Learn to light a high-key portrait
How to set up and shoot a vibrant studio image
Capturing a high-key portrait is about creating a contemporary, clean image of a person that carefully balances high intensity of light with a dynamic and interesting pose. Good high-key images are not necessarily all about blasting the background to oblivion, which is easy to do. On the other hand, you do not want a muddy or underlit background either. Problems can often occur when two lights are used for the background, but this is not necessarily a requirement for all high-key portraits. In this tutorial, just one light has been employed. When tackling high-key images, it’s important wherever possible to work in stages and to shoot tethered. In doing so, it’s easier to control the various lights introduced, and make critical judgements on light intensity as you go – which ultimately will lead to a better shot. An image of this style should be well lit, with fill light in the shadows and some interesting highlights. In this example, we have used a key light, fill light, two rim lights and a background light. Start by positioning the lights on the model first, in this case the beauty dish, fill and strip softboxes, then begin to light the background until you reach a light intensity you like.
1 Find a white background The easiest way to start is by rolling out some clean white Colorama. This will take light easily, and quickly begin to reflect light back toward the camera to give a nice white background. Roll out as much as you need and lock it off.
2 Get a good portrait lens The basic requirement is to use a longer (preferably prime) focal length lens. Choose an optimum working aperture and get some depth of field involved, we’ve gone with f4.
3 Position the lighting Get a light on the background, behind the model, then place the strip lights on either side of the studio facing in to where the model will stand. Direct the beauty dish toward where the face will be.
4 Light the model Point two strip softboxes back toward and off to the side of your model. Turn on the beauty dish light and increase the power until you have a soft distribution of light cast on the face.
5 Light the background Start with a mono block behind the model and begin to increase the light output. Use your highlight warning, histogram or even the trusty old light meter to get the desired clean background.
6 Adjust lighting and shoot Finally, adjust the lighting. Check the key light, fill light, strip highlights and background light levels. If you need to adjust, go up and down in tenths to fine-tune the overall look.