how to get a high-key photo without studio lighting

  • Westcott

how to get a high-key photo without studio lighting

Have you ever wanted to make a high-key headshot, but don’t have studio lighting, or enough equipment to pull it off?

If you have a window, or even just a bright sky, you can!  No fancy lights to learn…just a simple reflector (if you want, you can even do it without a reflector) and a bright light source behind your subject is all you need.

Place your subject in front of a bright window, the less distractions the better.  Blinds, framing pieces, even trees and houses in the background can sometimes interfere. The main purpose is to get as much directly behind your subject blown out as possible. I used a reflector camera left to add some light into her face.

Here is a pullback of the subject in front of my sliding glass doors.

original photo for high key editing by Crystal Samson

Upload your image, open in your chosen editor (I use ACR, Lr is fine also).  Make your global adjustments (white balance, exposure, contrast, etc)

You can see here that most of the window area is blown, that’s exactly what we want.

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

Bring your image into Photoshop

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

Do your normal edits.  I brightened her eyes, added a bit of contrast, & fixed some blemishes.

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

Add a solid color layer, white

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

FFFFFF is white

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

Lower the opacity a bit on your color fill layer, so you can see your subject enough to be able to select around them.

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

Use the lasso tool to roughly select around your subject.

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

ctrl + x to cut the color fill from your subject

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

You can see here that there is part of the sliding door frame.  You’ll use your brush tool to clean it up.

You can add a levels adjustment layer, slide the black slider all the way to the right side, and see where it needs to be fixed.  Use the brush to brush on the color fill layer to that area.

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

Example of the levels layer with the black slid all the way to the right, after the area has been cleaned up.

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

Final image

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

If you need a bigger canvas, or more room on either side of her, it’s very simple to do by going to Image>Canvas Size and adjust the width and/or height to whichever side you like by using the anchor direction, and canvas extension color of white.

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

After extending the canvas to the left for more negative space

how to get a high key photo without studio lighting by Crystal Samson

Final image

final edit of high key picture by Crystal Samson

westcott giveaway!!

Westcott

Thank you to Westcott for sponsoring today’s article!  They are giving away a 40″ 5-in-1 Sunlight Reflector, value $59.90, to one random winner.  Enter below by noon on Friday June 13th!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author:

Crystal is a photographer specializing in Boudoir, Engagement, Weddings and Seniors in the Boise, Idaho area. Visit Crystal Samson online.
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82 Comments

  1. Jacki Jun 06 2014 at 11:07 am - Reply

    Great tips! When I shoot into direct light like this, I usually get haze though. How do you avoid that?

    • Crystal Jun 06 2014 at 2:23 pm - Reply

      Jacki, using the reflector reduces/eliminates the haze.

  2. Jeff Jun 06 2014 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Natural light

  3. Alice C. Jun 06 2014 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Awesome, Crystal! My favorite kind of lighting is golden hour backlighting, but I’m a big fan of moody directional lighting too <3

  4. Hana Jun 06 2014 at 2:27 pm - Reply

    Thanks Crystal!
    I love natural light best but do love to play with strobes as well.

  5. Elizabeth holder Jun 06 2014 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    Natural all the way!!

  6. Robin Jun 06 2014 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    Natural light with reflectors is always m first choice 🙂

  7. Kim Jun 06 2014 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Great tutorial. Now you can do high key without worrying about Amazon’s rights to other high key set ups. 😉

  8. Gabby Jun 06 2014 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    I love seeing how different photographers edit and what their go to tools are.

  9. Jennifer Jun 06 2014 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Thanks Crystal, great tips!

  10. Laura Jun 06 2014 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    Great tips! Thanks.

  11. Laura Jun 06 2014 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    I love natural light.

  12. Kasey W. Jun 06 2014 at 6:47 pm - Reply

    Great tutorial!!

  13. Kasey W. Jun 06 2014 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    Favorite light is natural light!

  14. Danyel Jun 06 2014 at 9:03 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tutorial! I love natural light, but I’ve never really tried anything else:)

  15. Marisol Jun 06 2014 at 11:07 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the tutorial!

  16. Vicky D Jun 07 2014 at 1:03 am - Reply

    Still very much learning and have a long way to go. Natural light produces some lovely images and the best thing is…its free!

  17. Melissa G Jun 07 2014 at 6:32 am - Reply

    Great, clear instructions. Thanks for sharing this!

  18. amanda wehr Jun 07 2014 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Great tips, thanks for sharing 🙂

  19. Stephanie Stevens Jun 07 2014 at 11:54 am - Reply

    Great article, I will be sharing and bookmarking this, thank you!!

  20. mara Jun 07 2014 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    what an amazing tutorial! thank you for sharing!

  21. Elizabeth Jun 07 2014 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Awesome tutorial, Crystal!

  22. Angela Jun 07 2014 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    great post, thank you!

  23. Davina Jun 07 2014 at 5:33 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing these tips, Crystal! I love natural light, so this was really great to read!

  24. Deanna Jun 07 2014 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    Natural light in that golden hour…

  25. Melissa Jun 08 2014 at 5:44 am - Reply

    Grieta tip! I’m actually did this kind of photo and I didn’t realize how to edit it ! Thanks !!!

    • Melissa Jun 08 2014 at 5:44 am - Reply

      *great

  26. AnnaVanDemark Jun 08 2014 at 11:17 am - Reply

    Thanks Crystal! This is very helpful!

