Lightroom: How To Create High Key High Contrast Images

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom allows users to manipulate, edit and add effects to photos. But, what sets Lightroom apart from similar programs is that users don't need to worry about ruining their original photo. Lightroom's Develop module allows users to add effects or to create high-key high contrast images without ever changing the original photo.

Step 1: Become Familiar with High-Key Process

High-key is the process of removing any dark shadows from a photo in order to make an overall brighter photo. Usually, the goal of this type of image manipulation is create an almost happy or ethereal mood. High-key editing will also remove the color from a photo, turning it to black and white.

Generally, the background of these photos will be white, and the lines of the subject will nearly blend into the background. High-key editing is most often used with a human subject, but it can also be used for pet photography or to create very artistic landscape pictures.

Step 2: Learn How to Create High-Key, High Contrast Images

To add the effect to a current image or photo, follow the below steps:

  1. Open up the chosen image in Lightroom. Crop the photo if necessary to focus on a single subject.
  2. Go into the Develop module, and then in the Treatment Panel, go to the Grayscale tab.
  3. Try putting the Brightness at around +60 and the Contrast to +90. This will increase the contrast in the photos, but also make the overall photo significantly brighter.
  4. In the same tab, adjust the Presence. Clarity should be around -65 and Saturation around -75 to -80. Vibrance should be all the way to -100.
  5. Next, go into the Tone Curve settings. Here, users should increase Highlights to about +15 to +20, Darks to +50 and Shadows to +100.
  6. In the same tab, adjust the Point Curve to Medium or High Contrast.
  7. Now head to the Vignettes tab, and increase the Post-Crop Amount to +100, the Midpoint to 0 (or near it), Roundness to between +70 to +75, and the Feather to around 70.

Step 3: Optional Effects

At this point, the photo will have a high-key, high-contrast look. Some people, however, may wish to add some additional effects. Maybe try adding a graduated filter to the overall image in order to completely eliminate the background.

You may also wish to use something like the Adjustment Brush to add some color back to the photo. For example, users may add some blue to the eyes, pink to the cheeks and yellow to the hair. This could be used for advertisements, posters, fliers and the like as it will be more interesting than the standard high-key photo.

You should experiment with the Amount Sliders until they find the desired effect. What works for one user may not be right for another.