High-Key Portrait

By Oleg Ti,   August 8, 2014,   Views: 4298,   Comments:

Original article by photographer Oleg Ti High key lighting setup

So many photographers just starting their work in the studio attempts to solve the difficulty of well-lit portrait in high key by increasing the amount of light sources. The method to which they attempt to do this is by adding softboxes, reflectors, umbrellas into the fight for glossy and shiny portrait.

Although, one of the main advantage of studio work is:

you have to use exact amount of lighting sources, understanding what kind of picture you want to achieve and understand what kind of work each of them is doing.

Not more and not less.

As I always wrote in my articles I like to use hard lights to get extensive and concise pictures. And here I will show how I create high-key portraits using only hard light sources.

Let’s begin

The first step is to put two light sources with standard reflectors on each side of the model, directing them towards the background. Making the light bounce from it to create a white background.

Oleg Tityaev. High Key Portrait


These will be both background and rim lighting sources at the same time. To get strong effect I have to overexpose the background. In any case it will be bright in the shot. But using power of light for 2-3 stops more than it is necessary to brighten the  background. I can get two strong and nice effects on each sides of the model’s head.

I would like to add that I prefer to work in white studios. Walls, ceilings, floors can work as a fill light. If I don’t need them I use black flags.

I start usually with these two sources of lights. Knowing that they could limit me with their power, I turn them to high power and get the basic level of amount of light to adjust to another lighting units .

In this case I got 11.0 aperture. Of course, you know, I am not saying about shutter speed and ISO. In most situations, when you are shooting in the studio the parameters are 1/200 sec and ISO100.

I had to move the model very close to the background. To have soft effects on both sides of her face. The farther you are to  the lighting source, the harsher the lights get. To create a soft light effect on her face I move the model very close to the background, around 1-1.5 meters. Be aware that these lighting sources should not be direct on the model, I need only soft effects from the background, not direct hard, strong light from the lighting sources.

The next step is to setup key light. I have two symmetrical lighting pattern on both sides of the model’s face, so I need front light also. The light that is put exactly above the model.

I use a round beauty dish. It produces soft light and makes nice round circles inside her retina or eyeballs. You don’t have to place it high level, just above her forehead level. High enough not to see the beauty dish in the camera frame. Take a look at the result.

Oleg Tityaev. High Key Portrait

The next task is to reduce the dark shadows on her neck. I used additional silver light reflector that allows me to catch effects from the key light. We are working on a high key portrait, there should be no deep shadows.

I placed a round reflector a little bit lower to the camera frame. The closer the distance the softer the light we get.

Here it is:

Oleg Tityaev. High Key Portrait

I’ve got nice circles inside her eyes but haven’t solved our task. The shadow is still there so I need to use one more lighting source.  It stands at the level of key light, exactly above me, and faced to this light reflector. I use honeycomb grid to make the spot of light more narrow because I need (the spot of light) only on reflector’s surface, not on the model’s face.

Great! I reduced the shadow on her face:

Oleg Tityaev. High Key Portrait

The perfect result. To understand lighting better let’s turn off background light and look how key and fill lights work alone:

Oleg Tityaev. High Key Portrait

Notice that the background had become grey and the lines of light on both sides of model’s face had disappeared.

Nothing to add. Only to show the lighting scheme:

Oleg Tityaev. High Key Portrait

Let’s look at the result in the picture which I chose from this shoot.

Oleg Tityaev. High Key Portrait

Nice, well-lit portrait. Made with only hard sources of light. Very bright, very simple, very direct. Showing us the model’s clear beauty. All we need from this kind of pictures.

Good luck!

Original article High-key portrait on Oleg's website.

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