Are you color blind? Then you have a problem, especially if you shoot serious color pictures. There is however a method that can help in color correction; measure the colors with the pipette in post-processing. The alternative is to work in Black White, where color nuances are irrelevant. The most important aspect of B&W photography is contrast in the source image, and yes that is always a color image, unless you have a monochrome sensor. Contrast is the balance between highlights and shadows. A good color image with high contrasts and a rich color gamut usually yields good B&W conversions. And you do not have to worry about your color blindness or white balance. Of course shooting in color to get a final B&W picture takes a bit of practice. But most of all, its the art of looking in black and white. That is why Color blindness can be handy for a B&W photographer.
In many cases black and white pictures are superior to color display. Color pictures may then be superior when it comes to the correct view of reality, however they are far less suitable for creating an atmosphere. Just think about the old Cine Noir movies. Choosing the right photo and converting to black and white can be stunning, creating a fantastic picture. But you have to know where to look for when shooting your masterpiece.
Removing color adds another dimension :
It sounds strange; removing color adds another dimension to the picture. It reveals details that otherwise would not be noticed. You can teach yourself to recognize these details by no longer focusing on the colors in the image and looking at the play of light and darkness. Those that are able to do so are already halfway through the process that ultimately brings the ability to create successful black-and-white photos.
Color masks the texture and shape of subjects and draws attention; think of a red tomato or a brightly colored fruit. How many of us see the shape, the texture? All the attention is on color, a strawberry is red, a lemon yellow. Of course, that is sometimes what you want to see, but with monochrome you highlight the structure, texture and shape resulting in surrealistic B&W views.
Photography started as a black-and-white, but soon color photography prevailed. The traditional B&W techniques lost their popularity; as the color film was readily available. Most B&W photographers had a hard time to survive and to persevere their passion. Today, digital processing is relatively easy with many editing features. Creative people recognize the possibilities of B&W photography. Monochrome photography is gaining popularity. Yet there is still the attitude of ‘why black and white when it is in color’. Color images are a reflection of a lazy attitude: Less attention is given to the image at the moment of creation. Color is all what matters. Just try it out. Place one model with a red jacket in-group of ten models and see which one will portrayed by the photographers. Red is what matters to them.
Observe in black and white:
There are many different ways to convert color to gray scale, with reasonable controls over which parts of the image are light, and what proportions are dark. In old black and white films, there is a totally different use of light arrangement then in todays color environment. That is because those light crews knew exactly how the different colors relate to each other in a B&W film. Look at a B&W picture through colors, light and shadows.
Light and shadows:
Light is a fundamental part in the black-and-white photography. Whereby the absence of light is just as important as the areas with a lot of light. Whereas deep shadows can give the photo spaciousness. In B&W landscapes is the sky key. A stunning cloud-less deep blue sky becomes boring in black-and-white. Gray skies with clouds bring interesting structures when converted to black and white.
Look for contrast: because it is not the colors that differentiate objects in a B&W picture. In the fifties, it was suggested in all color photography books that it was better to keep the sun behind you. While for black and white pictures that is the foulest thing one can do. Shadows have a dominant role in black and white photography. When you have the sun in your back, or work with a flood flash, it is difficult to achieve a high contrast in your image. Black and white photography is contrast photography.
Black and white is best viewed in natural light. For indoor shots, you can use multiple pictures at different settings (bracketing) , which are later combined. Some call it HDR, although I rather call it selective HDR (High Dynamic Range) Of course there are certain situations where extra light is needed. That choice depends on what parts of the subject you want to emphasize.
Black and white can be estranging, now take the photograph of an orange or a comparable subject with a similar structure. The lights and shadows give the orange a whole new appearance; it becomes an object of texture. That B&W picture is strange to look at, because of the absence of his ‘Key feature’: the bright yellow color.
Look and see in black and white:
Making that perfect B&W picture is not something that you can create without exercise. As with all: Practice makes perfect, so take lots of pictures. And if you do, forget the B&W function of the camera, it looses too much flexibility in the post-processing. Look at the work of old black and white photographers: they approach the subject and light in a different way. Those old images may not be directly beautiful, however they can inspire. Visualize how the image looked like when the photo was taken and try to figure out what colors were present.
Composition is so important in every photo, regardless of the finishing, but especially in black and white photography. Topics are easier to perceive when photographed in color. In B&W, both green and red colors cause similar shades of gray. Ideal for the red green colorblind photographer, like me.
Paying attention to the composition, colors and exposure, prevents the B&W photo to be filled with the same shades of gray.
Basic rules are there to study and apply when the circumstances or situation allows. The search for geometrical structures in the image, it’s a matter of looking for lines so that the viewer is led into the picture and of course not forgetting the golden ratio.
Try adding an interesting subject in the foreground. It should be something that fits or relates to the subject in the background, or serve as a vehicle, which helps the viewer to look further into the picture. Think of the lines in a plowed agricultural land.
Look out for objects that could frame your image: a gate, statue, line of trees etc. Framing leads the viewer’s eye directly to the subject, but also completes the picture.
Watch out for objects in the foreground. Confusion occurs when the differences in the foreground and background are too big.
It is important to make a series of exposure and merge the pictures later in Photoshop depending on the dynamic range of the camera. With bracketing (several recordings with different exposure time) you artificially enlarge the dynamic range. The use of a tripod is a necessity, since small movements can ruin the outcome.
Filters are an important part of shooting in black and white. An orange filter results in a dark sky where the clouds stick out. In the digital world, it is best to use a polarizing filter in order to keep the reflections under control and it darkens the sky.
Always try to make the most colorful image possible, with as many details as possible.
The popular graduated filter always leaves traces, so it’s better not to use it. Try to get more subtle control in brightness and contrast.
Working in RAW:
RAW brings flexibility in post processing , Lightroom, Capture One, DxO Optics Pro are some RAW editing tools, perfect for converting to B&W.
The basis of good editing is a decent gradient from black to white. Then select the parts of the picture that should be darker or lighter. The desired effect can be achieved by manipulating the curve tool. The use of curve tools provides more control then the traditional burn and dodges methods.
Finally, it is advisable to ask for criticism. Show it to others. Find out what they think. Friends, family and fellow photographers are well suited. Internet forums obviously help. Avoid all photo contests and the corresponding juries because it is healthy to experiment. An experiment however, does not always support what is generally perceived as ‘good’ and ‘beautiful’. Most juries are so traditional and rule based that they have no appreciation for those that think outside the box or inside out.
It is always important to take criticism with a grain of salt. Photography is as art subjective. As a result, opinions will always vary. Some like the abstract work others don’t.
From color to black and white: different techniques:
Digital photos contain many more values/samples in the highlights than in the shadows. This is the result of the number of stops and the number of bits that are used to measure the levels of light. There are far fewer values in the dark parts. The darker areas are often noisy. When you have two pictures, one that is lighter than the other, choose the light one. Provided that is not burned out. In post processing more detail can be extracted from lighter pictures. And at last delete subjects in the image (post processing) that hinder the viewing orbit. Such as an electric poles .
There are several conversion methods available.
- Convert to Lab and remove color information
- Simply convert to gray scale
- Convert the individual channels, R, G and B to gray scale.
Whichever method you use, you will need to use the curves, dodge and and burn using an adjustment layer with mask.(PS langue)
Thanks for reading