A person can distinguish as many as 300 shades from white to black. In black-and-white photography, one might perceive up to 30 shades (a broad tonal range) or as few as 10 shades (a narrow range).
A moderate number of colors can make an image more striking. Removing intermediate colors eliminates trivial details, and images rendered in specific tones have a more powerful impact.
Light colors often convey tranquility and happiness, whereas dark colors evoke intensity, caution, and dramatic tension. Portraits or landscapes typically adopt a dominant tone to enhance the image’s expressiveness.
Dark Tonality (Low Key)
Images in Low Key are predominantly dark, sometimes nearly black, yet retain clearly distinguishable details, with light areas appearing bright and stark. Mid-tones are subtly represented by darker parts of the tonal spectrum.
The inclusion of isolated bright highlights is essential. Apart from the key tonal accents, elements within the image should not vary significantly in brightness. Side and backlighting are commonly used for illumination. Low Key is often chosen for evening landscapes and includes light sources within the composition.
Light Tonality (High Key)
In High Key images, light gray and white hues make up most of the composition. It’s important to have at least a few truly black elements to provide the necessary tonal contrast. The balance of shades in an image depends not only on lighting but also on the subject, which should inherently be light.
Creating a High Key image of a dark object against a dark backdrop is not feasible. Snowy landscapes, bodies of water, and portraits suit the High Key approach. For effective High Key photography, subjects require strong, uniform lighting. In low light, it’s challenging to achieve the subtlety of dark spots against light gray.
Portrait sessions in studios call for soft, diffused lighting that avoids harsh shadows. The brightness contrast across different parts of the subject should not exceed one exposure stop.