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A Simple High Key Beauty Shot

One of my daughters left a magazine lay open on a table one day and in it was a picture that caught my eye. The picture was a high key head shot of Angelina Jolie similar to the one on this page. I had to try and re-create it.

I thought I might have a hard time getting Angelina, so I chose a better model, my oldest daughter. I discussed the picture with her and she thought it would be fun.

First Step

The first thing to do was analyze the lighting. The background was obviously blown out or dropped out in the computer. I prefer to do all I can in camera so I decided to blow out the background to insure a clean white background without detail. Looking at the highlights in the eyes and the shadow under the nose told me that Angelina was lit using a technique called “Butterfly” or “Glamour” lighting. This is a simple technique. It requires one light placed right in front of the model and slightly above eye level. Raise and lower the light until you get the thin “Butterfly” shaped shadow under the models nose. Usually this light is used with an umbrella or placed in a light box.

Setting up

For the background I decided to use an old bed sheet. It was hung from a background stand and lit with 2 old WL5000 strobes, one off to each side at about a 45° angle to the background.

The model was placed about 4 feet in front of the background. Since I was going to bounce a lot of light off the background I did not want too much of it to spill onto the model. 4 feet was about all I could get with the space I was in.

My main light was another WL5000 that was fitted with a 42” white umbrella and placed directly in front of the model. I raised this light just high enough to give me the lighting I wanted. Even with a light source this big the shadows were a bit too dark for what I was looking for. So, I placed a 36” silver reflector under the models face, just out of the shot. This lightened up the shadows nicely and added a sparkling highlight to her eyes.

The Exposure

To get this exposure correct there were a couple of things I had to take into consideration. For one the camera I was using, an Olympus C2500L, which only gives you 2 aperture choices. The second consideration was blowing out the background without causing flare or bouncing too much light onto the model. I set the main light to give an exposure of f8 and the background lights were set between f11 and f16. I took the first shot at these settings and almost nailed it. There was some light drop off on the background that was easily fixed by repositioning the background lights. Don’t you love digital cameras. I would not have seen this light fall off with a conventional camera until I got the film back.

Try this set up yourself. You will be amazed at how easy High Key can be.


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