Welcome back to portrait tips and techniques. Continuing on from the last post,  “Pastel Portraits”, I will show you how I achieved the look.


First, let me explain my viewpoint of high-key portraiture and the pastel look. To most photographers, high-key portraiture means a white background in a studio environment, lit with multiple lights with subjects dressed in white clothing. You would be correct, but unfortunately somewhere along the line, some photographers think a white shirt with blue denim jeans is high key. I don’t and the reason is simple, your eyes are drawn to the brightest colour or highest contrast area. In the case of the white shirt and jeans, the contrast of the clothing takes away from the face and as portrait photographers, the face is more important not the clothing. So clothing selection will make or break a high-key pastel portrait.


By having the clothing light, top to bottom, the face now will contrast against the clothing, allowing the eyes and lips to draw the viewer.  So white clothing on a white background in the studio is traditionally accepted as high-key portraiture, but as I photograph mostly outdoors in natural light, I  look for light coloured or neutral walls for backgrounds. Light and rough textured is my preference – concrete walls are a good example, as shown in these prints below. My version of high-key is about achieving a soft, low contrast look in the clothing, so clothing in pastel colours and whites are ideal to blend with these types of backgrounds.


On location, watch for dark object in backgrounds that will draw your eye. Example of this might be on a beach with soft light sand and kids in light clothing, then in the background , large dark rocks drawing your eye away from the kids.


The “karate boy” below is a good example of white clothing mixed with a textured, neutral concrete wall. The eyes, lips and hair draw the viewer, not the foreground, background and clothing.


HOW TO LIGHTEN AND DESATURATE THE IMAGE: This not going to be a long Photoshop tutorial, just a overview so you can play and experiment to suit the look you want.

Now you have your perfect image, that is, the  right clothing and suitable location, we need to lighten the image, but not lose detail. This is my procedure for this image, as each image will need its own adjustments.

1 Original

2 Duplicate the layer > desaturate that layer > change  layer blend mode to screen > you may want to adjust the opacity slider, but on this image I selected > image >adjustments> shadow/highlights to improve the white detail > flatten

3 Duplicate the layer > filter > high pass > 8-10 pixels > change layer blend mode to hard light to sharpen and create some edginess – change opacity to suit > select hue and saturation  layer > slide saturation to -54 you may choose another setting to suit

4 I created another curve layer to improve the clothing detail and add some warmth via colour balance > +3 red  -3 yellow I also added some gaussian blur to the bottom.

The following image is the textured concrete wall used for the two sisters.

The portrait of the girls was warmed up more and the eyes and lip colour was retained. Note with these pastel portraits, the background and clothing blend and not compete with each other.

Original colour portrait before conversion to a pastel portrait.

Not all pastel portraits have to have very light backgrounds. In this portrait of the three brothers, the colour hue of the sand and water matches the boys clothing, so there is no colour contrast. I would have preferred lighter coloured clothing on two of the boys, but when I applied the techniques above, I liked the tones.


Well that’s it for this post and I hope this helps those who would like to try this style. It’s not new, just a variation of an old technique that I think is timeless. Give it a try, you never know, you may find a better way. If you do let me know.


Until next time, happy shooting.


PS………feel free to make comments. They are always appreciated.




11 Responses to “HIGH-KEY PORTRAIT…… “PASTELS” 2”

  1. Hayley Says:

    Thanks so much for this Wayne…it’s a technique I have been wondering about for a while. I’m sure there are lots of people benefiting from these wonderfully informative posts even though they don’t comment. I hope you continue with them as they are invaluable.

  2. wayne Says:

    Thanks Hayley, I hope people are benefiting. The trick is to read the info, then go and do it. Having a go, making mistakes and doing it again is how to learn.

  3. JanRamsay Says:

    Wayne – this is wonderful information you have shared. Your work is always so inspiring and I often will sit with a glass of wine and flip through your book. Thank you.

  4. wayne Says:

    Hi Jan,
    I’m glad your finding it helpful.
    Just steady on the wine, you’re supposed to absorb the info, not too much alcohol.

  5. Steve Chastain Says:

    LOL..it’s sooo funny Wayne…I was just heading over to your page to tell you it was time to post again..LOL…just goes to prove that great minds run together.

    Wayne thank you so much for sharing you heart and soul with everyone…you’re a great person my friend.

  6. wayne Says:

    Hi Steve,
    yes I felt your presence. So I thought I’d beat you to the reminder. See you at AE mate.

  7. Jacqui Says:

    I thank you for being so generous that you are willing to share your knowledge with us. I look forward to your posts and like Jan, often go through your website and Facebook page for inspiration (it has been without the wine until now but Jan, what a wonderful idea)!

  8. wayne Says:

    Thanks Jacqui,
    My new website is up with all new images. So pour a glass and enjoy. http://www.radfordphoto.com.au/

  9. Rory Mole Says:

    Hi there Wayne,
    I just love your style and also how you have so generously revealed your methods and techniques.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Cape Town
    South Africa

  10. wayne Says:

    Thanks Rory,
    Wish I had more time to do more. I’m glad you’re enjoying what I have done so far.

  11. sang Says:

    many thanks for the posting, very interesting and useful.


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