Turning Photos Shot In Crappy Light Into Fine Art


Watch this video and discover a whole world of wildlife and nature photography that doesn’t follow the rules!
Horn Photo tries to bring you informative content that will be interesting and help you become a better and more versatile photographer.  I have the task of reviewing videos and selecting the ones that are beneficial.  
Admittedly, I’m no spring chick, and given a bag of chips, a chocolate chip cookie, a comfortable chair and a long video, I rarely make it through the first few minutes without falling asleep.  I was dreading watching a video on high key photography, because it doesn’t interest me.    UNTIL NOW!  I watched this video in it’s entirety WITHOUT FALLING ASLEEP EVEN ONCE.  Now, I’m excited to go through my archives and start turning my old nature shots into high key works of art!
Lisa Langell is a wildlife photographer with some very unique skill sets.  One of her many specialties is High Key nature photography, that sells like crazy! She has vast experience in interior design, and knows what people like to hang on their walls.  She has even rescued mediocre images from her archives and transformed them into art that sells.  
Lisa conducts regular webinars normally for a fee.  Tamron was kind enough to make this recording of her video webinar on Artful High Key Photography available to us for free.  
Lisa explains the reason why amazing wildlife photos, worthy of the cover of National Geographic, don’t sell.  But, high key nature images do!  
You will learn from this video.  Guaranteed. Whether you want to just have fun, or enhance your photography business, you will get a lot out of watching this video.
Have you ever shot birds or other wildlife and the lighting was terrible? You took the picture because it was your only chance, and that is just the way it looked that day.  For example,birds against a boring gray winter sky. Or smoggy sky.  These turn out to be PERFECT for turning into high key.  
Watch the video, and if you don’t like it, let me know. I will personally deliver a bag of chips and a chocolate chip cookie to your front porch to ease your anguish of having wasted one hour of your already boring life.  
Many of the photos on this blog are screen shots from Lisa’s video webinar.
Here are the answers to the questions you did not ask, but we are answering anyway:

1. What is High Key photography?  

High Key photography is a style that has a bright, light and clean look.  It utilizes abnormally bright light, which would normally not be acceptable in traditional or classic photography, but is a feature of high key photography.  It washes out most shadows and details on an image, and can lead to a soft look.

2. Why shoot high key photography?

It opens up photo opportunities!
You don’t need to get up at the crack of dawn or wait until the golden hour.  The middle of the day works just fine. You can shoot in crappy light.  
Think of this:  The Central Valley during much of the year.  Hazy or foggy sky; perfect for high key.
High key images convey a positive and upbeat tone and the look is pleasing to many people.  
High key images SELL! They are very popular for interior designs.

3. What conditions are necessary for high key photography?

There must be high contrast light where your subject is darker than the sky or background.  You need a clean background and/or foreground. Your subject should be separated clearly from your background.  (The rules for silhouette photography apply to high key photography.). The light source should be behind your subject.  The sky or background should not have shadowy detail.
Good background for High Key
Bad background for high key

4. What are good subjects for high key?

A hawk, flock of seagulls, some pigeons, a pterodactyl.  Look up and take a bunch of shots.  They don’t even have to be tack sharp.  Or very sharp.  Or sharp. The image can turn out great if it has a softness to it.
Of course, other types of photography lend well to high key.  Portraits, plants, products, food, buildings…it’s all up to your own imagination.  The methods are the same no matter what your subject is.

5. Are high key images marketable?

High key images sell well in interior design settings. The clean, minimalistic look is pleasing to many people.
You can have an amazing wildlife shot that is worthy of the cover of National Geographic magazine. You may have people ooh and aah over it, but they’re not going to buy it to hang on their living room wall above their couch.
Which looks better to you?  The wildlife picture on the left is too busy for the wall.  It’s an amazing shot, but not for interior design purposes.  Large high key nature images sell!

6. What settings should I use for high key photographs?

Lisa covers this topic extensively in her video.
The more you can do in camera, the less you have to do in post processing, and the better your image may turn out.  Although you can be creative with images that turn out noisy or not tack sharp.  
Lisa describes how much to bump up the exposure compensation, when bracketing may be helpful, and what features to use on your camera to help  make it easy to take better high key images.
If you use the evaluative meter mode, then bump up your exposure compensation one to three stops higher.  If you use spot metering mode, then bump up your exposure compensation one stop higher.
You’ll want to clip your background, but not your subject.  Make sure that you can still see detail in your subject.
If you are questioning how your image may turn out, then bracket it.  Shoot at a normal meter reading, then shoot one, two and three exposure stops higher.

The image on the right was shot in the evaluative metering mode, and the camera took an average of the light and dark areas of the image to set the exposure.  As a result, the sky is light and the subject is too dark.  Overexposing in post processing will work,but the subject could lose some detail and become noisy as a result.
The image on the left was metered on the subject, and then overexposed by one stop.  This is perfect for turning into a high key photograph.  

Here is the final image cropped in an interesting way.  High key often contains a lot of negative space, which lends to a cleaner image.

7. Can I set up shots just for high key?

Yes!  You can take spectacular wildflower shots in the field with simply the use of a 99¢ white foam board.  Have a friend hold the board behind the flower, overexpose by 3 stops and snap the picture.  You should be facing the light source — the sun should be behind the flower.  You can make simple clean high key shots that people will be proud to hang on their wall. 
High Key Teamwork!
Results are Simple and stunning

8. Can I rescue some of my archive shots for high key?

ABSOLUTELY!  What a great time to go through your archives and pull out images that have potential for rebirth as a high key photograph.
Have you ever shot photos out at the wildlife refuges in Merced, Los Banos or Stockton?  If so, you have lots of pictures that you thought to be useless.  Some of those are the best ones to use for high key! 
Here are a couple of examples of archive rescues that Lisa shows in her video.
Raw image of Sand Hill Cranes
Same image turned into high key, vintage style printed on fine art paper and framed creatively.
RAW images of cranes in terrible light.
High key Triptych

9. What’s the best way to print my high key images?

More often than not, large format printing is best for high key images.  They are statement pieces that have a classy style.  Canvas and metal are excellent materials to have your images printed on.
Order Prints from Horn Photo right now
As you can see in the video, Lisa is creative in her cropping and positioning of her images. Sometimes she adds canvas in Photoshop for more negative space, and often breaks up her image into a series of three separate images.  There are always exceptions, when high key images look best on smaller prints with large frames.  There is no end to how to display your high key prints.

Visit Lisa Langell’s website:
Check out Tamron’s lenses here:

Thanks for reading!