The Many Shades of Black & White

Even though it has been many years since I developed that very first roll of b&w film, I can still remember the fascination and excitement I felt when I saw the image slowly came to view — as I gently swirl the tray of developing solution. While I truly miss this development process of old school photography — in addition to the complex challenges of working in a red light darkroom; I discovered creating b&w images using today’s sophisticated darkroom software definitely has a lot of advantages over the old school — though not without it’s own challenges. In fact, I think because of the software’s capabilities, it’s more difficult to achieve good results without having some understanding of the basic principles of black and white photography. Perhaps it’s my fine arts background, but I find that processing b&w photography is like creating a pencil drawing; besides the composition, you need to keep your mind on the light and dark, but also the gradual shades of gray in between.

Today’s post, I thought I would share my “darkroom secrets” and demonstrate how I turn a color image into black & white using Adobe Lightroom3.

This is the original straight out of the camera image. ISO: 200; 250mm; f/6.3; 1/400 sec. Before you begin, create a virtual copy of the image you want to process. That way, you always have the original as a reference.

Step 1: Crop and convert color image into b&w

Usually, I try to compose and shoot an image while in camera instead of cropping during processing. However, for this image; the extra space on the top and bottom seems more distracting. By cropping the image to 1×1, the composition focus more on bright lights, the grapes and surrounding texture.

Using the Lightroom presets: General – Grayscale, convert image into b&w. The preset gives me the basic adjustments and I can then start from there to make the necessary adjustments I need to get the result I want to achieve.

Once converted, I refer back to the color image to see the differences and values. I see that the b&w image lost the lights and warm glow from the sun. The grapes are too dark and  also lack contrast.

Step 2: Adding light and contrast.

In the develop module, I made the following adjustments:

Tone Curve
Highlight +60
Lights +54

Below the Tone curve is the b&w mix section. This is where you can darken or lighten an area depending on the color of the area before conversion. To lighten and bring out the details of the grapes even more, I moved the red level to +50. This lightens the areas of the b&w that contains red. And if you want to darken then move the level to minus. This section gives you control over light and contrast based on color of the original image.

Black & White Mix
Red +50

While I think the overall tone is good, it still doesn’t quite have the sunlight glow feel to it. Also, I like to add color to my black and white. I know… but some images look better with some color toning to it rather than just shades of black & white. And this is where the split toning section comes in handy. However, do keep in mind when using split toning that the colors matches your subject and the environment you want to create. In this case, I chose green and brownish purple which compliments the subject and the tones are warm red and green rather than cold tones of the same hue — which would give you a totally different feel. I also find that by adding the tones at this step gives me better control in getting the correct lighting and contrast.

Step 3: Add split toning

Split Toning

highlights: hue = 102; saturation = 16
balance: 0
Shadows: hue = 12; saturation = 18

Once I added the tones, I noticed there are still some areas that need some additional highlight. This is when you want to use the brush tool for spot correction. A little bit goes a long way. It’s easier to add than wasting time erasing. Also, make sure to keep in mind the direction of the light. When you add too much light to areas that’s not possible in reality, it will look fake and unnatural.

Step 4: Spot correction and final adjustments

Brush Tool

Brightness: 25
Clarity: 100
Sharpness: 100
Brush Size: 3.6
Feather: 65
Flow: 100
Auto Mask: On
Density: 75

Once I’m done with the brush, I noticed the overall tone is still a little bit dark. In the basic development section, I increased the overall brightness to +64.

And that’s it! Hopefully you are able to understand my writing and that you find the information helpful. Please let me know if the steps are not clear or if you just have questions about Adobe Lightroom3. Email me anytime… I’m happy to share whatever knowledge I know about the software. đŸ™‚


What You See… Isn’t Always What You Get

As a graphic designer, I can usually tell when an image has been processed or altered. While some purist might disagree about using a processing software to enhance photos, personally, I think it would be very difficult to shoot a picture that is magazine quality without some kind of post-processing. Despite the fact that I try to compose a shot, as close to the final image that I want, and use correct settings — most of my photographs still require some post-processing regardless of how technically correct I might have been. With the digital camera, I noticed  more often than not — what you see isn’t always what you get. And some subjects are more difficult than others to get the correct exposure.

For me… one of the most difficult subjects to get a good straight out of the camera shot is sunset. The biggest challenge is getting the right exposure of the bright sky but also the rest of the landscape. If you choose the correct exposure for the sky, you lose landscape details and if you chose the landscape; you end up with overexposed sky. Also, the intense colors of the sunset often get lost in translation.

I know there are special filters and lens available to help with this problem but being the cheap cost-effective photographer, I try to get by with what basic tools I can afford. Seriously though, I think that by shooting with less; I become a better photographer because it forces me to think outside of the box. Of course having good darkroom software for processing is crucial.  It can help you change a mediocre picture into something more appealing and dramatic.

In Lightroom3, I adjusted the tone curve: highlights, lights, darks, and shadows to bring out the details of the grass and waves. I change the white balance to bring out more of the reddish-purple hues of the original sunset.This also intensify the clouds to give it more of the bright glow from the sun.

And sometimes… an image might look fine straight out of the camera…

But becomes more interesting when converted from its original state.