There seems to be a common misconception that to achieve the high key lighting effect, i.e. a subject against a pure white background requires two speed lights, i.e. one to correctly light the subject and a second speed light to light the background to blow the highlights and render everything pure white.
Working with multiple speed lights, even just one extra speed light, requires more thought and care to make sure the final photo is correctly exposed so if you can achieve the same effect with a single speed light it’s all good right?
Well, there is a way to achieve the high key lighting with a single speed light and whilst you will need a few pieces of additional photography equipment the overall set up is easier to arrange than a multiple speed light set up, and the additional bit of photography kit required is far cheaper than another speed light too.
In order to achieve a high key lighting effect using a single speed light you will a cheap reflector and, depending on the size of the subject a large light modifier. The light modifier is only needed if you intend to use this method to take photos of people, pets or larger subjects, and if you do need to use a light modifier a cheap and cheerful shoot through brolly is all you need.
In order to capture the high key lighting effect all you need to do is:-
And that’s all there is to it.
The idea behind the setup is the speed light replaces the white background traditionally used in the high key lighting set ups where the burst of light is instantly overexposed and rendered white. The subject is lit by the light from the speed light reflected back off the reflector. Since the flash light is bounced off the reflector it may take a bit of trial and error in setting the flash power to get the required amount of light reflected back to correctly expose the subject, but this isn’t too much of a Task.
In order to fire the speed light when the shutter button is pressed you will need an off-camera flash cord or some flash triggers. I personally find off-camera flash cords a hindrance and cumbersome to use. I find the off camera flash cords snag up, get caught and are more trouble than they are worth. Consequently, I use a pair of flash triggers and I find these work much better.
The flash triggers I use are the Yongnuo 622s and I have to say that I am very impressed with them. The Yongnuo 622s are sturdy, easy to use and very reliable with no misfires.
The best thing about the Yongnuo 622 flash triggers is the price, and you can pick up a pair for a few bucks more than an off-camera flash cord. With the price differential being negligible and the flash triggers easier to use there is no way I would recommend an off-camera flash cord.
The Yongnuo 622 flash triggers are available for Nikon cameras from Adorama, Amazon (US), eBay, Amazon (UK)
The Yongnuo 622 flash triggers are available for Canon cameras from Adorama, Amazon (US), eBay, Amazon (UK)
Speed lights you can use for a high key lighting effect
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.
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