Stylish High-Key Photography
In this tutorial we are going to create a dramatic high-key portrait using Lightroom and Photoshop. The end result is not intended to be a completely conventional high-key image, we want a more stylised image with some localised contrast.
High-key photography is generally characterised by having the majority of the image with very light tonality, and we will mostly be sticking to this key aspect, but we will also boost the colour and contrast of parts of the image (lips, nails and eyes) to create an image with real impact.
This tutorial does assume you have basic working knowledge of Lightroom and Photoshop. Below you can see the original image that we are going to work with.
Let’s also look at the high-key image that we are are going to create:
Lightroom colour adjustments
The first thing is to have a good look at the original image, it’s immediately obvious to me that we need some basic colour adjustments before we go any further. The hair colour is too blonde/yellow for my liking (and the style of image we want), and I also want to desaturate the skin tones a little. To achieve this I’m going to take the image into Lightroom, and go through a couple of the colours to reduce the saturation. First I targeted the yellow (mainly for the hair colour), reducing saturation to -40, and increasing the luminance to +42.
Next up was to take some of the orange out of the skin, -44 saturation, with +17 luminance. I also made some basic global adjustments, a tiny increase in exposure (+ 0.20), and additionally adjusted the shadows and blacks (+38 and +9 respectively). As you can see from the Lightroom screenshot below, these quick adjustments have had a fairly dramatic impact on the feel of our image.
Moving to Photoshop
Now we want to take our image into Photoshop for further adjustments. First up we want to duplicate our original image to a new layer, then change the blend mode to overlay, this bleaches out the skin tones further and gives a little contrast boost. I then created a curves adjustment layer to further bleach the skin, this was only a small adjustment to the top right of the curve (see screenshot below). We now flatten our image to a single layer.
To really make the image pop I now want to boost the red in the lips and the fingernails, to do this I selected the lip/nail areas with the quick selection tool, then tidied up in Quick Mask Mode, alternatively you could manually cut out with the pen tool, but you don’t need to be super-accurate here as the colour adjustments we are going to make will have little impact on any surrounding white skin areas.
Once the areas are selected I then adjusted the saturation of the target areas, to do this go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation, then choose reds from the dropdown colour menu (see screenshot above).
The exact settings I used were a +26 boost to the saturation, -12 lightness, and finally -14 to the hue, this renders the colour a little more pink than red, which increases the overall vibrance and contrast compared to the rest of the high-key style image. Once that’s done we are finished, let’s have another look at our final outcome:
In this tutorial we’ve successfully created a image with a distinct visual flavour. You may need to adjust some of the settings in this tutorial to suit your own specific image, but once you have the main colour-control techniques understood, the possibilities are endless.