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Simulating High-key portraits

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Old 06-22-2004, 12:16 PM
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grafx grafx is offline
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Simulating High-key portraits

I've been asked to make a high-key portrait out of a color snap-shot. Anyone know the basic principals before I start messing with it? I know its b/w, white background, with extreme contrast. Is there a blur on the outter edges?
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Old 06-22-2004, 01:33 PM
freelancer freelancer is offline
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Found this info via google:

Black & White Prints - the tonal range should be from a true black through true white, with the middle tones present with a smooth transition of grays. Fairly strong contrast needs to be present for this to occur. Again, an abstract or more creative interpretation could show different tonal ranges. An example would be "high key", which represents only the light gray to white range, or "low key", which represents the dark gray to black range. The best way to learn what constitutes a proper black and white print is to ask some experienced printers and judges, and have them show you. Once you see an excellent print, you will understand! There are some subtleties involved that are not present in color printing.
Example photo here:

Snap Shots: High Key and highly easy!

by Harry Flashman

For 90% of photography it is important to get all the details, shadows, highlights, colours, blacks and whites in the end snapshot. However, this will, with portrait photography, sometimes give you a result that is less than you might have hoped for. The answer is High Key photography!

High key is when the photograph does not cover all the tones from bright white to deepest black, but is restricted to the top end of the scale. In these sort of photographs you have white running through to around 33% of darker shades and that is all.

In “classical” high key photographs, these are done in Black and White like the photograph with this week’s article (or more correctly “grey” and white), but you can also get a great effect with colour shots as well. To produce these kind of shots is not difficult, but does take some planning beforehand. Despite this, it is still possible to get a very pleasant high key shot with just a point and shoot camera.

Looking again at this week’s photograph (almost Page 3, isn’t it?) note that the background is pure white (or as close as newsprint will get us to pure white), while the girl is in light shades of grey. This shot was taken as part of this model’s portfolio, and since she reminded Harry of a Marilyn Monroe type it was decided to recreate one of Marilyn’s famous shots from the movie, with her skirt blowing up. Harry will run through the steps in creating this shot, and in doing so, you will begin to understand a little about studio photography and a lot about high key.

Looking at the background, to get this as pure white as possible, you need to “blow it out” with lots of light. In the studio, two powerful flash heads were aimed at the white wall behind the model. Now to light the model we used one weak diffused flash head, of half the power of the ones lighting the background.

The camera was set to expose correctly for the model, so now this meant that the background lighting was far too strong and so the white wall would come out as much too bright - the exact result we wanted for a high key shot.

Of course, there were some technical problems as well. The main one being how to get the model’s dress to blow up naturally. In the movie, Marilyn was standing over a subway grating and the air blew up from underneath. Answer - we stood the model on two white painted drums to get her off the floor and placed a small fan on the floor. The assistant flicked the switch at the appropriate moment and there was the shot!

So that is how it is done in the studio where the photographer is in full control of the lighting. How are you going to get a background twice as bright as the foreground when you haven’t got a studio and are relying on the celestial lighting technician (the sun) for illumination? The secret here is what is called “back lighting” - placing the sun behind the model, so you are shooting into the sun, rather than shooting with the sun.

The trick is to make the camera expose for the subject, and not for the background, or worse, an “average” between the background and the subject. Having placed your subject with the back to the sun, walk right up and get the exposure reading from the subject’s face. Hold the shutter release half way down and walk back and compose the shot without letting the shutter release go. Now pop the shutter. You will have the subject correctly exposed and the background “blown out”.

The final trick is to get the subject to wear white or very light coloured clothes (white straw hats are very effective back lit too), which all adds to the high key effect. Try it out this weekend with your favourite model.

Last edited by freelancer; 06-22-2004 at 01:57 PM.
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Old 06-22-2004, 02:03 PM
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Leah Leah is offline
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If these shots by Lisa Neal are the kind of thing you're interested in, then Lisa has a link to an explanation of her technique from that page as well.
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