Black and white photos are always in fashion. Even among the pros. In a recent article we looked at several methods for converting pictures to black and white. This time we’ll take a look at how to produce “High Key” black-and-white, which is used to emphasize delicacy and perfection.
High Key photographs are very bright photos, dominated by a variety of bright tones. They have only a mild contrast between lights and shadows. The result is a very light photo with no significantly dark areas.
When Should You Use High Key?
This type of edit feels very delicate, and so it’s not a good fit for every shot. In documentary work for example, this look is definitely less than ideal. It’s also not a fit for every portrait photograph.
A High Key edit is very delicate, so it best fits photos whose contents are delicate—for example female studio nudes, artistic pregnancy photos, and baby photos. In short, use it where you want to emphasize delicacy.
Watch out for Distractions
Ideally you should know that you’ll be doing High Key on a shot before you even press the trigger. Carefully prepare a distraction-free scene in advance—above all that means a single-color background, usually white.
While taking the pictures that you’ll be editing with High Key, do everything you can to get the subject looking perfect. Everything that’s even slightly distracting will stand out in High Key. So avoid things like tousled hair, bad makeup, jewelry, and wrinkled clothes.
Grayscale and the Red Channel
After any basic touchups, use Grayscale in Zoner Photo Studio’s Editor to make the picture black and white. Use the Effects menu’s Grayscale command for this (or press Ctrl+G). Under Method on the right, pick Red Channel. By working through the red channel like this, you can soften red tones in the picture, making them look almost white, with very soft shadows. Typical European and Asian skin types have mainly red tones. That’s why the red channel is so central to High Key.
The High Key edit was much more in fashion in the past than it is today. But that’s no reason not to go and give it a try.