High Key In Small Spaces: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey


In this video I’ll show you how you can make high key style images using just a single light, and working in a very small space. Hello, I’m Gavin Hoey and you’re watching Adorama TV, brought to you by Adorama the camera store that’s got everything for us photographers. If you’ve seen any of my previous videos you might be aware that I often shoot here inside my small home studio. But I’m aware that this space is luxury for a lot of photographers. So I’m gonna make it smaller. My background is about eight feet across, so I figured a ten feet wide by ten feet long shooting area is a pretty good representation of the sort of space you might have on a temporary studio set up, for example in your front room. To make it even more challenging I’ve decided to do high key for the look which is really hard in a small space so I know I’ll need to lean on Photoshop a bit, and we’ll get to that later on, and I know that the process I’m going to apply will make my pictures more washed out in color and brighter. The good news is it’s a really quick and simple technique, but if you know something like this is going to happen in post-production… you can bear that in mind when you’re reviewing your shots during the shoot. So let’s get a light set, it’s actually just gonna be that one light throughout. Let’s get a model in, let’s get shooting. So to help me out today, I’ve got the amazing Gracie. Gracie is gonna be the model for this shoot but let’s talk about the background first… so this is a High Key shoot, hence I’ve got this white-ish background… now the background is actually hand-painted by Sam. Her artistic talents came in very handy. Next we need to think about lighting, so for lighting in my small space, I’m using a small flash it’s the flash point evolve 200, and it’s in a small softbox, this is is a 24-inch softbox, which should give us a couple of things. It should give us a reasonably hard shadow but still quite soft. That’s going to come in very handy later on, and because of the design of the softbox it’s quite a wide spread of light, which in a small space is a really good thing if you want to do a shot like this. But what about the position of the light? Well if you’re really tight on width, then the obvious place to put the light is here above the model, but in line with the camera. It may not be the best place, but if your width is restricted, this will work. Let’s have a look at this shot. First thing to do of course is to work out the exposure, so I’m going to shoot at f/4 today so let’s make sure that the flash matches the camera, and we’ll see what we get, I’m going to pop this underneath your chin Gracie, and I’m getting f/2.2, so that needs to be a little bit brighter f/4… absolutely perfect, let’s take a picture see how it looks. Here we go that looks absolutely great, we’ve got a nice light color background, good exposure on Gracie, but there’s not really much shadow because of course, the shadow is falling down directly behind her, and this setup really works well with some shadows… so instead of having the light above Gracie, I’ve moved it to the side, this might need a bit more width. If you’re tight for space then it may not work but we’ve got 3m square.. 10 feet square to play with, what it’s going to do is push a shadow over to the side of Gracie, and the more I move it around the further this shadow will drift out, and it’s the shadow that I’m looking for… so I might move the light around what we’re shooting, but I will check the exposure. Every time you move the light, it’s worth double-checking the exposure, remember I’m shooting at f/4, I’m going to pop this under your chin, and I’m still getting f/4, and that’s absolutely perfect… let’s take a test shot, see how this looks… awesome, you can look straight at me… head straight out, that’s great yeah, and that’s great we’ve got a fantastic shadow behind Gracie, it’s defined but it is still soft, that’s exactly what I’m looking for, for this setup okay? So that’s the lighting sorted out. Now to make this more interesting, we need to grab some props.. So Gracie are you ready? All right let’s do the shoot… What should we start with? Cross your legs over, good.. angles excellent angles. It’s really close, but I’m still just inside that ten feet line. That’s really good posing, right up against the line here. this is as far back as I can go… yeah love this. Well that went really well, it was great to see some of my circus props from an older workshop get recycled in a brand new shoot… now at the beginning of this video I said that the post-processing was a really important part of the look of the final image, and that it would be really straightforward and simple. So it’s time to put that to the test. Let’s jump into Photoshop, so here’s one of the images I want to edit, and although it’s correctly exposed and has loads of color, it’s not really that High Key washed out look that I’m after.. So to achieve that, I’m gonna change the layer, and I’m gonna duplicate the layer… I’m gonna give this a name, you don’t have to, I’ll call it this Mono, which might give you a clue as to what we’re gonna do, because I’m going to take away the color by going to image adjustments, and desaturate. That will make this new layer black and white, so I’ve got two layers, one that’s black and white, and one that’s color. I want to blend them together, so here on the layers panel I’ll change the blending mode from normal to screen. Now screen always makes your images brighter, which gives me that high key look, and because we’re blending black and white and color, it washes out the tones, the colors, so it’s a bit strong for my taste, I’m gonna take the opacity for that mono layer down to about 70 percent or thereabouts and that’s it. It’s as simple as that, two layers, one blending mode… Now of course there’s plenty of other ways you could achieve similar results, and there’s always a bit of room for fine-tuning, so in this case I think I’d like to increase the contrast a little bit, so let’s go back to layer, I’ll add a new adjustment layer… choose brightness and contrast, and I’m just going to increase the contrast a touch, so I’d like a little bit more depth, particularly in these shadows. Now the shadows I put there on purpose, I chose a softbox to give me a nice soft edge, but define shadow, so it makes sense to highlight that, and of course that helps with the 3d feel of the picture, and with a bit of fine-tuning, there it is. There’s my final picture completed, well there’s no getting away from it… 10 ft x 10 ft is not a lot of room to shoot in, but don’t let small space be the excuse for limiting your imagination. Now if you’ve enjoyed this video, don’t forget to leave me a comment below, and of course click on the subscribe button, and the bell icon to get regular notifications of all the new videos right here on AdoramaTV. I’m Gavin Hoey thanks for watching.

33 Replies to “High Key In Small Spaces: Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey”

  1. Great stuff as ever, Gavin. But something I've wondered often when watching these videos; what do you need the pictures for? Is this a magazine shoot that you were contracted to do? Or something done on spec..? Or what? It's the sort of thing that I'd love to do myself, but the 'Why?' question always holds me back.

  2. Is my man Gavin here, the best of Adorama or what ???
    If you agree, give me a thumbs up !
    If you disagree, go cross a busy highway with a blindfold !
    Thanks for sharing

  3. Thank you for these videos showing your creativity in such a small studio space. Mine is about the same size. Your work is inspiring!

  4. Always the best! Sam did a great job on that background too. I know it's picky but the accordion was upside down. The keys are played with the right hand and the button bass with the left.

  5. One luxury you don’t have with not living in the great frozen north is copious quantities of snow. You can place you subject outside in the shade and use a lighted 15 foot high snow bank so that the entire background is clipped highlights. The one problem though is that for the sake of survival the model’s appropriate apparel is limited.

  6. Great video. I often shoot in my living room and know how restrictive that footprint can be. It's always inspirational to see how you make such a small space work.

  7. Awesome Gavin! For the backdrop is that just grey seamless paper painted roughly with regular white paint? Or is it textured or compound or something?

  8. Gavin, what bracket are you using? It mounts an AD200 so the fresnel head is vertical. I've only seen the s-brackets that hold the light horizontally.

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