Shooting "high key" on film, tips?

Discussion in 'Lighting' started by canvassy, May 15, 2017.

  1. canvassy

    canvassy Member

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    Hello all,

    I have two looks I'm going for: a pure white, blown out background, with the model properly exposed, more of a higher contrast look. And a second style with a white background and bright white skin on a model, more of a true high key look. Both created in a studio with a white or gray wall. I am lighting the model and the background separately.

    I can shoot these on d*g*tal, and the first look especially I can create straight out of camera. The second style I can achieve mostly in-camera with a little added manipulation.

    The problem I'm having is shooting these on film. Even with the first style, with a blown background and properly exposed model, my negatives come out thick and overexposed. I'm having issues getting the correct look while sc*nning and also wet printing. The B&W images end up looking muddy, flat, very low contrast.

    Any tips or suggestions for me? I'd love some pointers before I burn another test roll this coming weekend.

    Thanks!
     
  2. zanxion72

    zanxion72 Member

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    In the studio, give more light on the background by as much as you'd like it overexposed in relation to your subject. Out of the studio, you will have to select a background brighter than your subject.
    The second would call for the use of some filter (yellow?) on your lens and selecting a background on which the filter will give you a similar effect.
     
  3. Alan Johnson

    Alan Johnson Subscriber

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    Appears your metering needs improvement, I generally get good results with a flashmeter measuring incident light. Also, if the negatives are low contrast they may be underdeveloped.
     
  4. OP
    canvassy

    canvassy Member

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    Thanks for the reply. I'm not sure if that's the issue or not. I'm using a Sekonic L358 to meter, and the d*g*tal images come out looking great straight out of the camera. The rest of the images on this roll looked good too, if anything they were just slightly over developed. Hence my confusion :smile:
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2017
  5. OP
    canvassy

    canvassy Member

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    I hadn't thought of a yellow filter, thanks! What I'm doing is metering like a f16 on the background and an f8 on the subject. Or I've tried it with an f11 background and f5.6 subject also. I'll give that yellow filter a shot, thank you.
     
  6. Soeren

    Soeren Member

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    The Westcott 7' reflective umbrella with the diffusion panel is also a great whit background.
     
  7. howardpan

    howardpan Subscriber

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    Let me take a shot at this.

    Rust, if you are printing this in the darkroom, once your shadow is above Zone 4, your shadows will have ample of detail. If you want to have the background print as white, it will end up as Zone 9 or Zone 10 on the print. Your model, in this case will be at around Zone 7 or Zone 8. In other words, she will be mostly light grey. If you want her to appear with dimension, there must be local area differences. Her clothing, her features, her makeup would need to fall into different zones. If her skin and her dress are of the same tone, you will not be able to differentiate her as much as if her skin and dress were of different tone. I would think you can benefit from a little extra development so that you can get about 3 zones of contrast difference on the model so that when you place the low end on Zone 6 or Zone 7, you can have the highlights of the model fall to Zone 8 or Zone 9.
     
  8. OP
    canvassy

    canvassy Member

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    Thanks howardpan, I'll give that a shot when I print next.
     
  9. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    To keep it simple, overexpose by two to four stops.
     
  10. howardpan

    howardpan Subscriber

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    As I understand it, if you only over expose, you move the entire contrast range up the film's response curve. In the darkroom, the print time becomes longer, but you may not blow out the highlights. Film is able to record beyond Z10, maybe by about 3-4 stops, without losing tonal separation (hitting the shoulder region). Digital, on the other hand, if you go beyond what's shown on the histogram, information is lost so it is easier for you to blow the highlights. For film, you eventually will transfer the tonal range on the negative to paper. If you want your model to not look muddy and flat, you need local area contrast. It is the tonal contrast between her eyebrows and her skin that cause you to see the eyebrow. If you find the eyebrow flat looking, it's because there is insufficient contrast. You can extend or contract that contrast through more, or less, development time.
     
