Thursday, 11 November 2010

Notes on Black and White

Advanced Digital Black and White Photography by John Beardsworth Copyright The Ilex Press Ltd 2007 is a book which contains 5 sections covering every aspect of digital black and white photography, Capturing the Black and White Image, Converting to Black and White, Fine-Tuning the Photograph, Creative Effects and Presentation and Output.

Dealing with the latest features in Adobe Photoshop CS3 many of these techniques can be applied to more up-to-date versions. Reading through the sections in preparation for Assignment 3 has helped me understand how I could use the most creative ways to convert my pictures to black and white, how to fine-tune the monochrome image, and how to emphasize a subject's qualities.

A quick summary of the sections would be to say 1) the best place to begin for a top quality Black and White picture is a correctly exposed and well composed RAW file with all the colour information still intact. 2) Conversion is all about tonal separation, distribution of greyscale tones and image balance. 3) Controlling contrast and adjustments to selective areas using dodge and burn and sharpening. 4) Creative effects but not manipulation in the realms of weird or offbeat, more to do with toning, simulating litho prints, solarisation, pinhole camera effects, infrared film etc. 5) Borders and techniques such as edge burning. Sharpening for print or web. Specialized black and white inks. Solutions for outputting entire shoots as black and white.

So what images lend themselves to black and white? Well, my first instinct is reply surely anything? When photography first came into being did people shy away from certain topics or subjects because they could only capture it in monochrome? Admittedly now scenes can be captured in colour would a sunset be as stunning in black and white? Conversely as Beardsworth points “Would Cartier-Bresson's images have been any less arresting if they had been in color? Or Mapplethorpe's  nudes any less striking?”  (p16) In conclusion it is probably safe to say, a well-composed picture, with interesting subject matter, will be great in black and white.

Within black and white all that is available to the photographer are shades of grey so it is very important to recognise tonal contrast, as colours that are very different when “in colour” appear the same tone when converted to monochrome. As touched upon earlier, shoot in colour, then you can exploit the colour differences.

There are several “quick fixes” to conversion, two being convert to greyscale and de-saturating but these are destructive conversions and also ignore the colour channels. Gradient Mapping gives slightly better results but only operates on the image luminosity, once again ignoring the colour channels. Other methods mentioned are Colour Match, Lightness, Calculations and Colour Blend. I have never used the last four but it maybe interesting to experiment just to see what results they actually give!

This book states that “today’s best black-and-white conversion techniques rely on adjustment layers” (p62) I can only make the assumption that this holds as true now, only several years after this book was published. Adjustment layers and layer masks have the advantage of allowing different mono conversions in different parts of the picture, using the channel values that are right for those areas.

I really enjoyed reading through this book and noting the many techniques contained within it. An example of a tool I never knew existed and I have never used before is the targeted adjustment tool. This will come in very handy with any image I wish to manipulate.I have only borrowed this book and will never be able to commit to memory everything it may be added to my wish list ;o)

Video tutorial on the TAT Adobe Photoshop CS4 Target Adjust Tool Demonstration on Vimeo

Another book I have had a flick through is Black and White in Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop Lightroom Leslie Alsheimer and Bryan O'Neil Hughes 2009 Elsevier/Focal Press.

This book bring home the need to think differently when photographing for black and white. You need to visualize and look for clues to create more impact in your B&W images. These would be texture, lines, contrast, shapes, shadows, patterns and silhouettes. It echos the advice given by Beardsworth with regards to needing to begin with a good quality RAW file and employing non-destructive conversion techniques using layers and blending. The authors explain the need for caution when making drastic contrast or colour corrections as this is when posterization can occur, poserization being the loss of tones which result in transitions that are abrupt (banding). A very good book for learning how to do B&W conversions.

Harold Davis' Creative Black and White Digital Photography Tips and Techniques Wiley Publishing Inc 2010 is yet another I could recommend, I haven't read it in depth as much of it covers the same issues as the previous other two, however there are some super images and ideas inside. He also details high key and low key shots and the use of HDR.

Am looking forward to this section :o) Hope I can do it justice.

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