High-Key Portraits with a Kick: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace


Hi everybody, welcome to another episode of Exploring Photography right here on AdoramaTV. I’m Mark Wallace in Tactic Studio in Madrid, Spain, joined by Diana Tobar, she is one of the most spectacular models in Madrid, and I’m so happy to be working with you today. What we’re going to be doing is we’re going to start by creating a very simple high key set-up, that is a white background, with sort of a shadowless light. It can be a little bit blah, when you’re shooting high-key portraits, but what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna make a couple of small modifications to our basic lighting setup, to show you how you can really add some punch to your high-key portraits. But to begin with, we need to start with our basic lighting setup. So let’s get to that right now. For our main lighting setup, we have just a large umbrella, a large white umbrella, that’s giving us nice soft light on Diana, and then we have to separate the light on the background. We just added a second light, with a normal reflector, and then it just adds light to our background. Well let’s start with our very, very basic, lighting setup this is the foundation, from which we’ll be working now. This is just a large umbrella here, this is a white umbrella. You could use a large octa-box or if you have a large 7-foot westcott parabolic, something like that, that would work. Even better, you want a large soft source of light, that’s what we’re starting with, and it’s right above our camera, so it’s right on axis, and so what that’s gonna do here… I’m gonna first go over here, and meter this light, so we only have one light at this point. So I’m gonna meter this, and I’ve already dialed this in, and so it’s metering at f/9, and so Diana, we’re gonna take just a very quick picture here. If I can get my remote on there. Okay look right at me, perfect. We’re gonna take a shot okay, so you can see this looks pretty good, but because the background is falling off, so the light here is falling off, because of the inverse square law. So it’s sort of a dark gray, so what I want to do is I don’t want to add a bunch of lights and do a bunch of crazy things, and so I’m just going to add one light, with just a hard light reflector. So if we zip around here, camera’s are a hard light reflector, and then what I’ll do is… I can take that and I’ll turn it on, so I can do that for my remote control. So I’ll turn that on now, I’ve already metered this on the background at f/7, so that’s not exactly the same as our key-light, because I don’t want that white background to be perfectly white. I want it to be a little bit on the gray side, but you can adjust that to your preference, so you can take that up to be equal to your key-light. I’m keeping it…key-light f/9, the light on my background at f/7. So let me just take a second photo, and we’ll show you the difference. So again Diana look right at me, beautiful I love that. Take a shot okay, so you can see that that just adds a little bit of a punch, and because of our circular directional light, it actually creates a vignette, so we could shoot that all day maybe. I could add a reflector under her chin, do some things like that, and we’d be okay, but I want to take it up a notch. Well I’ve added a couple of things to this lighting setup. Specifically two kicker lights, but we’re gonna do some other things as well, but first let me show you how I’ve metered and set up these kicker lights. So remember we have metered this key light. If I meter toward this light, I’m metering that at f/9. It is exactly the same as it was before, and so what they need to do is… I want these kicker lights to meter at the exact same amount, and so to do that on my light meter, I’m gonna put my lumisphere down. So I’m only getting the light from that kicker light, and nothing else. So I’m gonna come behind Dianna here, and meter with my light-meter pointed to this, and when I meter that, that also meters at f/9. If I meter to that light it meters at f/9, so I’m pointing my meter at the light, and so I can see exactly how much light. So I’m gonna balance those kicker lights with this key-light. If it metered a little bit hotter I turn those down, if it metered lower, I turn them up but I want them all to be metering about the same now. This is a setup that you can adjust to your taste, so you can take those kicker lights, and make them a little brighter, a little bit softer. We just want a nice little addition to the cheekbones of Diana now. The other thing that we want to do here is because Diana’s hair is down, these kicker lights are going to fall on the hair, and they’re really gonna be hair lights. That is not what I want, I want a nice highlight on her face. So Diana, if you will, could you put your hair up in a ponytail, and what that’s going to do for us is, it’s gonna allow the light from those kickers to fall on her face, not her hair, and that is going to shape her face. It’s gonna make a really, really big difference, and so once your hair is up, What we’ll do is, I will show you exactly how all these lights are set up in relationship, or in relation to each other, and then what we’re gonna do is shoot some before-and-after images, because I think you’ll agree that the kicker lights, with her hair in a ponytail, is the best solution. We’re keeping our original high-key set up, so we have this umbrella as our key-light. We also have this secondary light, that’s going to add some light to that white background giving us that really nice high-key white look. Well we’ve added these two strip lights to the side and notice that they are on-axis with our camera. So if I zip around the camera here you can see, that they are equidistant from our model, and so what we want to do is add just a touch of light to Diana’s cheeks, and if we zoom in here, just a little bit, you can see we have done just that. So let’s take a few pictures, and I’ll show you exactly how this looks. Well thank you everybody for joining us for this episode. I think you will agree that adding a couple of kicker lights, and changing the hair of your model, makes a huge difference for your high-key portraits. Speaking of models, I want to thank Deana for being a spectacular model, you can follow her on instagram @dianatobbar… Perfecto… and you can see it’s right here, so you don’t miss it. We’ve also added a link to her Instagram profile in the description of this video. Also make sure you check me out on the Instagram, because I’m always adding behind-the-scenes videos of the Adoramatv shoots, and extras and things like that. So well make sure you follow me, you don’t want to miss out. Make sure you also turn on the bell because you don’t want to miss the notifications, and if you haven’t make sure you subscribe to AdoramaTV. It’s absolutely free.. so do it today. Thanks again for joining us, and I will see you again next time.

32 Replies to “High-Key Portraits with a Kick: Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace”

  1. Done a few of these myself :), I use 2 lights behind the white background which makes it really white off the bat. high key to me is exactly that, if you have a white sheet it should be white as it's high key not grey in my opinion. great video though.

  2. Mark is a better photographer than i could ever dream of being, but Adorama's channel is focusing too much on the technical, rather than the fun aspect, i think i have tried every one of Gavin Hoey's tutorials, and enjoyed doing so ( and improved my photography greatly in the process ). The newer tutorials are more like reading a technical specification, 2 minutes and i have lost interest. No disrespect to Mark whatsoever, but in my humble opinion the tutorials have become lacklustre, Adorama needs to bring the focus back the creative element of the channel.

  3. Love the kicker lights, I am a huge fan of strip boxes and I use them for my corporate headshots. Also I have the first comment! WooHoo!!!

  4. Great vid Mark, Diana was a fabulous model too! I thought the strip lights might have flared into you camera lens but I didn't see any flags or grids?

  5. Mark Wallace, it's so good to see you again. I love the way you teach and I'm refocusing on Photography/Videography again. I just picked up the Sony A7 lll excited to create content. But, I do have to watch some of your fundamentals videos again. Glad you're back!

  6. I was all set up for a headshot session and then watched this video. I changed my setup to match this as close as I could with my equipment and I got great results. Thanks.

  7. I always find these videos helpful but i always feel sorry for the models because they look a little awkward waiting for Mark to finish explain the setup, I mean what else can they do, besides stair into a camera and wait for Mark to stop talking hahaha

  8. I remember dean Collins and barry o rouke addressed proper use of meter is to use the area just below subject' s chin. Diana is beautiful

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