Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add,
but when there is nothing left to take away.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Although many shooting techniques in beauty photography may look really impressive and difficult to apply, most of them are much easier than people doing them would have you believe. High-key lighting is one such technique.
When you see a picture that features a model bathed in a torrent of soft, charming light, a part of your mind simply refuses to admit that this heavenly display has, in fact, been shot inside a small room, a basement studio, a white tent in someone’s backyard – even a storage room or a garage, for that matter!
How do we know? Having done quite a number of high-key photos, we never actually had to visit the pearly gates or a sterile white room in the Matrix for this – it’s always been as Spartan as possible. As long as you have any interior space with reasonable reflective properties (i.e. white walls and ceiling), you can make it look all shiny and ethereal – just like we did.
That’s why many photographers love high-key lighting so much – it spares them unflattering backgrounds, ugly shadows and “glitchy” colors. It’s a nifty technique to learn, and it doesn’t take all that much in terms of equipment or skill. If you want to learn how to shoot in high-key, this is what you will need:
• a reasonably white room – any interior with white walls and ceiling, a tent or even a DIY shelter made of white sheets will serve;
• a lightstand;
• a speedlight;
• a quality lens – when in doubt, go for a 50 mm prime lens, but it would be better to have a fast telezoom or a superzoom lens for this.
Now, the last time we showed this kid of lighting setup in a video on our blog SmokingStrobes.com, we used no less than three flashes to light up the scene!
Two were directed at the background (set for 1/4 of their power), while the remaining one was placed slightly behind me to lend a little bit of light to the foreground – at 1/16 of full capacity. If you want to know how that previous shoot unraveled, you can watch the video directly from the blog.
What we did not know by that time was that there is a way to achieve the very same look with one speedlight only.