IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work…

Babies! When most people see them, they “ooh and ah” and tell the parents how cute, how sweet, how pretty…. But, how in a photo can you describe a baby without the use of words?

Lynn Clayton wanted to make an image statement about the innocence and purity of babies and how they look at their world in awe and wonder. And she did just that, not only by capturing a wonderful facial expression, but by expanding on this baby’s characteristics by displaying the image in grayscale, and then creating a high-key image with her post-production tools.

The emotional implications of a high-key image are a lightness of mood and spirit. Those fit well here.

Lynn made a good choice to judicially use her editing tools and abilities to make her creation “snap”.

Small Wonderment
by Lynn Clayton

© 2007 Lynn Clayton. All rights reserved.

Subject: Close-up of a 7 month old baby boy

Conditions: The image was taken inside a home with low light and no flash. Lynn didn’t feel that color emphasized what she was trying to accomplish, so she pushed it in post-processing to a black and white, high-key look.


1. Capturing the appealing expression on the baby’s face draws the viewer’s attention and keeps it there.

2. Placing the subject at a diagonal in the frame pulls you through the image.

3. Changing the image to a black and white lends to the purity of the subject.

4. The use of high-key exposure makes the eyes (and the expression) really pop out of the image.

Noella’s comments:

Watching your young subjects carefully and establishing a rapport with them is essential to getting them to relax. Once that special connection happens, then you begin to see their character and personality slowly immerge. Lynn waited for the baby to look around and become engaged in something or someone. She saw this beautiful expression on the baby’s face and captured it. Patience, along with getting other family members or friends involved, is a key component to making the photo session an enjoyable experience.

The diagonal of chin to forehead and the opposing diagonal across the eyes both add a dynamic compositional element. This allows the viewer to be caught-up in the image and wonder just what it was that caught the baby’s attention and awe.

The soft indoor lighting added to the softness of the baby’s skin. The original image was strong technically, but Lynn decided that it would be more dynamic if she converted it to grayscale and adjusted the exposure to allow it to become a high-key image. It draws more attention to the facial features and makes them the primary focus.

High-key is a lighting/exposure technique which produces an image that is bright with a tendency towards low contrast. These images either have very few shadows or none at all. If you look at the histogram of a high-key image, you will see that the tonal range is predominantly on the right (bright side), but the essential details in the highlights of the subject have not been lost.

It was a particularly good choice on Lynn’s part to utilize her post-production tools. She created an airy and joyful image that portrays the simplicity of innocence – wonderment of delight.

Come back and join us for another IMAGE TALK in the near future.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Marla Meier for her editing assistance in order to present the images for this series. And, our thanks to the photographer/artists who allow us the use of their wonderful photos in these columns.
You inspire all of us!

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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