One popular trend in wildlife photography is high key. This look bleaches out the background and even part of the subject by overexposing much of the image. Take a look at this cute bear cub in Alaska. The background is blown out and the cub jumps off the page. This image was basically straight out the camera. In this case high key was a solution to flat lighting and a monochromatic scene. What’s interesting is I am not following the classic ‘exposure for the highlights’ exposure rule. If I was, the background would be darker, not overexposed, and the bear would be very dark. Since the bear is the subject, and the background isn’t too important, I exposed for the bear. I think ‘expose for the subject’ is a better rule for exposure. My sky was blinking indicating overexposure, but it didn’t matter. I exposed the image to get detail out of the dark bear cub on a bright background.
You can also create high key in post production. What’s important is to use an image that already has bright areas that you can further brighten…you’re just helping the scene along. Backlit subjects work great. A surfacing hippo can be transformed into a hippo floating in space with almost no background visible. Using the new mask features in LR and PS, you can select your subject, invert the selection to choose the background, and then use the exposure and whites slider to bleach out the background. For more control try using a curves adjustment layer in PS.
I like to use high key when the exposure produces it. Above is another bear image that is high key…and created simply by exposing for the subject in the camera. In the end you are the artist, and high key images offer a new approach to traditional wildlife photography. Some may be created in-camera by exposing for the subject, and others may be created in the computer. Experimentation is crucial in the development of creativity! What will your style be?