Monday, July 29, 2013

When high-key is done right

I read that every photographer has his/her own style.  When I was starting out few years ago, I worried that I don't have a style because I tried everything - wide, macro, portraits, landscape, high-key, low-key, strobes etc.  However, my style was developed over time  before I realized it until people start to describe what my pictures are like. I like bright pictures with lots of white as a base, and feminine feminine feminine.

I've done some low-key photos before when I used to play around with strobes many years ago. They are definitely moody and dark. I don't do much lately because I think portraits are prettier in natural bright light.

A friend asked me the other day why my images look brighter on my camera than on his.  It's because I almost always over-expose my pictures by +1/3 stop because I like my photos bright and fun.  

Today as realization hit, I wanted to do high-key portraits to stretch my style.
Setup for high-key photo above with red lips. (Ignore the square on the backdrop. It's from the window)

Setup is simple. I put a white backdrop, indirectly back-lit by window light. There is a white cardboard reflector in front of the camera. Metered on the face and over-expose by +2 stops.  That's it.  The key is to over-expose by at least +2 stops. The higher I over-expose, the higher-key it will be.
Ta-Da, even the first frame looked pretty good that I was smitten. SOOC (Straight out of camera) and no need to retouch or boost.  One reason I like high-key photos is that skin is so blown out that there is no need to retouch the skin.

There were times in the past I couldn't get high-key right. Without knowing explicitly that I was going after high-key looks, I always wanted to take strongly back-lit portraits.  Here are my failures from the past.

Yuk. The back light coming in from the window was too strong and I didn't diffuse it and I didn't use a reflector to light the face.

Then, I learned to diffuse the back-light and use a reflector for softer portraits. So for the picture below with blue top, the setup is same as what I used today.

But I couldn't figure out what's wrong with that high-key photo that day.  The setup looked right, exposure looked right. The picture looked like high-key photo. But I knew something was not right. Turned out my blue top was the problem.  It became the center of attention, and rendered the whole picture bluish, including my skin. And it was totally distracting. 
Setup for picture above with blue top. Diffused window light by sheer curtains.
A blanket was put up as a reflecting wall. Some reflection from the white bed sheet as well. 

Today I realized I gotta wear light/white too to make up a good high-key photo. Details in white clothing are what's gonna be shown well in high-key photos.

High-key photos are so fun.  It's so easy and the effect is instantly eye-catchy that I just want to do all high-key portraits now for all my friends :-) 

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