. sherlyn says:

    Thank you! I thought it was broken :)

  3. Thurman says:

    Hi, my macbook pro cursor freezes and I tried everything Google says to unfreeze it, still not working. This happens from time to time. Today, 10/15/2020 is the worst, plus the f5/f6 keys want turn on the keyboard light……can someone help….please?

  4. Roll Me Up says:

    Fantastic article and helped alot

  5. arin says:

    i’ve tried so many times with different ways, my keyboard backlight still won’t light up. could it be the keyboard or the sensor that is broken? i tried with my F5 and F6 keys but won’t work even if the sign on my screen was showing that the brightness of the keyboard backlight is going up. i tried with the system preferences and check the “adjust keyboard brightness in lowlight” and restarting my macbook still won’t work. i’m freaking out!!

  6. brittany says:

    You’re amazing, thank you! I thought I was going to have to return my computer lol.

  7. Lucy says:

    I freaked a little bit when it suddenly stopped working but I saw this and it made me see light again. Hahahahha. Thank you so much!

  8. Sam says:

    Is there any way to override this? My ALS is permanently disconnected at the logic board (broken connector socket), so the computer always thinks it’s in maximum ambient light. Thanks!

  9. marc says:

    me too thank god

  10. Ronnie says:

    That was a very useful information. Thank you very much

  11. mehna says:

    OH MY GOD! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS! I was freaking out when it suddenly stopped working xD

  12. sanya says:

    thankyou!!! it really helped.

  13. Ashley says:

    THANK YOU!!! I was freaking out because my light would NOT turn on. I did not know about the F5 and F6 shortcut (,: I feel a lot better!

  14. kalex says:

    Thank you

  15. Ayesha says:

    Thank you!

  16. Nicki Buehler says:

    Thank g o d for this I was about to scream and cry in front of 20 people.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thanks! This was so helpful. Did it and worke instantly

  18. Sanoy's brother jenkins says:

    Thank you!!! Look up Sanoy the monkey egg

  19. Erik says:

    Thank you… I was going crazy.

    • Rajkumar says:

      My MacBook pro 13 2010 A1278 doesn’t work keyboard backlight, when I press hotkey not appear hot key display? seems missing driver? Rajkumar

  20. John says:


  21. YMR says:


  22. Kobe Bryant says:

    thanks fam couldn’t have done it without u bro

  23. Jon says:

    yay thanks

  24. sdasdad says:

    except it happens on ac power, so no battery life to be saved. That and LED keyboard lights draw an unnoticeable amount of power.

  25. Gaurav sahu says:

    Wow that was a very nice piece of information coz i was like oh what did juz happen but thanks to u ….

  26. Zara says:

    Thank you this helped a lot !!

  27. Anmol says:

    Guys I have a problem with my macbook pro late 2011 backlight, the f6 and f5 keys are working fine, but, there is no change in the backlight brightness and also no brightness change icon appears on the screen after I press f5 or f6 keys….

  28. Mark Kilham says:

    Thanks for the tip – has been really helpful!

    Mark Kilham

  29. Henrik says:

    Thanks – very useful!

  30. Swavnil says:

    Thanks a lot. Got the same panic as you guys did. lol

  31. Diana F says:

    Gosh THANK YOU so much!

    I experienced this issue just now, which was minutes after my power cord “head” popped off and I had to order a new one! I immediately thought the illuminator had “blown” and had dollar signs dancing in my head….eek….

    But a quick covering up of the sensor and Voilà!! Worked like a charm, keys lit right up!
    All is right in my world again!!


  32. Arifage says:

    hahahaha.. i bought my macbook air yesterday.
    im panic when my keyboard light can not enable..

    i try to cover the webcam.. and its work again :v

    thanks .. really helping..

    hi from indonesia, Aceh

  33. tobe says:

    the backlight STILL doesn’t come back…when i cover that sensor, the screen darkens…nothing else happens and i have hit fn with the F6 key…please help? this MacBook Pro will be 3 yrs old in June…battery????


  34. danielle says:

    thankkkkssss so much

  35. Ray Z says:

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

  36. 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

  37. 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!

  38. 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!

  39. Joe says:

    Thank you!!

  40. JDC25 says:

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

  41. Anthony Tanas says:

    Now I know.

  42. Anupama Daniels says:

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

  43. Lisa says:

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

  44. Bill says:

    Thank you! This was driving me nuts.

  45. Marco says:

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

  46. 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.

  47. 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

  48. 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!

  49. Sandro says:


  50. 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?

  51. AnonMac says:

    Or better yet, download Lab Tick.

  52. Ted says:

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

  53. Brad says:

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

  54. 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?

  55. 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

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