Photography Project: Taking the High-key Look to the Next Level

High-key blown out image of a woman in white

I recently took an online KelbyOne course by Joel Grimes.  One set-up he did involved two 7-foot umbrellas (yes, 7-feet no typo there) and a 48″+ Octabox.  I didn’t have all of that equipment, but Peter and I improvised, and fortunately the girls were in town so I had models.I tried this technique with both girls and found the one with the lighter hair came out better.  When I took a look at images that Joel Grimes created with this look, I noticed all of the women were blonde or had light color hair.  Joel Grimes High Key Images

The set up

  • I used two large Octaboxes placed on either side, plus 1 7-foot umbrella placed in the front.  I had light bouncing everywhere, so it was hard to control
  • The challenge is blowing out enough to get the eyes to pop, but not losing the skin.  You want the skin to be porcelain but still stand out from the background.
  • I asked each of them to wear white so the eyes and lips could be separated from the rest of the body and background
  • Instruct your model not to smile – even though this is high-key and usually a bright and sunny expression goes with this style, I found the expression and teeth to be distracting.
  • Keep in mind that in post you will be stripping even more color out of the image


  • Joel started in Camera Raw (I used Lightroom) by ensuring none of the key parts of the image were blown-out.  Then he pulled down the contrast and pulled up the shadows.
  • The rest of the processing is done in Photoshop.  Several layers are involved to pull color out of the image.
  • The surprising element for me, is he also layered in a black and white version.

Next time I will try to throw even more light on the background to truly blow it out.

High-key blown out image of a woman in white

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