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High-key and low-key images

From: Foundations of Photography: Black and White

Video: High-key and low-key images

We talked earlier about high-key and low-key images: low-key images being ones whose shadows are really crushed down to total black and lacking in detail, high key being the opposite--highlights that are blown out to complete detail. These are very easy things to create in Photoshop, and there are a lot different ways of doing them. Probably the easiest, based on the tools we've look at so far, is simply a Levels adjustment. Take your black point and just start punching your blacks down. If you want a little more control over that, you can do it with the midpoint slider. Or, we haven't worked with curves yet in this course, but you can use curves to define a curve to really precisely control exactly what you wanted to darken and what you wanted to brighten.

High-key and low-key images

We talked earlier about high-key and low-key images: low-key images being ones whose shadows are really crushed down to total black and lacking in detail, high key being the opposite--highlights that are blown out to complete detail. These are very easy things to create in Photoshop, and there are a lot different ways of doing them. Probably the easiest, based on the tools we've look at so far, is simply a Levels adjustment. Take your black point and just start punching your blacks down. If you want a little more control over that, you can do it with the midpoint slider. Or, we haven't worked with curves yet in this course, but you can use curves to define a curve to really precisely control exactly what you wanted to darken and what you wanted to brighten.

There's really not anything more tricky about it than that. Let's look at one other way, which can be interesting partly because it can be little random and partly because it can keep you from having to do any masking. I am going to up a flattened version of our trestle image here. Let's say I do like this detail in here, but also this rail is awfully compelling. What if this was a really low- key image where all of this fell out to black? Now, I could build adjustment layers to plunge all of that into black. I could build a Levels layer here and do that, except I'm losing stuff on the rail, and it's not losing all of that.

It takes some masking work to get that to work. Instead, I am going to do something different. I am going to duplicate my Background layer, just like we were doing before when we were creating a vignette. I'm going to change its Blending mode up here to Soft Light. That's starting to look more like a low-key image. The highlights are coming through. The shadows have really gone down to just black. So there you can see the difference. If I want to further refine this, I can throw a Levels adjustment layer on top of the whole stock and fiddle with my midpoint to decide exactly where I want this to be, and I am finding I really like this.

This is pretty interesting, this rail just kind of coming out of nowhere and vanishing into this lightness. We get a nice good, strong silhouette of this, and we are still preserving some detail in here. So I am not sure that I don't actually prefer this really low-key version to the original image that had more detail. And that's that important thing to remember in any type of shooting you are doing, but particularly with black and white: just because there is detail in an area doesn't mean you need to keep it. Your vocabulary is light and shadow, not detail and really fine, super-sharp filigree in every part of the image.

There is just as much power in having a black area of your image, or silhouette, as there is in having a perfectly rendered detail here on the railroad track. So this is a very, very easy way of quickly knocking out a low-key image.

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Image for Foundations of Photography: Black and White
Foundations of Photography: Black and White

39 video lessons · 22822 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 8m 25s
    1. Welcome
      1m 24s
    2. Why black and white?
      5m 12s
    3. Suggested prerequisites
      53s
    4. Using the exercise files
      56s
  2. 19m 43s
    1. Is it really black and white?
      1m 9s
    2. How gray corresponds to color
      4m 38s
    3. The medium of black and white
      3m 5s
    4. The vocabulary of black and white
      4m 46s
    5. The physiology of black and white
      2m 22s
    6. How a camera's image sensor captures an image
      3m 43s
  3. 32m 46s
    1. Preparing the camera
      3m 34s
    2. Light revisited
      6m 3s
    3. Seeing in black and white
      2m 21s
    4. Taking a black-and-white expedition
      1m 17s
    5. Finding and shooting a black-and-white image
      11m 14s
    6. Shooting a tone-based subject
      2m 0s
    7. Exposing for black and white
      6m 17s
  4. 1h 38m
    1. The nature of grayscale images
      3m 33s
    2. Converting to black and white using Photoshop CS4 or CS5
      6m 17s
    3. More about the Black & White dialog box
      3m 19s
    4. Converting to black and white using Black & White adjustment layers
      3m 55s
    5. Converting to black and white in Camera Raw
      4m 5s
    6. Making an advanced tonal correction
      17m 33s
    7. Doing more tonal corrections
      14m 6s
    8. Calming down highlights
      10m 4s
    9. Vignetting
      8m 58s
    10. The trestle images
      2m 39s
    11. Handling tricky skies
      2m 43s
    12. Doing a selective black-and-white conversion
      2m 23s
    13. Toning
      1m 19s
    14. Split-toning
      2m 19s
    15. High-key and low-key images
      2m 32s
    16. Diffusion
      4m 40s
    17. Using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2 plug-in
      7m 46s
  5. 24m 14s
    1. Selecting a printer
      5m 17s
    2. Preparing the image for print
      8m 30s
    3. Configuring the Print dialog
      5m 9s
    4. Evaluating a print
      5m 18s
  6. 43s
    1. Goodbye
      43s

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