Home » Uncategorized » Black and White Photography – Part 2

Black and White Photography – Part 2

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In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular…sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.
Ansel Adams

Conversion Using Nik's Silver Efex Pro

Conversion Using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro

Software for Black and White Photography.

Software for black and white photography comes in two basic forms.  The first are the large post-processing software packages such as Photoshop Elements. Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom and Aperture which give the photographer the ability to do black and white conversions within the software itself.  As with any application, there are a number of different ways to use the application for black and white conversion.  Many of these can be found on the web by searching using appropriate search terms, for example, http://photo.tutsplus.com/tutorials/post-processing/7-black-and-white-photoshop-conversion-techniques and http://digital-photography-school.com/black-and-white-in-lightroom.

The second applications are plugins for Photoshop and Lightroom, and other software packages and include Silver Efex Pro 2 from Nik software, Perfect B&W from onOne software and B&W

Effects from Topaz Labs.  These packages come with a number of built-in presets that can be

Conversion in onOne Perfect B&W

Conversion in onOne Perfect B&W

used to convert an image.  Each also has the ability to do custom conversion work either on the

individual image, on parts of the image, or on the image following the application of a preset.  The user can also save the setting as a user-defined preset.  These are also available on a trial download.  Nik software for 15 days and the other two for 30 days.  Each application is a veritable potpourri of potential for any conversion to black and white, so that black and white conversion becomes more of an art than a cook book.  I use Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 for all my black and white conversions.  I like the freedom that it has for image modification with its Control Point functionality.  I have presented two images converted using two of the different software packages as noted.  There does not appear to be much difference, however this is based on a basic conversion without much additional processing.

There are a few free converters available on the web.  Windows Live Photo Gallery has some limited capability to do this and B-W Plus is a free plug-in for Photoshop, but you do have to have Photoshop.  GIMP, a free Photoshop-like post-processor for digital images, also has the ability to do black and white conversions.  As well, most new digital SLRs come with software from the camera manufacturer that can be used for this type of conversion.

Black and White Photography in the Digital Age.

Mount Rundle, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada (Conversion from an HDR image)

Mount Rundle, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada (Conversion from an HDR image)

In the “good old” days of film, the average black and white photographer had little choice in how his images turned out after the shot was taken.   If you were like me, you took your film to the local drug store or photo shop and they sent it out to the lab and in a week or so, you got it back and could then determine the good the bad and the ugly.  If you were lucky enough to have access to your own lab then you would, of course, have much more control over the outcome.  Ansel Adams, was probably one of the best at determining his own outcomes.  If you have never seen any of his images, I would strongly urge you to go to your local library and see if they have some of the books that have been published showing his images.  Alternatively, you can search the web for the hundreds of his images that are readily available for viewing.   As for other photographers, I have already mentioned Dorothea Lang, and I would also include Henri Cartier Bresson and Youssef Karsh.  Cartier Bresson is known as the father of photojournalism and Karsh is known for his portrait photography of famous people.  When it comes to landscapes, you should look for such additional names as Edward Weston and Eliot Porter.  Porter is often credited with bringing colour photography to landscape work, but he has a portfolio of black and white images as well.

There are also a number of contemporary photographers that have dedicated a lot of their work to black and white photography.  John Batdorff who has written a very good introductory book, Black and White From Snapshots to Great Shots, is known for his work in landscape and travel photography.  As well, photographers such as Mitch Dobrowner, Cara Weston and Joel Tjintjelaar are also established black and white photographers with an extensive portfolio of landscape images.  There are undoubtedly countless other, too numerous to name, but a large number can be found by simply searching the web.

There are a number of books on black and white photography.  I have already mentioned the one by John Batdorff.  It is a good book for those just starting out who want to develop their skills in basic digital black and white photography  Michael Freeman has written one entitled Mastering black and white digital photography that is a good reference for those wanting to learn all about basic black and white photography and post processing conversions using Photoshop.  As part of Wiley’s Photo Workshop series, Chris Bucher has written an all-inclusive volume entitled Black and White Digital Photography.  There are many more – simply do an appropriate search on any book seller’s web site and you will find a number of them.  Even some introductory books on digital photography, spend some part of their work on black and white digital photography.  For example, Rob Sheppard’s book Landscape Photography from Snapshots to Great Shots has a whole chapter on the use of black and white imagery in landscape photography.

The Basics of a Black and White Image

Fall in the Foothills of the Rockies, Alberta, Canada

Fall in the Foothills of the Rockies, Alberta, Canada

This leads to the final part of this entry – what makes a good black and white image and how do I get one?  Probably the first basic thing to do is to shoot in colour and to shoot in raw. What does this do for you?  Raw colour captures all the digital information in the image, assuming the image is properly exposed with no blown highlights or under exposed shadows.  Shooting in jpeg format will give the camera some control over processing your image and digital information will be lost.  If you shoot in black and white, as some cameras have this capability, then you are limiting the post-processing alternatives for your image.  The second basic thing to do is work on a calibrated monitor.  I will not go into the details of monitor calibration, that is a whole subject unto itself and is often referenced under colour management – Google is your friend.  Basically, if you want all your colours to be accurate, then you must have a calibrated monitor.

How is black and white different from colour?  A lot of the compositional rules that apply in colour photography, also apply in black and white photography.  Rules or guidelines such as the rule of thirds, leading lines, the use of s-curves, texture, balance, the use of internal frames, positive and negative space, etc. are still applicable to black and white photography. Capturing and controlling good quality light is probably the most important aspect of photography, whether you shoot in colour or black and white.  In colour photography, light is used to accentuate differences in the colour components of an image as part of the compositional elements, whereas in black and white, light is used more to create shadows and highlights using tonal range and contrast to emphasize components such as lines, shapes and textures.

Contrast, is probably the most important aspect of black and white photography.  Briefly, contrast is the range of brightness from the lightest to the darkest areas of an image.  The tonal range is the measure of how wide this difference is.  In black and white photography, the existence of this range also raises the question of which shade of grey best reproduces the original colours in the image.  Black and white images allow the photographer to remove competing colour components and thus isolate lines, patterns, textures and shapes for the viewer.  The success of a black and white image often depends on the photographer’s ability to see his image in black and white, even as he takes the coloured, raw picture.  It is also important to understand that not all subjects are good for black and white imagery.  In those situations where colour is key to the composition, then black and white photography may not be the best way to render the image.

Prairie grass

Prairie grass

If you are thinking about black and white photography, then the next time you are out shooting, stop, take a minute and have a good look at the scene you are about to photograph, or have just photographed.  You may want to use a tripod for this exercise.  Look at the compositional elements, lines, textures, patterns, shapes, shadows and highlights, and try to visualize how they would look in black and white.  Look at the light in the image and how it is falling on the components of the image.  Try taking the same shot at different shutter speeds using the exposure compensation function in your camera – one or two stops darker and one or two stops lighter.  Bring up the images on your computer in whatever processing software you are using and render each image in black and white.  Notice the difference in how the shadows and highlights are rendered in each different exposure.  These types of experiments can only help to improve your skills as a black and white photographer.


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