While calling this style ‘high-key’ may be a deviation from the original definition, it’s a heck of a lot easier than always calling it ‘photography with a white background and bright lights’. Recently, I read a blog from a photographer who calls it ‘white seamless’ due to the large roll of white seamless paper (or in my case, vinyl) which you use as the background. So here I am, calling it ‘white seamless’.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat and many ways to produce the white seamless look. I don’t know much about those other methods and I learned my own by trial and error.
I set up the studio thus (my full kit list is in my last post):
Background – white roll of seamless vinyl on a heavy duty stand
There are two lights pointing at the background – 400 wt on half power with a high performance reflector attached. Lights are aimed around 45* towards the background. Nearly head-on at the background, not at an angle facing each other. The light from these can easily spill and wrap around your subjects which is really obnoxious. If I had a permanent location and didn’t have to set up every day, I would also be using gobos like this bi-fold door idea from Zack Arias to be sure that the background is lighted entirely separately from the subject.
Camera right, 750 wt light somewhere near full power with a large soft box. Set up mid-height (stand not fully extended) and pointing down. Great long shadows add the effect that, although the surroundings are pure white, the subjects are still in a real environment, not just cut and pasted onto a white sheet of paper.
Camera left and behind a bit is another 750 wt light with large bounce umbrella on a slightly lower power than camera right. This aids in the lovely shadows which don’t completely ‘blow out’ the subjects. I’ve found that shooting between the lights (camera right is just on the edge of the white seamless and camera left is behind me) canceled out the light spill I was experiencing before I made the changes.
I use radio trigers to trigger the flashes wirelessly
Because I shoot children mostly, my camera has an 18-200mm lens so I can be more flexible with their movement and not miss a shot.
Camera is tethered to a macbook on a 5m cable and shot directly into the hard drive on the computer and also stored on the large memory card in the camera for added protection.
I don’t use light meters I’ve just experimented a lot and when I get a set of images I love, I put a photo in my notebook and draw a diagram of how it was lit and all the settings I used.
I whack the main lights up pretty near full power so I can use a high aperture around f22 (aperture controls flash-light, shutter speed for ambient light). So if the photos aren’t bright enough, adjust the aperture accordingly and turn up the lights. This ensures that your photos will be sharp sharp sharp and in the case of children, if there is one closer to you than the other, the one in the background won’t be blurred.
Shutter speed is at the sync speed – 1/200 a fast shutter speed and powerful lights can produce some amazing stop-action shots
ISO – I keep the ISO low at 100 to avoid noise.
So basically as you can see, I use every optimal camera setting – low ISO, fast shutter, high aperture – and then I adjust the lights until the photos are as they should be.