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High-Key and Low-Key

What are and how to get Low-Key and High-Key photography with Gimp.

Italian Web master: Bad English, but good tutorials.

This tutorial will teach you how to simulate High key and Low key photography with Gimp, those effects are also called "High-Light" and "Low-Light".

before and after high and low key effect.

The high key photography is based on high lights, so the images looks nearly overexposed. Anyway there is a large difference: In the high key photography the black areas remains black, so you will preserve the contrast of the photo. This effect gives the best results with white girls, babies and even young guys because the result is really "angelic".
Generally the High Key photography is associated with black and white, in fact the colors will result really desaturated. In the example at the beginning of the tutorial, you can notice that the dark areas are still dark.

The low light photography is the contrary, so the photos will look underexposed, but with the high lights preserved. This effect could be used for gothic pictures or portraits. The colors are still good, and generally the low key is associated to black and white pictures too.

Now let's see how to use Gimp for high and low key photography. The tutorial is the same for both effects, exept for the last step.

First open a photo with right exposure, after that duplicate the background layer. I choosed a black and white photo, you can also try with colored pictures, but I think that the results will be worse.
Right click on the background layer in the layers window (Ctrl+L if hidden), then choose Duplicate Layer.

duplicate bg.

Open Colors menu, than choose Brightness-Contrast. Increase the contrast to 20, then press Ok.
If you have a colored photo you must desaturate the layer (Colors-Desaturate-Lightness-Ok).

increase contrast for high key.

The last step is change the Blend Mode. If you want the high key effect, you have to choose Screen (opacity100%). For the low key effect choose Multiply (100% opacity). Now you just need to merge down the background-copy layer (right click on it, then Merge Down).

choose different modes for high low. before and after high and low key effect.
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Use of these tutorials, for non commercial purposes, is allowed only if you put a link to the homepage of this website.