High Key Lighting Setup

High Key Lighting Setup

High Key Lighting Setup – © Copyright 2012 by William Beem

High Key Lighting Setup

With a white backdrop and a few pieces of white foam board, it’s easy to create a high key lighting setup. The shot above shows the basics. Four pieces of foam board held together with gaffer’s tape help create the high key box on the set. In this case, we had a studio with a white cyc wall, but the same setup could work just as easily with white seamless paper.

We taped two pieces of 4×8 foam board together to create a V-flat. Then we put a studio light behind each one aimed at the background. Just using those two lights gives us the high key background as you see above, but it’s not the entire setup yet.  You can tell by looking at the light on my friend Steve and our model. Also, take a look at the gradation of light on the V-flat walls. You can use that fall-off to your advantage, but also to reflect very soft light back on your subject.  It’s best to bring your subject away from the wall into an area inside the box, or else you can really create a nuclear appearance.

You could just put two lights off-camera aimed at the background to create a high key lighting setup, but there are some advantages of using the V-flats. Perhaps the best reason is to avoid any flare from those lights coming back into camera. You’re flagging off the light so it goes where you want. The other reason is to create that soft area of light between the panels. Although the background is too bright and harsh, it reflects light onto those V-flats and creates another light source that can wrap around your subject. If you’d like to minimize the light from one side, use foam board that’s black on one side and white on the other. Just flip the V-flat around to make the sidelight seem more directional.

Creating a Silhouette Lighting Setup

Without adding another light, you can use the setup we’ve described so far for silhouettes.  Just bring your subject in front of the V-flats to to eliminate some of the light. You’ll end up with a soft wraparound backlight, such as on this photo.

How to Charm the Pants off a Woman

How to Charm the Pants off a Woman – © Copyright 2012 by William Beem

Adding a Key Light

All we’ve really done so far is create a high key background. You can do some nice things with the background in this setup using gels to add color or a cucoloris to cast a pattern on your background. However, you still need to put a key light on your subject. The idea is to make a distinction between your background lights and your key light. Here’s an example without a key light to show what I mean.

High Key Lighting Setup

Backlit Steve – © Copyright 2012 by William Beem

This is Steve being his charming self. He’s inside the box and it’s reflecting soft light back on him. However, it’s not really bringing out his features. You can identify him, but this backlight and wraparound from the V-flats isn’t making him pop. Once I add a key light – in this case, an Elinchrom 53″ Midi Octabox – you can see that he pops quite a bit more in the next photo.

High Key Lighting Setup

High Key Steve – © Copyright 2012 by William Beem

 That’s all there is to creating a high key lighting setup. The lights behind the V-flats in this scenario were using 8″ reflectors aimed at the background. You can use whatever modifier you like for your key light, since it’s not really interacting with the background lights. Go ahead and throw in a beauty dish or a soft box. Use the wrap from the box inside the V-flats or move your subject forward to eliminate any spill. Used in this high key manner, you could put down a piece of take and start shooting a product catalog if you needed.

High Key Lighting Setup

Catalog Photo – © Copyright 2012 by William Beem

One More Thing

If you want to use your subject for compositing onto another image in post, just turn off the lights behind the V-flats and let the background fall to grey. You just use your key light and, if you wish, use the V-flats for some frontal wrapping light on your subject. It’s a great way to separate your subject from the background and make things easier to cutout later in Photoshop.