Photoshop Elements
Hi-Key Conversion

Creating an Elements hi-key image requires a different technique than with the full version of Photoshop because Elements does not have as many ways to adjust an image.

That's probably the number one reason Elements costs so much less than Photoshop, right?

Anyways - what you are doing here is lightening the overall image so that only the most important features are retained and even that part is much lighter than normal.

Elements hi-key images are dramatic and seem to resonate at some basic level with most people. Expect comments like, "Wow!" and "that's beautiful!" and "how did you do that?" on your finished product.

The set-up for an Elements hi-key conversion is easy and the rest of the technique is Dodge Tool intensive.  Because of the amount of dodging you will find this a much easier technique to successfully complete with a Bamboo or Intuos tablet.

Many Different Paths

hi-key image

No matter what the digital editing goal, there are dozens of different ways to arrive at any final image with both Photoshop and Elements and this one is no different.

The version of Photoshop Elements that I am using does not have some of the options I used in the full version of Photoshop so we have to find a work around.

This means it is good that there are so many different paths to arrive at a finished product.

Convert The Image To Black and White

Open your file and make a copy of it. This will preserve the original and the original color can be used later.

elements hi key

Convert the image to Black and White Image > Mode > Grayscale or Enhance > Convert To Black and White ...

elements black and white conversion elements black and white
Black and White Conversion Black and White

There are more options available with the second conversion method so that is probaly the best choice.   The ideal starting point is with a black and white image with a high contrast (a lot of white and a lot of black and not much in the mid-tone area).

Now we are going to lighten the overall picture using Levels. Select Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Levels to bring up the Layers Dialogue box.

elements hi key levels

The trick now is to lighten the overall picture using the small adjusters immediately below the Histogram. 

To achieve the effect in the sample I moved the right adjuster to the left and then moved the middle one to the left as well. I didn't want to completely blow out all the texture on her face but you may want to go further with yours - or you may not go as far.

When you are satisfied click OK.

hi key

When compared to the black and white image it is easy to see that this one is starting to approach something like hi key with just the levels adjustment.

What is need now is a lot of dodging ...

  • on the background
  • on her shoulders
  • some  work in the darker areas of her hair
  • and the shadows of her face.

The thing about hi-key images is that everyone has their own idea of how a hi-key image should look.

Some like it washed out while others like to keep the important things like eyes stand out - it is up to you how the end image should look.

Now for some dodging ...

Dodge, Dodge, Dodge

hi key dodge options

This is the Dodge Tool Options bar.  This is where you adjust the way the Dodge Tool works.  You can change

  • Brush Tip (with a Wacom Tablet - which is much easier to use than a mouse)
  • Brush Size
  • Range - for Shadows, Mid-tones and Highlights
  • Exposure - how much dodging is done on each pass
The instructions for this part of the Elements hi-key conversion are few - just dodge until you are happy with the result.  It may be a good idea to start at the edges and slowly work into the center of the image.

As you work the image change the ranges because it may make a big difference.

Here is the final image the way I like it ...

hi key end

Fun Stuff

Blend Modes

Some additional Elements hi-key modifications ...

The image still has the original color as the background layer and now that layer can be put to good use.  If you play with the Blend Modes you will create some interesting results.  

This is the result of changing the Blend Mode to Hard Light.

hi key lard light


Photoshop Elements includes a lot of really neat effects (Window > Effects or Filters > Filter Gallery ...) that can be added to an image.

This image has Texture > Canvas added and it is quite effective.

hi key canvas

Play about with your image to see what you can come up with.  There are some wonderful effects in Elements.


Photoshop Elements Hi Key Conversion
(With my little dog, Tabitha)

And that is how to create an Elements hi-key image.  Its fun and its effective.

Hi Key Page Links

Many Different Paths

Convert To Black and White

Dodge, Dodge, Dodge

Fun Stuff

Hi Key Images

The nice thing about hi key images is that there is no right and no wrong end product.

It is very much user defined.

Sample Hi Key Images

hi key sample

hi key sample

hi key sample

hi key sample

hi key sample

hi key sample

wacom tablets Samantha

 learn Elements
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