What is a study? The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines a study as “a literary or artistic production intended as a preliminary outline, an experimental interpretation, or an exploratory analysis of specific features or characteristics.” That’s exactly what the image in this post, “Snowy Trees, Study No. 2,” is.
In looking over my body of work recently, I realized that many of my images tend to be rather low key – that is, having many dark tones near the black end of the grayscale spectrum. There’s nothing wrong with this. I like dark tones, and low key presentations can be very effective in conveying certain kinds of moods and atmospheres. Still, high key images – images having many light tones generally distributed toward the white end of the grayscale spectrum – communicate their own kinds of moods and atmospheres. As a photographer, I am interested in exploring this kind of visual communication as well.
One problem. I really didn’t know how to do this.
It’s harder than you might think. Pulling off a successful high key image is not simply a matter of making everything in the image brighter. You end up with an image that just looks overexposed. Instead, it’s more about compressing the tonal range within a relatively narrow, white-shifted band on the grayscale spectrum, while carefully fine-tuning the contrast within that band to keep the image from looking flat.
At least, that seems to be what I’ve learned so far. In order to give myself some practice, I devised a small project for myself. I selected a number of images from my archives that seemed to be good candidates for a high key treatment, in this case, snowy trees. Truthfully, these snowy tree images were captures from earlier this spring that I felt didn’t make the cut for the snow images I was working on then (those earlier images already have been posted to this website). However, they were perfect as practice vehicles simply to explore the dynamics of how high key imagery works. In other words, they were perfect as studies.
I didn’t specifically intend for these studies to become finished pieces. Still, I’m happy with the way they are turning out, so I’ll keep posting them as long as I like what I’m seeing.