Metering techniques for high key portraiture

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by Roxy Durban, Jan 11, 2005.

  1. Roxy Durban

    Roxy Durban Guest

    I'm looking to do some high key portraiture (you know the type where your
    subject blends mostly with the background and only the darkest features
    are prominent - an example of which would be the cover of Sinead O'
    Connor's first album "The Lion and the Cobra") but before I go and
    experiment, I was wondering if there are any pointers on metering I should

    I will probably be using a single Elinchrom 200W strobe and my Nikon
    SB-800 in manual mode for lighting, with a white sheet as a backdrop.
    Roxy Durban, Jan 11, 2005
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  2. Most easily conceptualized in zone system terms, for me. Place the
    skin tones and the background tones where you want them, probably, and
    then let the rest fall where they will. So background at zone 8 maybe?
    3 stops hotter than meter reading? And skin tones (excepting any
    glare) in the stop below that?
    David Dyer-Bennet, Jan 11, 2005
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  3. Metering has nothing to do with. 'High-key' is not the treatment of the
    subject matter; on the contrary, 'high-key' subject matter consists
    mostly of light-toned objects. In other words, use an incident meter
    and expose normally.
    If you are talking about over-exposure, that is not 'high-key'.
    uraniumcommittee, Jan 11, 2005
  4. Roxy Durban

    bmoag Guest

    There are several ways to accomplish what you are seeking in Photoshop using
    color and contrast masking. Starting with bracketed exposures using a white
    background is a good beginning.
    bmoag, Jan 11, 2005
  5. Wrong. That's over-exposure, not high-key.

    uraniumcommittee, Jan 11, 2005
  6. Roxy Durban

    Owamanga Guest

    Okay, so he's asking the wrong question.

    He wants to blow the background to pure white, (and possibly even
    parts of the subject so they blend to white too) he can do this with a
    mixture of a slight over-exposure and decent lighting behind the
    subject to illuminate the background.

    The specific Sinead O'Connor cover he mentions is utlra-high-key and
    significantly over-exposed. It has then been printed low-contrast.

    As you've already said though, generally one has to build a high-key
    scene, you can't simply set it on a camera dial.
    Owamanga, Jan 11, 2005
  7. Roxy Durban

    PGG Guest

    No, this is the perfect application of thinking in terms of zones.
    We all know you are against the ZS in a psychopathic way. I challenge you
    to give a concise answer to the original poster's question.

    For cripes sake open up your mind just a tad. Name-calling gets you
    PGG, Jan 12, 2005
  8. Roxy Durban

    Mark² Guest

    You should talk to Skip M.
    He's done some tasteful nudes in high-key style.
    Mark², Jan 12, 2005
  9. High-key is not the same as overexposure. Period.
    uraniumcommittee, Jan 12, 2005
  10. Roxy Durban

    PGG Guest

    High-key is making sure the background has no tone in the printed image.
    This can be accomplished in many ways including "overexposing" so that the
    background is a blown highlight.

    PGG, Jan 12, 2005
  11. Roxy Durban

    Mark² Guest

    That's a very poor definition.
    If that were true, then you could shoot pure, lifelike long as the background was pure white (essentially a giant
    highlight) and call it "high key."
    Mark², Jan 12, 2005
  12. Roxy Durban

    Bob Hickey Guest

    Accurate placing of values via the ZS ( or any other ) is previsualization,
    not over exposing. Stumbling onto a scene which matches an idea is luck.
    Metering and exposing to obtain a desired effect is photography. I'm sure
    David's placement will work well. Bob Hickey
    Bob Hickey, Jan 12, 2005
  13. Roxy Durban

    Owamanga Guest

    That statement, I believe, contains some truth. But true High-key
    photography should result in a low contrast image, with your histogram
    typically stronger in the lighter tones than the darker ones.

    Many of the (less interesting) high-key photographs I've seen are
    exactly what you describe. A pure white background and a well exposed,
    clearly defined subject sitting in front of it. Not as cute/artistic
    as the very low contrast versions of the same thing, where the subject
    is well side-lit so they blend into the background.

