Black-And-White Magic

I usually give how-to advice in this column, and I’ll do that here. Before we begin talking about the "how" of black-and-white, let’s talk about the "why."

Here’s the original color file from which I created the opening image for this column. I took the shot in Iceland on one of my travel photography workshops.

When we remove the color from a scene, we remove some of the reality. When we remove some of the reality, a picture can (but not always) look more creative and artistic. And, because contrast plays such a very, very important role in black-and-white imaging, a black-and-white picture with strong contrast can look more dramatic than its color version.

There’s another aspect to the "why" of black-and-white photography: It’s fun!

Today, it’s quick and easy to make black-and-white images in your favorite software. Hold your horses! There are some basics that you need to know if you want the most dramatic images, the most important elements being contrast and knowing how digital color filters affect an image. Also important when using software like Lightroom or Photoshop is knowing how far to push the Clarity, Sharpness and Blacks sliders to get an image with impact, without overdoing it.

I used the Yellow filter in the Black & White presets in Lightroom to create my image. That, however, was after I experimented with all the other color filter settings. My advice is to experiment with different filters, but first learn how color filters affect black-and-white images ( and how they filter out different colors, and you’re on your way to making good black-and-white images.

Here’s another black-and-white image from my workshop. The key to making this image was boosting contrast and clarity to the point where I had a strong image. How far do you boost? It depends on how strong you want to make your image. It’s subjective, like just about everything else in photography.

Here’s my original image. It’s cool as ice and pretty. But I don’t feel as though it has the impact of the black-and-white image.

I used the Grayscale setting in the Camera Raw filter in Adobe Creative Cloud to create this black-and-white image. After making my conversion, I went back to the Basic setting and boosted the contrast, making sure the shadows weren’t blocked up and the highlights weren’t washed out. Boost the contrast too much, and you’ll lose detail in the shadow and highlight areas.

Plug-ins make it very easy to create cool black-and-white images. My favorite black-and-white plug-ins are Nik Silver Efex Pro and B&W Effects from Topaz Labs.

The creative black-and-white possibilities are endless. Experiment and learn, but also don’t forget why you got into photography in the first place: to have fun. Enjoy creating your own unique black-and-white images!

Our friend Rick Sammon has been writing for this magazine for more than 10 years. Visit with Rick at to learn more about digital imaging.

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