  27. Luda Jun 08 2014 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    Natural light is my favorite!

  28. Kim L Jun 08 2014 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    I love natural light – great article!

  29. Emily V Jun 09 2014 at 12:02 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, Crystal! I have heard the term “high-key” before but really never knew what it meant. I currently only shoot in natural light (sometimes with a reflector), but I would love to learn how to use studio lights in the future too. 🙂

  30. John Jun 09 2014 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Great tutorial!

  31. Tom Kershaw Jun 09 2014 at 9:13 am - Reply

    Nice post – easy to follow steps and the bonus canvas expansion tip
    Thanks

  32. Melody Jun 09 2014 at 9:25 am - Reply

    Love the high key look

  33. laurie Ford Jun 09 2014 at 9:39 am - Reply

    Natural light is the prettier, but I am more comfortable shooting with studio lights.

  34. Jimmy Arcade Jun 09 2014 at 10:58 am - Reply

    My favorite type of light to use in my photography is low-key lighting, as it provides the kind of contrast that gives depth to my subjects.

  35. Frederick Melikian Jun 09 2014 at 11:19 am - Reply

    Thanks for the tutorial. I use combination of natural and fill flash.

  36. Rey McGehee Jun 09 2014 at 11:41 am - Reply

    Natural light most of the time.

  37. Mindy Jun 09 2014 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Natural but looking forward to learning ocf

  38. Nada Abu Lubdeh Jun 09 2014 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    Natural light!

  39. Jared Jun 10 2014 at 12:45 am - Reply

    Strobe!

  40. Cory Jun 10 2014 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    I like using off camera lighting.

  41. Ophelia Jun 10 2014 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    I like to use natural light.

  42. Jill S Jun 10 2014 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing how to make a studio look, not done in a studio. Love!

  43. Sherry Jun 10 2014 at 10:20 pm - Reply

    I like natural light

  44. Cathleen S Jun 10 2014 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    Natural Light

  45. Carri Jun 10 2014 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    Natural light

  46. Kelly Jun 10 2014 at 10:23 pm - Reply

    I adore natural light. 🙂 This is a great tutorial!

  47. melissa Jun 10 2014 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    I love to use natural lighting. Sunlight seems to bring out my pictures.

  48. Diana Jun 10 2014 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    Natural light

  49. Evalis Jun 10 2014 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    I absolutely love the light that comes through my kitchen window when the sun reflects on my neighbor’s home. We have light stucco walls and the light that bounces back has a soft and warm feel. My favorite for my food photos!

  50. Michelle Jun 10 2014 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the tutorial!

  51. magan Jun 10 2014 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    Can’t wait to try this.

  52. stacy gough Jun 10 2014 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    I actually like to manipulate off camera flash lighting, natural light is awesome but so limiting.

  53. Elizabeth Jun 10 2014 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    Love natural lighting – but thankful for a speedlight on “those” kind of moments!

  54. Valerie Jun 10 2014 at 10:43 pm - Reply

    Natural, but someday I’d like to experiment with lights.

  55. M Jun 10 2014 at 10:43 pm - Reply

    Would love to try out this reflector! What a great giveaway!

  56. Andrea Jun 10 2014 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    Natural. Beauty + occasional challenge.

  57. Elaina Jun 10 2014 at 10:50 pm - Reply

    Would so love this!

  58. Elaina Jun 10 2014 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    Oh and I love using natural light but always looking for natural reflectors in my surroundings!

  59. Lyndsey Jun 10 2014 at 10:59 pm - Reply

    Wow I never knew, I would love to try this.

  60. Jennifer Brandon Jun 10 2014 at 10:59 pm - Reply

    Natural light all the way!

  61. Sarah Long Jun 10 2014 at 11:12 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the step by step!

  62. Angie P. Jun 10 2014 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    Natural Lighting 🙂

  63. Kyra Jun 10 2014 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    Natural light is always my favorite but I hope to learn studio lighting soon!

  64. ALICE KLUNCK Jun 10 2014 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    I love natural lighting.

  65. Donna Skoog Jun 10 2014 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    I love natural lighting!

  66. Rachel F. Jun 10 2014 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    Natural light is my favorite.

  67. Ellen Jun 11 2014 at 7:21 am - Reply

    Natural light!

  68. janelle Jun 11 2014 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Great tips!

  69. Allison Jun 11 2014 at 7:28 am - Reply

    This is great! Thanks for sharing!

  70. diana Jun 11 2014 at 8:51 am - Reply

    Natural lighting all the way !!

  71. Tracy Brewer Jun 11 2014 at 9:59 am - Reply

    I love natural light!

  72. Jinnee Jun 11 2014 at 10:02 am - Reply

    Natural light but would love to try out studio!! Thank you!!

  73. Heather Jun 11 2014 at 11:07 am - Reply

    No doubt about it, natural light!

  74. Karen Jun 11 2014 at 11:31 am - Reply

    So good, thanks for sharing. I’m a fan of natural light.

  75. Jennifer Jun 11 2014 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    Great article. Thanks for the chance to win a reflector.

  76. Jennifer Jun 11 2014 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    Oh and natural light. Flash scares me. 🙂

  77. Maryrose S Jun 12 2014 at 2:26 am - Reply

    I love this and can’t wait to try it!

  78. Maryrose S Jun 12 2014 at 2:27 am - Reply

    Natural light (forgot to add to my earlier comment.

  79. Kim Jun 12 2014 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Natural all the way!

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