High-key โ€” or what’s possible with a single speedlight

Learn how to light full-length, high key portraits with a single bare speedlight!

Highkey with a speedlight

In a recently given workshop about high-key photography I tried to push the limits of a single speedlight a bit. The task was to light a full-length, high key portrait in the studio with a single speedlight and without a light-former. But first of all, here’s the result:

Highkey with a speedlightAs you can see, the light flooded over my model quite a bit โ€” shooting the “traditional” way using multiple lights, I would have made sure to stop that. But with a single speedlight I lived with it.

My model Angela stood about 2.5m in front of the white seamless on two painted wooden boards (hence the slight reflection). My speedlight, a Yongnuo YN-560, I placed directly behind Angela on the floorย and pointed it at the background. To be on the safe side, I wrapped the speedlight in a sheet of white paper โ€” better safe than sorry!

The Yongnuo was triggered wirelessly at full power and at its widest spread (17mm). To bounce light back on my model, I placed two reflector boards just outside the frame in front of her and photographed right through the gap between them. In fact, they were a bit in the frame and I cloned them out later. I used foamcore, so they have to be quite close. If you use silver reflectors you get more light bounced at the model and you can get further away with them.

Here’s the lighting diagram:

Highkey setupI set the camera to 1/125 second, f/4 at ISO 160. If I needed a smaller aperture, I could have easily cranked up my ISO. Shooting a more-or-less white scene, you won’t see any noise, because noise appears primarily in the darker tones of the image.

If you shoot in a very small room, like a basement or a living room, you probably can get away even without the reflector boards โ€” with this setup you fill the whole room with light, which oftentimes is more than enough. Just give it a try! And if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

– Martin –

  • Yo

    Did you get any hot spot on the background?

    • Martin

      Hi Yo, what exactly do you mean? If the background got too hot? Yes, in this case I didn’t care about keeping some detail in it (usually when shooting for print, I try to stay in an area about 245, 245, 245). If you mean, if I got some vignetting on the background the answer is no. As written, I set the flash to 17mm which gave a nice wide spread.

  • RGomezPhotos

    Excellent. I love examples that are relatively cheap to produce and create expensive looking results. Great portfolio too!

    • Martin

      Thank you! I’m glad you like my work! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Lollus

    Very nice, thanks!

    • Martin

      You’re very welcome!

  • Kevin Davies

    Hi there,
    in regards to the backdrop that was used for this shoot, what sort of weight did it have?
    I see the model has heels on but I am finding that the vinyls I have used in the past the models heels go straight though this. Can you recommend a solution??

    • Garry Tyler

      I do all my studio work on a heavy duty 750gsm vinyl backdrop and provided its on a solid flooring then i have no issues with it.

    • Martin Ziaja

      Hi Kevin, it’s a plain white paper backdrop which lays on a wooden floor. But I used thin white painted boards (like the back of cupboards) under her to get this slight reflection.

  • Very easy and effective light system. Thanks for advice.