Saturday, October 29, 2011

High Key HDR

I am hopelessly addicted to HDR Photography and have been for quite some time.  One of the things that I struggle with in HDR is developing my own style.  It's tough trying to stand out in the crowd.  There are a lot of awesome HDR photographers/artists out there and one could easily fall into the trap of adopting one of their styles but I didn't want to go that route, I wanted my work stand out and be different.  This is when I started experimenting with High Key HDR and to be honest, it's not really high key in the sense that I'm shooting in a studio with a white backdrop and light source aimed into the background. 

Here's an example of what I am talking about.  This is the image that I submitted for my photo during the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk for the St. Petersburg, Florida walk. 

It's a completely different look from my normal HDR images.  The white vignette sets it apart from a lot of work you see on a daily basis with HDR and really photography in general.  When most people think about a photo with a vignette, they immediate think about dark edges with a lighter interior.  My thought was that I could accomplish the same goal by lightening the edges.  The purpose of the vignette is to draw the eye to the center of the photograph.  So to be unique, I decided to use the white vignette and this is the first image I have used this style on.  This image was also chosen as the best image from that Photowalk location and I can't even begin to tell you how proud and excited I was to have had my Hotel HDR image chosen. 

So anyway, that's enough about the why, let's take a look at the how. 

I usually will use 5 exposures to create an HDR image.  So my exposure values are normally -2 -1 0 +1 +2 (a minus value is underexposed by that many stops and a plus value is over exposed by that value, so a -2 is two stops under exposded and a +1 is one stop over exposed).  Now, once you have your exposures, it's time to prepare your images for the HDR process.  I do this by opening them in a group in Adobe Camera Raw (you can use Lightroom as well).  I make a few adjustments and then save them globally over all 5 images so every image has had the same exact adjustment made to it. Then you  use your favorite HDR program to merge them into 1 image.  My tool of choice is Photomatix Pro 4.0 from my friends at HDR Soft ( ).  I've tried several different HDR programs and Photomatix Pro just seems to work the best for me , you can use any of them that you are comfortable with and still get great results. 

Here's an example of what my Photomatix settings might look like.

You can make these settings anything you like , if you are happy with how your image looks, hit the process button , save it as a 16bit tiff and then open it back up in ACR or Lightroom. 

When I open it back up in ACR (or Lightroom for those that use it instead of ACR), I will adjust the contrast, black levels , vibrance, clarity and noise reduction before opening the file up in Photoshop CS5. 

The image below will give you some idea of what I will normally do before opening my .tiff file in CS5.

These settings are what I used for this image, I usually play around some in ACR and get the image looking the way I want it to before moving on to the next step.  There's no right or wrong here, you're the artist , it's your style.  Go with what works for you.

Once inside CS5, I will normally copy the layer by using CTRL-J or CMD-J , then I will fix any blemishes, do some levels adjustment and clean the image up a bit.

For this photo, my  next step was using the Topaz Adjust filter and selecting Spicify and adjusting the image from there to get more detail.  This again is subjective, it's up to you to make the image look the way you want it to prior to doing the High Key effect. 

Now, the High Key effect is normally my next step from here.  It's done in two stages, the first stage is in OnOne Phototools.  Here's a screen shot of the preset I saved for this so you can get a feel for which filters were used. 

The important part of this image is the filters that are located in the stack.  You can see that image on the right side of the screen shot is starting to take on that High Key look.  I sometimes will adjust each of the filters listed in the stack for opacity , again that's entirely up to you and the look and feel you are after.

The next thing I do after committing the changes in Phototools is to make another copy of the Phototools layer (CTRL-J or CMD-J on a Mac) use the Topaz B&W filter (I've been very impressed with this filter, Topaz did a great job with this product).

I use the Opalotype Collection setting to get the look and feel I am after.  I will also make some adjustments to the image using the Finishing Touches menu on the right.  See the screenshot below.

By adjusting the sliders in the Vignette drop down menu, I can achieve the look and feel I am after.  Once I am done with this, I will hit OK and adjust my image from there in CS5.  I end up using Levels and BW Filter to get my final image the way I want it. 

Here are some more examples of my High Key HDR images.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to either post them here or email me at  .  Thank you for taking the time to read my blog , you can find more examples of my work at  .  You can follow me on twitter @rorymadstudios and on Facebook RoryMad Studios .

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My name is Michael White and I'm a Fine Art Photographer based out of the Tampa Bay area.   I enjoy photographing various landscapes and wild life that can be found in the US.  I am also the creator of a new process called High Key HDR. 
You can find my website at and I can also be followed on Twitter at @rorymadstudios .