Unusual Approach to High Key Black and White Portraits

March 15, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

A few years back I ran across a tutorial by Brian Killian regarding high key studio shots.  I decided to give it a try and then to expand it to black and white images.  What I found was what I think is a pretty unique way to create some pretty cool images.  It's a very simple and quick workflow.

High Key Black and WhiteHigh Key Black and WhiteHigh Key Black and White

High Key Black and White

To start with you need to observe three pretty critical but simple rules.  The first rule to this technique is to shoot into a white background and have the subject wear a white top (shirt or blouse).  Having them wear a white top helps them blend into the background better.  That's a little different than what you usually want, but for this look it is very important.  Since these shots are essentially anywhere from head shots to half body shots, the clothes for the lower half of the subject isn't important.

The second rule for my technique is to shoot about a half to 1 stop brighter than the light meter indicates.  This is the most important of the three steps and will result in a washed out look with a slight red cast.  You can still get the effect without this step, but this exposure makes it much easier. 

Original ImageOriginal ImageOriginal Image

Shot out of camera about 1 stop over exposed

Now take the image into your editing software and sharpen and/or remove any noise in the image.  Resist any editing to adjust the exposure.  It's this way for a reason.

The final rule is to convert the image to black and white.  I know there are many different ways to converting images to black and white (ex. Silver Efex Pro, MacPhun, Perfect Black and White, Topaz Black and White, etc.) and I use these.  However, for this technique I will utilize the Infrared filter in Color Efex Pro 4 by Google.  Other Infrared filters may work as well, but I use this one because I can use the sliders to zero in on the effect.   Moving the Brightness slider has the most effect for this technique.  By bringing down the brightness you can add back some of the features you may have lost during the conversion.

Finally, bring the image back into your editing software and make any final tweaks to get it the way you like it.  For the image below I used a layer mask to bring back just a hint of the color in the eyes and lips.

Final image

So there you have it.  In summary I followed my three rules, shoot with a white background and have the subject wear a white top, shoot about one half to one stop over exposed, and process using Google's Color Efex Pro 4's Infrared Filter.  It only took about 5 minutes to process.

Hope this was helpful.  Let me know if you have any ideas about this technique, or if you have an easy one of your own.  I'm always looking for new ways to get great images.

Happy shooting.

 


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