High Key Black and White in Photoshop Effect

One of the most popular and often used effects that you can create in Photoshop is the black and white Photoshop effect known as "High Key Lighting." Originally used for technological reasons, high key lighting reduces the contrast ratio in your photos to create a pleasant artistic effect. By digitally inserting high-key lighting into Photoshopped images, you will be creating the same effect that would be produced if your subject was illuminated by a series of lights from all angles around them (when the photograph was shot). Below, you will find a basic tutorial for creating this effect in Photoshop.

Tools and Materials Needed

  • Computer
  • Photoshop Suite
  • Digital Image File

Step 1: Open New Canvas and Load Image

Once you have opened Photoshop, create a new canvas of any size that you desire. It will be best to make your canvas big enough that the image you have in mind will fit in it comfortably, without being cut off at the edges. Next, select "File > Open" and select an image file that you would like to apply the high key black and white effect to. Once you have  your image loaded, adjust the size of the image so that it will be big enough for you to work with.

Step 2: Desaturate Image

Next, you will want to completely desaturate your image in Photoshop. Desaturating an image strips the image of its color, effectively transforming the image into a black and white photograph. There are two ways that you can do this, depending on whether you prefer to use your mouse or keyboard shortcuts. With your mouse, desaturate your image by selecting "Image > Adjustments > Desaturate." Alternatively, if you prefer to use keyboard shortcuts, you can do so by hitting Shift+Ctrl+u.

Step 3: Apply Image Adjustment Curve

The next step you will need to take is to apply an image adjustment curve to your image. This will adjust the contrast between light and dark spots on your image. To make these changes, click on "Image > Adjustments > Curves" in the Photoshop menus. You should be aware that you can form this curve however you would like, and you should experiment to determine what looks the best to you. As a starting point, however, type in an "Output" value of 240 and an "Input" value of 170. This will usually provide you with a great contrast between light and dark sections of your photograph that will be conducive to the high key effect.

Step 4: Duplicate Layer and Apply Gaussian Blur

Once you have desaturated and adjusted the contrast in your image, the next step you will take is to duplicate the layer by clicking on "Layer > Duplicate Layer." Once you have your new layer, apply the Gaussian blur effect by selecting "Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur." Adjust the pixel radius of this blur effect to your own preferences. Then, set the layer blend mode to overlay this duplicate layer. You will now have a photograph with a high key effect created.


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