The light position I chose was a single hot light above Alyssa and to her right. I then turned her face toward the light, which created a butterfly (or Paramount) lighting pattern. I found the strong shadow below her nose just a bit too distracting for this high-key shot, but with a subtle chin tilt, the light became full frontal, smoothing out her features and eliminating blemishes, while evoking a modern take on the classic Hollywood look. Be careful, though, as it’s easy to blow out highlights with this focused specular source.
When we think of glamorous portraits, perhaps the last thing we think of is a handheld strobe. The flat, frontal light from an on-camera flash flattens subjects and can create a harsh glare—like being splashed with a bucket of light. When making a high-key portrait, however, a bit of bright frontal light can work effectively. That’s why the on-camera flash look has become increasingly popular in fashion photography in recent years.
For Alyssa, I wanted to take the frontal edge off the flash, so rather than affixing it to my hot-shoe, I mounted it to a stand just a foot or so to the side of my lens. (I also could have simply held the flash in my hand, but I wanted to keep both hands free for stability and focusing.) Playing up the snapshot glare of the technique, we found that a significant overexposure (almost a stop-and-a-half) counterbalanced the bold shadows and delivered a flattering high-key light that nods to classic Hollywood.
Working with studio strobes, there are countless ways to light high-key portraits, but I began my session with Alyssa using a favorite studio glamour technique called clamshell lighting. Perfect for high-key portraiture, clamshell lighting gets its name from the shape of the key, which is positioned directly in front of the subject, above eye level and angled down at 45°. The light is mirrored with a white card in front of and below the subject, angled up at approximately 45°. If you imagine Pac-Man as your light source, your subject will be posed at the opening of his wide mouth. (If the subject steps back, the light takes on more of the qualities of a frontal ring light, which also can be quite useful.)