High key images - you've probably seen them and maybe even wondered "how the heck do they do that"?
I was wondering the same thing but didn't know what they were called so I had no idea what search term to use. I figured that they were created with Photoshop but how to achieve that great look was a puzzle.
Once I knew what these compelling and dramatic images were called then there was no problem finding out how to create them from my own images.
This tutorial is dodge intensive - you're going to do a lot of dodging. The easiest method, of course, is to use a Wacom tablet, especially when the brush dynamic is set to opacity.
There are many, many different methods to create high key images so I had to sift and sort through them all to find the technique I felt produced the best results.
This is the technique that is presented here and it will only work with the full versions of Photoshop. Photoshop Elements users will find a method that will work for you in the Elements section of this site.
Unfortunately, I have no idea where I found it so I have no idea who to credit for this technique.
This is the image I chose for this technique. Most high key images are applied to portraits and this one is no different. I found the original photograph at Stock Exchange.
This is the kind of image you will be able to easily
create after you complete this tutorial.
The end result of the high key technique is really a personal preference. What looks great to me may not be to your liking.
One thing is absolutely true - these images are always dramatic and you'll receive positive comments about your creation.
The first thing you need to know is that this is a brush intensive
technique that is best done with a Wacom tablet (Intuos
or Cintiq). It can be completed with a mouse but it will be
much more difficult than it is with a pen and tablet.
This is a 5 step technique and if you work through each one then you will have a dramatic high key image at the end!
Here are the steps ...
Let's get started with this image ...
Duplicate and Convert
The first step is to creating a high key image is to duplicate the
background layer and then convert the new
layer to Back and White. There are any number of ways to do
the conversion but I chose Channel Mixer for this image. A gradient Map would probably work nicely as well.
What I did was go to the Channels Palette and looked at each channel in turn (the Red, the Green and the Blue). I was looking for the channel that had the lightest skin tones and for this image it was the Red Channel. Yours could be a different channel.
Go back to the layers palette and create a new Channel Mixer adjustment layer, click Monochrome and put 100% in the channel you have chosen and 0 in the other two channels. For this image Red = 100%, Green = 0% and Blue = 0%.
This is how the image looks after conversion and it's a nice Black and White.
The skin tones are nice and light now so that takes away some of the work later.
The only problem is that we have three layers and we only want two. That is easily corrected by selecting the Channel Mixer layer and then Layers > Merge Down - and this is what we have now.
Now we can work on the black and white image directly in the next step ...
Lighten Skin Tones
In this step the skin tones will be further lightened with care taken
not to eliminate the important parts - like the lips and nose and eyes
Go to Image > Adjustments > Curves to bring up the Curves Dialogue box (you can also use a Curves Adjustment Layer).
This is the adjustment I made on this image and the resulting change in the image.
This has lightened the image even more with just some shadow detail
around the eyes, below the lips and nose and on the cheek.
If you feel really brave then you can do some other things like Brightness/Contrast or Shadows/Highlights. This is your image, after all!
The next step will keep the eyes nice and sharp ...
Sharpen The Eyes
You really don't need to do this step but it adds a bit to the overall
Here are the steps ...
What you will end up with are two really, really sharp eyes with the
rest of the image being normal.
Dodge, Dodge, Dodge
This is where you get to use the Dodge
Tool - a lot. The Dodge Tool and the Burn Tool
live together with the Sponge Tool - keyboard shortcut O.
The Dodge Tool has three ranges:
and you can also set the exposure anywhere from 1% to 100%.
This step is much easier to complete with a pen and tablet because you can set the brush to change opacity with pressure. This gives you both Exposure and Opacity changes at one time.
Start by inspecting the background to decide on the Range to use and set your Exposure to about 30%.
You really don't want to remove the background too quickly - it is best to work at it slowly and consistently.
Start at the edge and work around the image slowly into the center, moving closer and closer to the edge of the image as you go.
You can see from the screen shots that the background is slowly and
surely becoming lighter and lighter.
If you watch the Histogram as you go you will see it moving further to the left as you go. Remember, there is no right or wrong with this technique. You stop when you are satisfied with the look of your image.
Original Black and White Histogram
Image and Histogram After Curves
Partially Complete Image and Histogram
Nearing Completion Image and Histogram
Working The Face
A few suggestions and comments about working the face ...
The only thing to do now is some fine tuning of the image if you wish
There are a lot of different things you can do to fine tune the final
image. Cycle through the Filter Gallery and the Filters and
out the different effects.
Some of the more interesting ones are ...
Fine Tuning the High Key Image
You can also experiment by changing the Layer Blending Modes,
to add in a bit of the original color.
to this point the high key technique has been brush intensive and it
produces great results. There is another way to achieve the
results using Advanced Blending and it is really quite neat as well.
You will find it right here ...
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