Three-Light High-Key Fashion

Three different modifiers, one very effective setup.

In this portrait photography class, Karl uses three basic modifiers to create a high-key, fresh, punchy image.

The setup, which consists of two silver umbrellas and one deep focus umbrella, is one you can easily try yourself if you’ve been looking for creative portrait inspiration.

In this class:

  • How to create fresh, punchy lighting for portrait photography
  • Three-light setups with basic modifiers
  • How to create and control rim lighting
  • Camera setting and lighting ratios
  • How to control light and shadows with hard or soft light

In addition to the lighting setup, there were two other elements I had to consider for this shoot to be a success:

  1. Background
  2. Outfit choice

I knew my lighting would consist of two silver umbrellas placed either side of my background, facing towards camera to create a rim light around my model. I then used the Broncolor deep focus umbrella as my fill light. This choice of modifier meant I’d have greater control over the hardness or softness of the shadows under the model’s chin.

Lighting modifiers umbrellas

The Focus 110 umbrella and silver umbrella were used for this shoot.

I placed my background close behind the background lights, which meant the light spilling onto it created a soft pastel pink color. I knew the nature of this setup meant that initially my lighting wouldn’t be even, but I could control that by adjusting the angle of my background, lights or model.

For the outfit I asked my model to wear a strapless top with her hair off the shoulders, slicked back so that the neck and shoulders were visible. This allowed me to make the most of the rim lighting, which was a key part of the shot.

Background choice for portrait photography

Background choice and lighting setup for portrait photography.

Once my background was secured and my model was in position, I started working on my lighting. The trick here was to balance my rim lighting with my fill light. I spent some time doing this, experimenting with different lighting ratios as well as the hardness or softness of the deep focus umbrella.

Image comparisons

Exposing my shot and balancing my light, experimenting with hard and soft shadows.

This setup may be quick and easy to set up, but the nature of the modifiers means you’ll be able easily control the look and feel of the final image. It uses affordable modifiers and doesn’t require a great amount of space, which means you can easily try it yourself.

The final image:

High key portrait photography final image

The final image from the high key portrait shoot.

If you’re interested in more portrait photography ideas, try these classes next:

Questions? Please post them in the comments section below.


  1. Karl – looking carefully at the setup of your equipment it looks to me as though the shaft of the Focus 110 umbrella is pointed below the models face and more toward her chest. Was this done intentionally so that you are lighting the models face with the softer light from the perimeter of the umbrella rather than having the harder light from the center of the umbrella light the face?

    1. Hi Pete, no generally speaking I would want the stronger area of light on the models face so that there is a nice fall off it exposure from face to body. The 110 doesn’t sit straight in a light like a Para, it’s slightly off axis due to where the umbrella mount is though so you have to play around by looking from the models perspective when you set it up.

  2. Karl, I noticed in this video that you are standing in front of the light. How does this effect the light on the subject?

    1. Hi I’m only blocking a very small section by my waist, I wasn’t blocking any other part of the light.

  3. Hi Karl,
    on the camera color profile options, how you look to the custom x-rite color profile?

    1. Hi, I don’t my camera is set in its standard colour profile, I only measure the grey values of the colour checker card when looking at the RAW files in the RAW software. And then neutralize as necessary.

  4. Hi Karl,

    Thanks a lot for your fruitful classes, I’ve learned a lot from you! One question I would like to ask: have you ever used a soft box behind the model as a background? I saw a lot of people doing that instead of firing to infinity cove. Even in Profoto academy they have a tutorial for high key portrait with a soft box to make a prefect white background. Do you see any disadvantage of that light setup?

  5. Hi Karl
    My English is poor

    This video has no subtitles

    I want to ask, why this shoot don’t need a Window Mask to prevent flare ?
    I really hope that video has subtitles, thank you!

    1. Hi Wei, subtitles will be on all our videos in the next two weeks. The reason I didn’t use the window mask is because I actually wanted some flare in these shots for effect.

  6. Hi Karl

    Thanks for a super interesting series. You have certainly opened our minds to great possibilities.

    Please could you indicate what you would do differently in these lighting setups when shooting dark skin tone models (Asian and African) and how you would deal with the extra shine that is commonly found on dark skin tones.

    1. Hi Peter, african dark skin tones can sometimes be more shiny, so on the edge lighting which is reflected light this may need to be reduced in exposure but the light from the front would need to be increased in exposure. It depends more on the surface qualities of the skin, shine, reflectance etc this can only be assessed person to person. Polarisers can sometimes help with partial polarisation.

  7. Great training Karl! You finally made it possible for me to learn from you… You make it simple and easy to understand, gear might be a barrier in some cases but the concept and lighting set-up sinks in your brain forever. Question? Is there a way to mark favorite videos? I mean for quick access. Thanks!

    1. Hi Jose, glad you like it and thanks for joining but I’m afraid there is no way on our system to mark your favourite videos.

      1. derrick_connell

        I realize this is three years after the original post – but I use the favorites feature in the browser to save the videos I want to come back to later. I have a Karl Taylor Favorites folder and I just stick it in there.

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