  11. chassis

    chassis Member

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    Agree with Kevin. I would expose the background 2 stops, or greater, more than the model. The original post mentioned a "pure white" and "blown out" background. To me this means no detail in the white background. Take care to avoid flare from the background. Bracketing is a way to experiment and arrive at the goal. Curious to know if this is color film or black and white. B/W gives some control in development, color C-41 process less so.
     
  12. bvy

    bvy Subscriber

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    How does one suggest metering the background? I made some test shots just the other night. Incident reading of the subject was f/16 (HP5+ at 400). Reflective reading of the white backdrop (6 to 8 feet away) was f/45. Exposure on the face was good, but you can still make out seams and wrinkles in the white backdrop. (Incidentally, I'm using two lights on the backdrop, one on either side and at about the same height as my subject.)
     
  13. GregW

    GregW Member

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    I would shoot some techpan or Agfa police surveillance film and develop with normal developer, it will take some experimenting with the lighting, I'm inclined to think something along the lines of classic Hollywood film noir lighting with a white featureless background.
     
  14. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    You may need to modify the quality and direction of the light that is hitting the background.
    More diffusion, and at a more acute angle, so you aren't emphasizing any textures. You may also need it to be farther away, so it is out of focus.
     
  15. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    Place the lowst value of the scene in which you want density on zone 1 or 2. Develop the negatives so the highest area in which you want any printing density is nearly white. The development will be dependent on your enlarger light source and brand/type of printing paper.

    So , in a nutshell, the basics of film photography apply to all situations.
     
  16. etn

    etn Subscriber

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    Digital sensors have a different response than negative film. Sensors saturate in excess of light (in photographic terms it is said to "blow out highlights"). Reversal films have a similar behavior. Negative film, on the other hand, are relatively resistant to overexposure.

    You can try reversal film. The Agfa Scala black and white reversal film seems to be available again: http://www.adox.de/Photo/adox-scala/
    Although it is on my to-do list, I haven't tried it yet and cannot comment on how it behaves. (I wish it were available in medium format!)

    But I would tend to agree with what has been stated above, namely that the way to go is to work on your lighting.
    You can also try masking and similar techniques when printing.
     
  17. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    On any negative, what was white in the scene, should end up really thick. A thick negative doesn't necessarily mean it is over exposed, it may simply mean there was a lot of white in the scene, like in a high key scene.

    A negative frame taken of a high key set-up, where the background is expected to be white, without the subject, should be really thick from edge to edge. So thick that when printed 'normally' (properly for the subject to print correctly) you should get no printable paper exposure, no detail at all, a pure white print. That's a perfect exposure.

    For the background, any exposure level above the threshold needed to get white is fine/perfect/great; not an overexposure.

    The subject areas in a high key setup is a different animal, it gets a normal exposure. That means the subject is the only thing that should look 'normally exposed' on the negative.

    If you have a well designed high key setup to take the shot, you can completely ignore the background when setting up to print; that's the magic, ignoring the background when printing.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2017
  18. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    +1000!
     
  19. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    It was a true revelation when I was struggling with my first high key set and learned that lesson.
     
  20. OP
    canvassy

    canvassy Member

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    Thank you, that is super helpful.
     
  21. OP
    canvassy

    canvassy Member

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    Good tips, I'll try those out next time. Thank you.
     
  22. Ronald Moravec

    Ronald Moravec Member

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    Background needs to be flat. Light with two lights 45 degrees. Feather each to far edge, not center. For full length, you will need strip lights or two lights per side. Incident meter one stop over subject. More and you get flare. Overlighting wrinkles will not help.

    The background is one subject, person is another. The BG is lit just like a flat copy set up.
     
  23. Kawaiithulhu

    Kawaiithulhu Subscriber

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    If you're printing these yourself then you can also dodge the background to remove any remaining side effects after following the lighting suggestions above.