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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Knockout Black & White

Create stunning monochrome images with these pro tips

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Landscape images often contain a lot of texture, and many times a grayscale landscape image is more interesting than a color image because the scene is broken down into basic elements.

One interesting thing to note is that the different elements I listed above often overlap one another. For example, patterns are often found in leading lines, and textures typically form a pattern even if it's not exactly uniform.

I recommend shooting RAW because the color information is actually very important in a black-and-white image. You can use your favorite RAW conversion software to manipulate the tonality of each distinct color spectrum in the image. This allows you much more flexibility when dealing with an image that has colors with similar tones. For example, red, green and blue all have a similar tonal characteristic in grayscale, but when using a RAW converter to turn the image to black-and-white, you can lighten or darken each individual color to make it appear differently tonally.

I use Lightroom to process and convert my images to black-and-white. The black-and-white conversion tool allows you to adjust the tonality of eight separate color ranges: Reds, Oranges, Yellows, Greens, Aquas, Blues, Purples and Magentas. You can also make adjustments to broader areas of tonal range such as Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. I find this a very quick and accurate way to convert an image. Lightroom has built-in presets that can be customized, and you can also download presets to apply.

BLACK-AND-WHITE images are monochromatic, being comprised of many shades of gray in between absolute black and absolute white. "Black-and-white" in photography terms is sometimes used as a catchall phrase to describe other types of monochromatic images, as well. Many photographers like to "tone" their black-and-white images by adding a little color. This hearkens back to the old days when photographers tinted their images using processes such as sepia and selenium toning. Digitally, you can add just about any color tone to make a monochromatic image, so your photos don't necessarily need to be strict black-and-white while retaining the same characteristics as a black-and-white image. I find that using a light touch when adding color tones is best.
There are a number of software options that do black-and-white conversions, as well. If you're really serious about your digital black-and-white work, Nik Silver Efex Pro is solely dedicated to black-and-white conversion. This software allows you complete control over the adjustments to your black-and-white images, allowing you to make minute adjustments to specific tonal ranges. Silver Efex Pro also has customizable presets that allow you to mimic the different looks of black-and-white films from the past and present. This is accomplished by adjusting the contrast and adding textured "grain" to the image to simulate the grains of silver halide that make up the light-sensitive emulsion of film. This really is top-notch software, but I only use it for specific images that I want to spend extra time on to get it absolutely perfect, usually in preparation for a fine-art print.

Another application that's quick and easy to use is Alien Skin Exposure. This is mainly a film emulation software, but you can customize the presets and do tonal adjustments, as well.

Both Silver Efex Pro and Exposure can be used as a standalone application or integrated into your Lightroom or Photoshop workflow by using it as a plug-in.

J. Dennis Thomas is a freelance photographer and an author based in Austin, Texas. He's the author of Wiley Publishing's Nikon Digital Field Guide Series, as well as Concert and Live Music Photography and Urban and Rural Decay Photography published by Focal Press. Find him at www.NikonDFG.com and @JDennisThomas on Twitter.


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