High Key Photo – The key to outstanding portrait shot

Often enough we are relying on our camera’s intelligent to meter the scene for appropriate exposure. While the technology advancement has made our digital cameras so clever that they get it right on the spot most of the time, there are sometimes, under some tricky lighting condition, our camera metering can be fooled by the scene. This is when we should adjust our exposure compensation EV value.

One of the example is shooting portrait under overcast weather. Your portrait will be mostly under exposed if you were relying on camera’s matrix metering. In most happened occasion, you should increase the EV value to at least half a stop to capture a proper exposed portrait. Look at the example below.

High Key Portrait1original

This portrait was shot with exposure compensated to +1/3EV of a stop. The overall exposure is alright with no clipping highlight and shadow. However, if you look at the portrait alone (in this case would be my 2 children), they are slightly under exposed. This is where the mid tone is. How to create a cleaner portrait shot? I’ll need to adjust its level in post processing. Firstly, push the mid tone of the image towards the highlight zone. In this case, I need to blow some of the backgrounds like the sky and the boats, in order to get a perfectly exposed main object (the kids). Then I adjusted the middle tone contrast to reduce shadows of the children. Finally, I sharpened the image and that’s it!

High Key Portrait1

This is the end result: A cleaner, brighter and more eye catching portrait shot. Because I pushed up the mid tone which is normally referred as key tone, a High Key portrait photo is created. In order to have a clean high key photo, you’ll need to capture the scene with reasonably correct exposure in order to avoid noise when adjusting the key tone level. In this case, the above photo would not be as clean if I captured with camera’s default metering which would be 1/3 stop under exposed. So back to the basic. Check the histogram on a trial shot to make sure the exposure is what you desired, and compensate if it is not. Enjoy photographing! – Cecil Lee Photography

> The original post was first published on my travel photo blog

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