I have loved Black and White prints since my earliest days in photography when I had my home darkroom and attempted B&W fine art printing in the spirit of Ansel Adams. However, like most amateur printers back then, using Adams as our yardstick, it was and epic fail. So, I embraced color photography! I quickly learned that where I may not have had the technical ability (at 19 years old) to approach Adams’ B&W style, I did have the talent to emulate Pete Turner’s style of color photography.
After that emulation phase using Kodachrome and every variety of Ektachromes ( finally exceeding even Pete Turner’s color palette using Ektachrome Color Infra-red film ) and taking control of my color printing using Cibachrome, I found my own photographic voice—my own style.
Fast forward 40 years…all my favorite films and printing papers ( B&W and even Cibachrome ) have been discontinued. Ironically I found that with Photoshop and NIK Silver Effects Pro, and a plethora of other software, it’s now much easier, than in the film era, to create great B&W images from any source. The key in this digital age is determining which color image in one’s portfolio is suitable for conversion into B&W. I say color images because as a professional photographer I create images of all my subjects in Color (RAW) to get the most out of each image file—you really don’t want your camera converting to B&W for you. The first thing I look for when considering an image for B&W conversion is: Does it contain enough good blacks (shadows) to make it three dimensional? And, are there any contrasting whites to counter those blacks? If not, then the image stays in color.
The image below is an example of one of my fine art images created using a three step process—I don’t just desaturate the color file…
f9.0 @ 1/320 sec ISO 400
For comparison here’s the original, unedited, color file…
|Original Color File|
If I’m going to convert to B&W I must have a reason to do so. What am I trying to show or say about a subject? The B&W version must exceed what the color version can do. In this case, when I captured this image, I saw this old rusting car as a skull disintegrating into the landscape. The color version was too literal—it’s a rusty car. I wanted a creepy, organic, feeling to this image.
MY THREE-STEP CONVERSION ( For just THIS image )
1) In Adobe Camera Raw:
- First I drop Saturation (-100) and see what it needs
- For most B&W I raise Contrast (+40 or more)
- Then I drop Blacks (-40 or more)
- Then if my Highlights don’t pop I raise’em (to taste)
- I’ll raise Clarity (+50 or ore)
- Then I’ll sharpen the file
2) Make a Jpeg of the Raw file
- Open in Photoshop HDR Efex Pro 2
- Select Tone Mapping (single Image)
- Selected B&W (Artistic) #15 preset and then changed most of the settings! I only use the pre-set as a base.
Note: Because Tone Mapping tends to flatten the image most of my adjustments are to bring back Three-Dimensionality by Increasing the Blacks, Contrast and increasing Highlights or Whites.
3) Open the Jpg image in Adobe Camera Raw…
- Since the sliders in HDR Efex usually don’t do enough for my taste I start over again with the jpg
- I again dropped the Blacks (-44 more)
- I bumped Highlights Whites (+6 & +8 more)
- I dropped Shadows (-24)
I generally detest most HDR or Tone Mapping I see on the web and a lot of the images I subject to these programs are trashed immediately. Sometimes these things can reveal something hidden and really make an image sing!
Have questions don’t hesitate to ask…
Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman, Certified
Training site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
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