Sure, you can play around with the sliders in the programs and plug-ins, and you may wind up with a cool-looking image. With an understanding of the basics of black-and-white imaging, however, you can create a more powerful, more dramatic and even more artistic image. I'll cover those basics in this column. I'll use some of the recent photographs that I've taken in Death Valley to illustrate my points.
Before we get going, however, here's an important thing to think about when it comes to creating a great black-and-white image. As you're composing your image, you need to learn to see in tones, rather than seeing colors, and to envision how shadows and highlights will "play" in your black-and-white images. How will the scene look without color? After a while, you'll be able to visualize the final image more easily in black-and-white.
Here's the color file from which I created the black-and-white image that opens this column. It's nice enough, but I thought a black-and-white image would have more impact. Why? Because when you remove the color (or true color) from the scene, you're removing some of the reality, and when you remove some of the reality, an image can look more creative and artistic.
I created the opening image using Nik Silver Efex Pro, paying close attention to the basics of black-and-white photography: adjusting Levels, understanding the effects of filters and controlling contrast. These are the black-and-white basics you need to consider when working with software to convert an image.
Basic #1: You need the blacks to be black and the whites to be white. You can accomplish that goal by checking the Levels of your color file. If there are gaps at either end of the histogram, as there were here, simply move the triangle sliders inside both ends of the "mountain range." After you click OK, your Levels will be adjusted, and the blacks will be black and the whites will be white. Of course, this is a basic Levels guideline to follow. It worked for this image because I didn't want my shadows to be blocked up or my highlights to be overexposed.