How to: High key lighting for nude photography

I thought it was time that I started to experiment a little more with high key lighting for my art nude photography. Typically I opt for a low key lighting style, because I love the way that you can subtly paint in parts of the body with light and allow the rest of the body melt into the dark background. If you haven’t come across these terms before – very basically; high key means light, white and low contrast whereas low key creates a dark contrasted look and uses light to subtly illuminates the subject. Both styles can create beautiful results, high key lighting due to its brightness often feels a little more upbeat, whereas low key often appears sultry and moody.

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High key vs low key photography lighting setup

I think that when you start to feel yourself getting in to a groove with a photography lighting approach, its a great time to challenge it and explore a new path.  For this session I decided to only shoot high key in the studio using a white paper backdrop and two remote flashes (my Nikon SB900’s).

One of the high key lighting looks I have always loved is when I am photographing brides against a bright window light, you over expose by around 2-3 stops and get a beautiful almost ethereal look, where the light bleeds around your subject. In certain contexts this light bleed can look very attractive, although technically light bleed is generally not considered desirable – it can do amazing things for artistic photography. With this in mind I decided emulate that bright backlit window look.

For this photography session this is how my lights were setup (Figure 1)

 

 

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Figure 1

I didn’t want to over tax the flashes so I kept them both at 1/4 power (35mm zoom) and compensated for the lower power with my camera settings. For my camera settings, I fiddled around until the white backdrop was fully white and played with my settings until I got an ISO I was happy with (yes I am obsessed with reducing noise, although ironically I actually added grain in post-processing – perhaps I’m turning over a new aesthetic leaf!). Here are my camera settings: ISO 250, f 5.6, 1/160th – lens 24 – 70mm Nikon f 2.8. I used two reflectors to kick the light back onto my subject, a big fat white board that I bought from Bunnings (yes it rocks for makeshift tog supplies!). I also added a smaller white reflector which I attached to a lighting stand.

In post processing I added my favourite black and white mix and upped the clarity and the contrast which had got a little blown out from the wrapping light. As I mentioned, I also introduced a bit of grain in post – the pure look of the light just needed a little texture. Overall I really love this look, next time I would like to bring a little more light source to the front of the subject so I can play with a wider variety of lighting looks. Through this session though, it was nice to have such a simple setup that allowed me to mainly focus on the subject, as my low key approach to nude photography requires a lot of lighting tweaks as the subject moves around.

I would love to know what you think, and please share your favourite high key lighting setups for art nudes ?

Big thanks to the gorgeous Chelsea, who modelled in this session for me!

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