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High key

Flooded with lightness,
Disposal of dark alone.
Does a pun translate?

… and that, dear friends, was a haiku about haiki. Thank you; I’ll be here all week.

High key pictures are meant to have a low contrast range, little or no shadow and delicate highlights: basically to be filled with light. High key is often used for pictures of women and children, but that is a stereotype begging to be broken.


So if you are shooting for high key, use plenty of fill light to lighten the shadows and reduce the contrast. Diffused frontal lighting will hide the skin texture. If you are using one of those clever digital cameras, expose to the top end of the histogram (without clipping the highlights). For film, place the skin highlights on Zone 7 or even 8 – so meter for the skin highlight area and overexpose by one or even two stops.

Then what? To the Photoshop!

Bring in your picture and do any spotting or correction. Add a levels adjustment layer. Move the shadows-end pointer in the output levels slider up to lighten the whole image.

Make a duplicate of the background layer and place the copy above the levels adjustment layer. Add some fuzz to the duplicate layer with Filter, Distort, Diffuse glow. Set the graininess to around 9, the glow amount to 12, the clear amount to 15. Set the blend mode to Screen and the Opacity to 90%.

Add a new fill layer above the duplicate, filled with solid colour. Use white or the main highlight colour in the face as the fill. Set the blend mode to Soft light and the opacity to 80%. Filter this layer to add blur: use Filter, Blur, Gaussian blur with an amount of around 70 pixels.

Will and Dan

This is what the layer stack looks like.

Haiki stack

There you go. Just don’t use it for everything. You will also be pleased to know that brighter pictures are thought to be better.


Author: fupduckphoto

Still wishing I knew what was going on.

One thought on “High key”

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