    Here is an example of a high-key shot where parts of the subject (the
    girls clothing) are extremely low contrast against the background:

    And here are far less interesting versions touted as high-key, but
    questionable because of the high-contrast that still exists:

    I prefer these more classical high-key, low contrast shots: defines high-key as:
    "Intentionally overexposing a photograph can create a fascinating
    image that tells a beautiful story. High key photography can be
    achieved by adjusting your camera settings or by using your photoshop
    high key feature."

    Many of the better high-key images don't actually require the
    background to be blown - so they loose the 'clinical' look but still
    have all the artistic qualities of a low-contrast shot. This is true
    of the OP's example, the Sinead O' Connor picture which has *no* white
    in it at all. It's still high-key. (There is a good chance that in
    this example, they introduced the color cast post-processing - the
    original shot most likely had a fully blown white background)

    Do you need to over-expose? Generally, I think you do, if you matrix
    meter, but not if you spot meter the subject. The main requirements
    are that the background has to be 1-2 stops lighter than the subject
    and the overall shot shouldn't have too much contrast.

    As for how to do it:

    From a blog I found 'blansky' wrote:

    "To do high key photography, generally the background is two stops
    brighter than your main light.

    Also a 3:1 lighting ratio on the subject is having the fill, one stop
    less than the main light. Since you are using a reflector as fill, you
    kind of throw out the equation. (Usually you would have the main at
    say f11 and the fill at f8 no reflector)

    If you use a reflector, just meter the main, then the shadow and
    feather the lights to get the 3:1 or 5:1 ratio.

    In your situation with only three lights, with high key, I might try
    two lights, opposite sides equal distance angled in at the background,
    having the background reading evenly f16. Then light the subject with
    one light and fill with the reflector. Set the main for f8.

    If you are doing only once person you may get away with one background
    light but you may still get falloff and an uneven background.

    Personally I find a silver reflector to be too harsh and would use
    white fomecore or a white reflector.

    Also feather your mainlight. Than means place the hottest spot of the
    light at the farthest portion of the face. This gives a more
    wraparound effect and also places more light on the reflector which
    makes the fill closer to the amount of light as the mainlight.

    In high key photography usually you don't want very much contrast so
    rarely more than a 3:1.

    The umbrella is fine behind you. The umbrella will easily wrap the
    light around you and hit the subject. It is not a good idea to use a
    long remote cable release because if you want to interact with the
    subject you can't see the results away from the camera.

    Also what I do is meter the main light and with a reflector fill set
    the camera to about half or a full stop less than the main which will
    still give you shadow detail. The fill is not supposed to do anything
    more than fill the shadows and the shadow side of the face. Your
    lighting ratios 3:1, 5:1 7:1 will give you the differing amount
    contrasts. So concentrate more on you main light than anything. The
    fill just controls the contrast."

    If you want to play with purely digital high-key style effects, here
    is a free Photoshop plugin that can get close (the high-key examples
    all seem to convert to BW too, but this isn't a requirement):

    (take a look at the bottom image - the portrait)
    Owamanga, Jan 12, 2005
  14. Roxy Durban

    Bandicoot Guest

    Here here - Mike is falling into the "One True Exposure" trap, rather than
    realising the there are many possible exposures for a given scene, and the
    'right' one is the one that enables the photographer to realise their
    vision, not some absolute and invariate result from a meter.

    Bandicoot, Jan 13, 2005
  15. Roxy Durban

    stephen Guest

    There is a good book with some examples and "how to" details available.
    It is Children by David Wilson, published (I think) by RotoVision.

    stephen, Jan 13, 2005
  16. Incident meter - I thought the zone system worked with a reflected light
    meter - which is why you don't need to change the exposure in a highkey
    scene (low contrast, high reflectance, I guess), if you're using an incident
    meter, but if you're using reflected light then I would have thought you
    need to place the high reflectance and low contrast in the upper curve of
    exposure to prevent it coming out at 18% grey on the film.

    Duncan J Murray, Jan 15, 2005
  17. Roxy Durban

    me Guest

    "Duncan J Murray"
    Yikes, that Gordian knot is tied tight!!! This photographer explains how to
    use an incidence meter for high key fashion photography:
    Film best,
    me, Jan 16, 2005
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