Blown-out high-key fashion photography with Emilia Clark in the March 2013 issue of GQ Magazine


High key portrait

A proper high-key portrait

When you’re in a dark environment and want to take a photo of someone, you typically use a flash. Most people don’t think about how the flash on their camera makes their subject look, they just want the photo to be lit and not dark. Most of the time, the result is much like this. Harsh and blown out. The intense light from your camera’s flash is generally unflattering and is considered usable only for snapshots.

Photographing someone with intense light is perfectly acceptable. I took the portrait to the left using two different strobes and a white background. The use of multiple strobes made the shadow behind the model soft and I used a diffuser to make the light on her face more soft.

I must confess though that I’ve seen a trend toward the use of harsh, directional light in many highly respected, professional publications. As an avid reader of GQ, I regularly see photos of beautiful women and men that look like they could have been lit by someone that has very, or no, experience in using strobes.


Looks like it was taken with a point-and-shoot camera

Take this photo spread for example. The photographer, Maciek Kobielski, has been hired to photograph a 2-page spread of the lovely Ms. Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame. The set looks like it is beautiful, with a gorgeous and exotic bed made of some type of wood that is no doubt out of my price range and sheets that are probably softer than any I’ve ever slept on. Emilia is dressed to kill in a stunning black lace-up corset and matching panties. Her dark hair and seductive makeup probably took hours to craft by the best makeup and hair artists in the business. Everything is in place for a stunning, dramatic photo shoot. The photographer looks at the set, then looks at the gorgeous Ms. Clarke and begins to craft his shoot. I’m sure Maciek has an arsenal of lighting products that would make most photographers green with envy. But he decides that rather than spend all day crafting a 4-light photo shoot with a tasteful combination of grid lights, gels, reflectors, and soft boxes, he decided to grab one huge, blinding strobe, position it directly over top of Emilia’s lovely body, and blast away with no thought being given to this single light’s unflattering effects.

Glare off of her cheek and forehead

Look at the glaring reflection off of her cheek and forehead. Most women that I know try very hard not to have shiny skin like this, but this photographer seems to have tried specifically to achieve this look. Even her hands are shiny with how intense this light is. Also, under her arms, hands, etc are very hard and dark shadows. Its like she has a black outline underneath of her body as if she were a line drawing that someone colored in. You can see every wrinkle in her corset and see that the two fabrics don’t match exactly.

Hard shadows under her hands and arms

Now, there are a few positives to this blown-out look. Her eyes are simply amazing. I’m sure that there was some digital help to make them so white and perfect, but the intense light makes a great catch light in the upper part of her eyes. Her skin also looks flawless, but who knows how much of that is thanks to Photoshop.

I don’t know if photographers are trying to recreate the look of a red carpet photo, where most photos are shot using speedlights and look blown out, or if they simply don’t care about beautifully sculpted shadow that highlight the curves and shape of their subjects. Granted, this blown-out lighting looks rock star. I can see Stephen Tyler being photographed for Rolling Stone back in the 80’s with this kind of lighting, but I just can’t see how a professional like Maciek Kobielski can walk away from this photo shoot and think he did his best work here.

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