Steven Brokaw Photography

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I recently organized a photo-shoot at Faith Blackwell’s studio in the Stutz Building with model Olivia Ogden. Shooting with me were local Indianapolis photographers Faith Blackwell & Laura Poland. The theme for this shoot was High Key. This is a technique that I wanted to try, for no other reason than I hadn’t tried it and it looked kind of cool. After reviewing multiple High Key images, reading up and organizing the location and model, I gave it a go.


Photographer Faith Blackwell & Laura Poland with Model Olivia Ogden

The effect to be achieved in high key is to overexpose the background so it’s completely white. There are several ways to get this effect but I planned to accomplish this effect using multiple studio and speedlights to throw as much light as I needed on a white background to over-expose it to the point of where there were no pixels at all.

Faith’s studio has one wall completely white. Since there is a dark grey floor I simply taped with white tape a 6 foot piece of background paper against the lower part of the wall and swept it out over the floor about 4 feet. I then used 2 Nikon SB-600 speedlights on light stands with a white umbrella. The setup faced the wall set back about 3 feet. Both speedlights were triggered with Elinchrom Skyport universal triggers. Speedlights were set at ¼ power. The goal was to use the umbrellas to broadly throw a diffused light against the white wall.


Model Olivia Ogden

I then set up 2 Elinchrom D-Lite 4 strobes with softboxes set at approximately 1/3 power 45 degrees both sides of the background approximately 6 feet back. The D-Lite 4’s were triggered with internal Elinchrom Skyports.

During the shoot I varied the power of the softboxes mainly to backoff the fill lighting. The goal of these lights was to provide an even focused light to be thrown on Olivia. I was thinking originally using just ambient light or just one softbox to get move shadow, but I went with the wrap-around lighting. In hindsight I should have used less light on my model. We also used a hand held diffuser in several shots to eliminate glare from the ambient light coming from the window.




All shots were taken with a Nikon D300s in manual mode. White balance was set to flash although I was shooting in RAW. Initial settings were shutter speed at 1/200, aperture set at f/5.6, and ISO at 400. I varied all settings throughout the shoot. All shots were with a Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 G. I varied the aperture throughout the shoot.

I had asked Olivia to bring several changes of tight fitting clothes one with a dark top and one with a light top. Minimal makeup. The 3 of us then took turns shooting away for about 1 ½ hours. As always Olivia made our work simple by easily transitioning from pose to pose.

Near the end just to switch things up we asked Olivia to run a series of poses infront of a large south facing window. This provided sufficient ambient light as the sun had moved well overhead. We added fill light with one Elinchrom D-Lite 4 set as ¼ power and bounced some sunlight using a piece of white foamcore board.

Overall, it was a fun shoot doing both full body and headshots. We easily achieved the desired high key effect with minimal issues. The speedlights did the trick providing a very even exposure against the white background. Personally, I like the full body shots the best. However, if I do this effect again I would definitely back down the light being thrown on the model or vary the power of the light on one side so I can get shadowing and therefore more depth to the model’s face. Of course I could do the shadowing post processing, but it’s not the same.



Tip and after-thoughts:

• Build the light. For my shoot I set up all 4 lights in addition to the ambient light in advance and did test shots using all 4 lights. Next time I would start with the lights on the background, shoot some test shots of the model, add 1 strobe for the key light, take test shots, and then add a second strobe for fill light. I would then vary the power of the strobes to get different shadowing.

• For high key your histogram is important but a bit misleading. Because you have the background overexposed you will have a large peak on the right side of the histogram. Therefore, about ½ way through the shoot I switched the “blinkies” on and this gave me better visibility if I was blowing out the models face which I didn’t want to do.

• If possible shoot tethered. I think I could have locked down my setting much quicker if I had a bigger visual image as soon as I shot. I’ve shot tethered before, but didn’t think about it during this shoot.

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