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Mastering High-Key Portraits with Nathan Elson: A Three-Light Studio Setup

1/31/2024 Matt 0 Comments

Renowned photographer Nathan Elson kicks off the year 2024 with an exciting tutorial on using three lights in the studio to create captivating high-key portraits. In his latest video, Elson not only unveils the secrets behind achieving bright, airy, and contrasty high-key portraits but also demonstrates how the same three-light setup can be harnessed to add intrigue and mood to the images.

Elson's go-to gear for creating a pure white backdrop involves a medium umbrella to evenly light the background. Emphasizing the importance of proper exposure, he recommends overexposing the backdrop by 1 to 1.5 stops over the key light. This ensures a flawless white background without any unwanted gray tones.

To avoid harsh rim lights, Elson positions the umbrellas carefully, ensuring they illuminate the backdrop without directly hitting the model. The distance between the model and the backdrop plays a role in controlling highlights, with Elson preferring a range of 2 to 3 feet for subtle rim lights.

For the key light, Elson introduces a 47-inch deep OCTA with a parabolic arm, praising its ability to deliver a beautiful mix of soft and hard lighting. The indirect light bouncing off the modifier creates a unique and visually appealing look.

The first series of images showcases the classic high-key portraits that many photographers strive to achieve. Elson emphasizes the importance of understanding the fundamentals of shooting on a white backdrop and achieving the perfect exposure for both the key light and background.

Moving beyond the conventional, Elson then demonstrates how to add mood and drama to high-key portraits. By altering the key light to a large umbrella with a diffusion panel, he softens the transition from highlights to shadows. Placing the key light to the side of the model creates more shadows, adding depth and intrigue to the images.

In the final set of images, Elson takes high-key portraits to a whole new level by using the backdrop as the key light. This innovative approach involves firing the medium umbrellas into the backdrop and using the wrapping light as the main source. A strategically placed large umbrella with a diffusion panel further enhances the portraits, filling in shadows and creating a perfect balance between darkness and light.

Throughout the tutorial, Elson's insights into modifier choices, positioning, and the interplay of lights provide valuable tips for photographers looking to master the art of high-key portraits. As he concludes the video, Elson encourages viewers to share their creations based on his techniques, fostering a community of photographers inspired by his expertise.

 If you enjoyed this article and want to see more, don't forget to subscribe to his YouTube Channel.

You may also like: Using ONE LIGHT for Amazing Results


About Nathan Elson:

I'm a commercial photographer based out of Calgary, AB. My YouTube channel will be a place for my behind the scenes, Q&A, and whatever else happens to make it into video form that seems like people might be interested in viewing. Let's Get Connected: | LIGHTROOM & CAPTURE ONE PRESET PACKS: | STUDIO LIGHTING WORKSHOP 

Image and video via Nathan Elson