Photography News Issue 53

Photography News | Issue 53 | Technique 83 Camera School Here we lift the lid on all things camera related, showing how to get better results from your CSC or DSLR, and providing all the info you don’t find in the manual. So, stick with us and you’ll soon be wielding your camera like a pro. This month, how to create high-key images using window light

With +1EVexposure compensation

No exposure compensation

Words & pictures by Kingsley Singleton

Other ways to shoot high key

Whether the subject is a portrait or a still life, window lighting tends to be associated with a low-key style. Often you have one large light source to the side and above the subject giving plenty of shadow on the opposite side of it. If you’re using a north-facing window the light will be indirect, so shadows are soft, and they can be filled somewhat using a reflector; but the effect will still be likely to be low-key. You can also get a high-key look from a single window, however, and it simply involves changing the way you shoot, both in terms of the arrangement of camera and subject, and the settings used. Setting up for high-key To achieve a high-key effect you need to reduce contrast in the picture as much as possible. So while a low-key picture will feature predominantly shadows, some midtones, and a few highlights, a high-key image will be the opposite – mostly highlights, midtones and relatively few shadows. To reduce contrast you need lots of light to be hitting the subject from all sides, and one of the best ways to achieve this when your main light source is a window, is to use the window as a backlight, along with lots of reflectors to bounce light back onto the subject. So start by setting up directly in front of a window and placing the subject on a light-coloured or white background. I used a piece of white board with a fold in the middle allowing me to level the subject, then angle the background. The more I angled the backdrop down, the lighter it became as there was more light bouncing off it. If you don’t have a solid background, try hanging a thin white curtain between the subject and window; a bit like shooting directly towards a lit softbox. Reflect the light Next, I added white surfaces either side of the subject, to reflect light on to it. To camera right was a light- coloured wooden wardrobe which I knew would cause a colour cast on the flower if left alone. Having only one reflector, I placed that on camera left, and on the opposite side used an A2 piece of white card. Finally, I held a white A3 sketch pad below the subject, between it and the camera. A test shot showed this to be working well, but sometimes, if both

Above Simple kit like a light tent also makes high key photography easier.

Of course, high-key lighting isn’t specifically associated with window lighting. In fact, though it’s simple to shoot high-key images this way, it’s not the best route. If you want the most control of the style, it’s best to use several lights or flashes to help you fill the frame with light. Typically, a high-key flash set- up might involve two softboxes, one placed either side and in front of the subject, wrapping them in light. And if you want a perfectly white background, that should also be lit; photographers often use an exposure stop more power on the background to make sure it’s white. For smaller subjects you can also use a light tent. Light tents are used mainly to reduce reflections on shiny subjects, but they give great high-key results, too. Basically it’s a cube of white material that you place the subject within, framing up on it via a small hole at the front, through which you poke your lens. The tent can then be lit from either side, with continuous lights or flash, having the effect of diffusing the light a great deal and therefore lowering contrast. The one pictured above costs only £32 from

No reflectors

the subject and background are very light, you’ll need to dial back the reflection a bit, or lose all definition on the subject. In these cases, it can help to place black cards either side of the subject; these will suck light out of the picture insteadof bouncing it back, darkening the sides of the subject. Practice makes perfect. Exposure settings Even in a high-key set-up like this, there won’t be much light to play with, so longer exposures are the order of the day. You can handhold, but if you do, you’ll likely be shooting at higher ISOs and very wide apertures to compensate. Here, I wanted to shoot at f/8 to hold a good portion of the flower in focus, and at a low ISO of 64, to get the best image quality. This gave a shutter speed of 1/8sec, so a tripod was vital to avoid shake. I also needed to keep still when exposing

as any vibrations might have shaken the subject and made it unsharp.

Exposure compensation But there’s something else to consider. With so much white in the scene, the camera will try to underexpose everything; and left unchecked you’ll get more midtones than highlights. Therefore, if you’re shooting in aperture-priority (A/Av) or shutter-priority (S/Tv), exposure compensation is needed. I set +1.0EV using the +/- button on camera, lengthening the shutter speed to 1/4sec, and brightening the frame as a result. If you’re shooting in full manual mode, you’ll simply need to increase the shutter speed by one stop to get the same effect. You should also find an exposure bar in the viewfinder or on the screen, letting you know that you’re overexposing based on what the camera has metered.


Above All you need to achieve high-key results is a window and several reflectors.

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