High key photography post-production tips

What’s high key photography?

There are many opinions regarding the “high lights” post production or lighting effect, best known as “High Key”.

It’s a style of lighting with a reduced lighting ratio of primarily whites and light grey tones. In simple terms it is an image that consists of primarily light tones without dark shadows.


The use of this technique, is ideal for high style photography, taken to communicate joy, vitality, a clean, minimal look. It’s also great for beauty and fashion photography and photos of children because it can give a sense of innocence.
I have been shooting High Key since 2007, a year in which I had an exhibition with only High key photos and my project “My Hidden Ego”, based on high key lighting.
Today, however, I prefer the high key effect in a less “brash” style, leaving a few shades lighter and softer than the high key photo that is generally seen around. I sometimes overexpose during the shoot (half to +2 stops), however, I prefer to shoot at the right exposure and then post produce in Photoshop to get the results I have in my mind.


High key tips for better results

For those who want to have great high key sharp images, firstly it’s advisable to dress the subject mainly in white, pale or pastel colors. It is best to choose light-haired, pale skinned models.
Special attention should be paid to the background. It should be preferably white tending to a light grey shade.
In the studio, set up at least three lights, use two lights for the background, behind the subject with an exposure up to two stops more than the front light, determined by testing or pre-knowledge of your set-up. The front light placed above the cameras point of view. (Remember that lighting is quite subjective).
Or use the basic light of a flash in an umbrella, (bouncing light), by placing it in front of your subject against a white wall to make the most efficient use of the light that hits the side wall around the subject.  Later, in post-production, you can work the background for a more even light result.


High key and finishing post production

My tips for capturing High-Key; take your pictures in raw, so that you can edit images without any loss of quality, and also because some development software such as Camera Raw and Lightroom also allows you to enjoy an array of features that will help with the entire procedure.
First of all, when you have open the image in the software chosen, immediately set the color temperature using colder tones values, I often use 4700 degrees Kelvin, based on your preference. Then slightly increase the exposure. All other variations settings are subjective.
Open the image in Photoshop or your chosen editing software and clean the skin of marks and dark spots. This step is crucial to a beautiful image in the High Key post production.

Every photographer has their own technique to get different results for a high key shot. I have two ways to get a clean nice picture: A quick step to turn a color photo already post produced to transform it in high key and an advanced mode to make a black and white high key image with a touch of creativity which you can further develop based on your experience.

I have often used this method to give a quick brush up on my photos.
Let’s say you already have a picture ready and that you just want to give a new life to it. Open the file you chose and follow the steps through the screenshots I made for this tutorial.

Follow the step by step gallery: Fiona May color to high key shot

Fiona final result
Fiona May final result

You could go on with lights and flare effects and filters but this is already another story.

Follow the step by step gallery: Fiona May hi key black and white with color filter

Now this is the final image

Fiona final result bw
Fiona May final result bw

This tutorial is just a one of a wide potential and different ways to get the same results, according to the pictures you want to give a new fresh look.
I hope this gives you a basic guide for you to now allow you to try your own personal and more defying experiments. Now have fun and let me know what you have achieved.

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