How To Create a High Key Image in Photoshop

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How To Create a High Key Image in Photoshop by Michael Sweeney

A classic look in photography is Black and White imagery. Black and white images are not always pure; sometimes they are sepia tone or cool blue tone, or even Duotone which is not B/W but most drop it into that catagory. It’s a timeless look and with the right image, and a very powerful look. For professional photographers, it can also be a lifesaver with a high ISO grainy image or an image with incorrect exposure.

I am going to show you today how I recovered an overexposed image into a usable image. I shot it with a wide open F1.4, 50mm (crop sensor so about 80mm) and the between the wide open lens and the lighting, I had an over exposure or perhaps it’s better to call it “flare” going on.

You see my original image of my model below.

DSC1337 2 How To Create a High Key Image in Photoshop

Original Image

I always start my editing workflow in Lightroom. Then I go into Photoshop for any heavy lifting that Lightroom either can not do or does do it well. One of my first steps is to always apply a camera profile preset which brings in the various settings to match my camera, in this case, a Nikon D300. Then I will apply a Black and White conversion preset and do some basic adjustments. As you can see, I apply the camera preset and then I use a B/W conversion preset from Jack Davis.

BAM – FREE Camera Dojo free Lightroom preset.
WOW BnW_02 – FREE Jack Davis B/W conversion preset from his How to WOW series

Once I have these two presets applied, I tweaked it a bit in Lightroom as I show here.

Highlights +40

Darks +75

Shadows -19

sharpness -80

The sharpness has been dialed down to let me run the noise clean up, then I reapply the sharpness as needed.

luminance +54

color noise +27

sharpness +40

DSC1337 How To Create a High Key Image in Photoshop

After Lightroom Conversion

Even with Lightroom and Jack’s black and white magic, the image is still pretty much middle gray which I despise. So now we drop into Photoshop to really start tweaking the image to a high key look.

My first step is apply a curves layer in Photoshop. This brings out the whiteness of the skin.

curves How To Create a High Key Image in Photoshop
pin it4 How To Create a High Key Image in Photoshop

curve example

Then I make a duplicate layer and start to sample the image and paint it using the samples. I should point out here that while you can do this with a mouse, sort of, it is much better to have a tablet like a Wacom that is pressure sensitive. I can not stress how useful a tablet is when editing like this and you need a very delicate touch.

This editing evened out the shadow under the chin. I made the eyelashes darker, whites of the eyes brighter and so on.

DSC1337 Edit How To Create a High Key Image in Photoshop

After PS Curves Adjustment

Once I have all my painting finished, I apply a blur to a duplicate layer of the painted image. I then apply a layer mask to hide the new blurred layer. Now I use my Wacom again to paint in the blur at something like a 20% opacity.

DSC1337 Edit 2 How To Create a High Key Image in Photoshop

Final Image

You can see that we have gone from a blah image to a dramatic black and white image in the high key style. This style of image really shows off her eyes and the overall beauty of her face without the distractions of lens flare, color and and so on. If you were to print this on black and white paper or aluminum and you have an amazing piece wall art. And if you do this for a client, you are sure to get lots of interest in more types of prints like this. Everyone likes to look like a million dollars and this type of image really does it well.

About Michael Sweeney @Michael Sweeney Photography
I started my visual career by drawing incessantly from the time I was old enough to be trusted with a box of crayons. Now days I blend my photography skills with my extensive knowledge of technology to produce images that are both classic and state of the art
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 How To Create a High Key Image in Photoshop
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3 Comments and 0 Replies



  1. 1

    Excellent tutorial! thanks a lot for sharing :)

  2. 2

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Belkiss Obadia, Color Experts . Color Experts said: How To Create a High Key Image in Photoshop | MCP Actions Blog – Photography Techniques, Photoshop Actions, Tutorials http://goo.gl/n6Ep [...]

  3. 3
    jennifer whorley says:

    I have a camera and am just starting to take pics and need a good camera bag to hold my camera and accessories in



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