Creating high key light is making sure there is enough light on your background so it is pure white, with no shadows. This can be done using strobes or LEDs or a mixture of both types of light.
There are several ways to do this.
My favorite way to accomplish high key light is to use a softbox or an octabox as my backdrop. With this, I have my model stand in front of the softbox. I shoot a strobe through the softbox, making sure my exposure is two stops brighter than my main light. This gives me a bit of hairline light and a pure white backdrop. Any shadows or wrinkles in your softbox will be blown out and not visible.
In the above photograph, shot with my Tamron 35-150mm and Nikon D850, the model is standing in front of a 53-inch octabox with a Dynalite Baja strobe. The front light is a Savage 35-inch ModMaster softbox with Dynalite flash.
Headshots with high key lighting
Both of these Savage light modifiers make great light, are collapsible, easy to take on location and set up in about 30 seconds. Both come with a Bowens mount and a speedlight adapter. This portrait was done with a Tamron 100-400mm lens at 400mm on a Nikon D850 camera.
In this tight shot of model Julianna Nicole, the high key back light is the Savage 35-inch ModMaster softbox with a Nissin Di700A speedlight. The front light is a Savage RGB Ring Light. This is an LED ring light, which lets you control the color and brightness with an app on your phone. In this case, I am shooting through the ring light with my Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 lens on a Nikon D850 camera. This photograph is a mixture of flash for the background and continuous light as the main light.
For a 3/4 length photo, I use Savage Translum as the backdrop. This is a diffusion material that comes in a roll, like a roll of backdrop paper.
I’ll shoot one or two strobes or LED lights through the Translum, again, making it two stops brighter than front light and eliminating all shadows. This gives me a perfect white high key backdrop.
A final high key suggestion
You can have your subject stand in front of a white backdrop and shoot enough light on the backdrop to blow away any shadows. When using this technique, I start with a Savage Pure White backdrop and usually add two strobe heads on each side of the backdrop. Make sure your strobes on the backdrop are not hitting your subject — I usually make half snoots out of Rosco Cinefoil. Bending the Cinefoil lets me control where my light is aimed. There are lots of other uses for Cinefoil, but that’s another article.
The Rick & Rick Show!
Be sure to join me for my upcoming workshop with Rick Ferro — it’s the Rick & Rick Show! Here, we’ll be teaching lighting and photographing models in a sea of classic cars. We’ll have a ton of equipment for you to use, and some fantastic models to photograph. The “Cars, Cameras and Models” workshop will take place at the Classic Car Museum of St. Augustine, FL at the end of May. We’ll also be exploring the beaches of St. Augustine. For more information or to sign up, contact me at email@example.com.