Cherry Blossoms #3 – High Key
by John Downey
Is a full-range of tones necessary for a good photographic image? No. High key and low key photography avoid that perfect bell curve centered in the histogram and push the highlights to the right or shadows to the left. This image of cherry blossoms and the Washington Monument is an example of a high key image, wherein the screen capture below shows the blown out highlights marked by a red mask. The histogram shows all of the tones trying to leave the stadium at the right.
This is where only checking the histogram gets tricky. How much is completely blown out? Missing essential details? That depends, so bracketing (taking several exposures under and over a stop or two where you think the sweet spot is) is still necessary with digital. I first estimated exposure by ensuring all of the cherry blossoms were fully resolved against the overcast sky and photographing from under the tree branch. The same method can be used for low key images, where all of the tones are crammed to the left side of the histogram. If shadow detail is important, additional bracketing will ensure success – digital cameras are very unforgiving once you’ve achieved Zone Zero (pure black) and won’t bring detail back, even in post. What is more, increasing exposure in post will also increase digital noise in the shadows and possibly the mid-tones when pushed to extremes. Best to get it right in-camera first.
With the cherry trees in full bloom this week in DC (or Dogwoods if you live further north), go out and try some high-key exposures. Bracket often. Good luck!
© 2011 John Andrew Downey II Photography. All Rights Reserved.