High-key images to me is an art form that allows only the subject of your image to tell the entire story. Stripping back the environment and other features to only show the subject in this high-contrast and striking way helps to keep the image clean and simplistic, adding a whole different feel to your photography. There are quite a few examples of such images on my Instagram page as well as on the Monochrome Wildlife gallery on my website.
For those of you that are not sure what high-key images are, they are images that are very over exposed with the background and non-focal points blown out as shown below in a few examples. These types of images tend to work best with subjects that are of high contrast, such as Zebra, as it enhances the effect even further, and with the beauty of the black and white sliders in Lightroom you can create some magical images.
It is always best to pre-plan these images and to know that you are going to shoot for high-key images, so that this way you can get as much right in camera, and not have to rely on post processing to create this effect. This will also not work on every photo that you have so therefore if you specifically plan these images, the less you have to do after you have captured it, the better it is.
This is where your camera’s built in exposure compensation comes in to play. This is the section on the back of your camera’s screen, for example the Canon 5D Mark IV, that has the numbers ranging from -5 to +5, with increments of 1/3 in between. This setting will automatically be set to 0, so to over compensate your images, you will need to move the dial to the right, experimenting with what will work best for you and the type of image that you are trying to create.

Now you may be thinking to yourself that you can do the same in Lightroom or whichever post processing tool it may be that you are using. This is 100% correct, although you are then limiting yourself. As all RAW images that you import into your post processing software, your images start on ‘0’ with all of the settings as shown on the left below. If you are wanting to create an over exposed image, you therefore have 5 full stops that you can work with in your software, as shown on the right below.

If however, in camera you did not plan to shoot for high-key, and your image came out slightly under exposed, you may find that the exposure compensation in post processing might not be enough for you to work with. Therefore, if you over compensated in camera by say 2 full stops giving you a good image to work with, you end up being able to over expose by 7 full stops (the 2 from in camera, and the 5 you still have in post processing).

This is why it always helps to be prepared in-field, and to pre-plan what it is that you would like to take away from the day or trip, and to ensure that you are able to bag those special photographs.

Till next time!

Regards,

Carel