High-key — 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 — 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 floor and pointed it at the background. To be on the safe side, I wrapped the speedlight in a sheet of white paper — 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 — 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 –