By choosing only one color channel, we can show that she is wearing two different color items even in a black and white image.
Conversely, her blue jeans show as brighter in the blue channel image because that’s what has most blue. The green channel shows similar dark colors for both pieces of clothing because neither have much green in them. See how they are much different than the desaturated image at the top?
But shooting color JPGs and converting them in post-processing isn’t the answer, either. That’s because the JPG is by its nature a compressed format, which means that when saving a JPG image your camera throws out information it deems to be unnecessary in the interests of creating a smaller file. We photographers know better, of course. We know that when it comes to a photographic image, there is no such thing as “unnecessary information.” You need to have that higher dynamic range in order to get an image with a good range of tones, from black to white and everything in between. So when you’re shooting with the intention of converting to black and white, shoot in RAW. That way your post-processing software has everything it needs to produce a great black and white image.
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Black and White Photography Tip #6: Find a wide range of grays. Having white and black in the image will help add interest to a picture, but if other areas do not have a wide range of varying tones of gray, the photo will most likely look dull. You can achieve a a wider range of grays by using flash to throw highlights and shadows over certain areas of the photo.
In your pursuit of those perfect blacks and that whites, don’t forget about the grays. Your goal is to have a range from the almost-white to the almost-black. Too few grays and your image is going to look muddy and flat.
color balancephoto printingcolorRAWpost processingblack and white
Black and White Photography Tip #9: Use the correct terminology: Black and white, monochrome, grayscale. “Monochrome” means that a color is placed on a neutral background. Therefore, black and white images, which put black on a white background, are a type of monochrome image. Grayscale is merely a way to show black and white images on a computer, which uses a reduced set of shades of gray.
Handy Tip 1: Cameras use a filter array on the CCS which can mean one color has better detail than another color. In the common Bayer filter, the green channel will show the best detail because it has the most dots. If you find your black and white images are lacking detail, you can try choosing the green color (or add some of that channel into your final mix) to restore some detail.
Taking away that color also takes away the emotions that color conveys – without those warm reds and oranges, we don’t feel that excitement and optimism that we often feel when looking at colors on that end of the spectrum. Without those blues and greens, we don’t feel that peace and tranquility that cool colors often make us feel. Instead, black and white photographers have to rely on the content of the image to convey emotion. And that’s not a bad thing – it’s an excellent challenge for anyone who is interested in improving their composition skills in particular and their photography skills in general.
Black and White Photography Tip #5: Look for contrast. In my experience, the best black and white photos usually have some portion of the photo that is near to pure white, and some portion of the photo that is near black. This increased contrast adds interest to the scene.
Choosing just one channel can be done by opening the “Channel Mixer” in Photoshop and switching the slider for your preferred color to 100% and the other two to 0%. Make sure you also check the “Monochrome” checkbox to tell Photoshop that you want a black and white image.
The most popular way to create a black and white image from a color one is to ‘de-saturate’ the photo. There’s usually a saturation slider on your paint program that you can move that removes all the color from the photo. In Photoshop, it’s called Hue/Saturation. Set the Saturation to -100 and your image will become black and white.
Black and White Photography Tip #7: Use a polarizer. When shooting around reflective surfaces such as water or leaves, use a polarizer to cut the reflections of the sun’s light. When color is removed from the photo, these specular highlights can be distracting the overall composition.
Mamiya 645 Pro TL 400 35 mmchurch of zebra #2 by Flickr user mugley
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Almost all digital camera makers today shoot all of your photos in color. There are black and white modes available, but they won’t always work the way you’d like them to work to produce a snazzy photo. De-Saturating for Black and White
This post is in response to a question from Matthew Tapley, who is interested in learning how to improve his black and white photography skills. I hope this article has information that is valuable enough to you that you’d consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter.
Black and White Photography Tip #13: Don’t get fooled. I confess to have made this mistake many times. Sometimes I have shot a photo that includes very little color. For example, a close-up of a penguin, or a night sky, or a dalmatian dog. When I see these photos in Lightroom, I often reach for the black and white tools immediately, but I am always disappointed. If the photo is practically colorblind to begin with, it probably won’t look as good in black and white as in color.
What are the best ways to take a black and white photo in today’s color digital world? That’s a question I often get asked. And it’s a great question because there is more than one way to convert a shot taken with a color camera into black and white. If you’re not sure of the tricks, your images might not end up looking as good as they could.
Black and White Photography Tip #3: To visualize in black and white, only pay attention to lines, shadows, and shapes. This trick is very helpful to aid photographers in pre-visualizing a black and white image even though we live in a color world.
It works, but it’s usually not the best way to create a black and white image. Why not? Well, sometimes there is more of one color than another in an image (more blue sky, less red) and it’s better sometimes to accentuate the parts of the image with that color, or the color difference between two colors. Take a look at the red top and blue jeans of the person in the above photo. In the black and white version, there is not a lot of difference between the shades of gray, so the image isn’t as striking as the color one.
Canon PowerShot G7 75 f/4.0 0.001 sec (1/1000) 7.4 mmSky symphony by Flickr user kevin dooley
There is no need to choose 100% and 0% on each of the colors. You can choose any combination of percentages you like. Using different numbers tells Photoshop to mix different amounts of each color channels to make the final photo. I sometimes use this by looking at each of the three channel images and ranking them from best to worst. Then setting the best color channel to 60%, the second best to 30% and the third best to 10%. Make sure they all add to 100%, otherwise your image may be darker or lighter than the original.
It doesn’t work in all situations. It doesn’t work that well on the girl above, but it does work wonders in any scenes with a blue sky. Choosing the blue channel at 60% will keep all the richness of a blue sky.
What desaturation does is give equal weight to the red, green and blue parts of your color image when converting to B&W. We can jazz our image up a bit by choosing just one color and creating a black and white from that.
One thing a lot of computer users don’t think about is their monitor. Have you ever wondered why that red t-shirt you ordered from Amazon.com turned out to be more of a maroon when you took it out of the box? That’s because your monitor isn’t calibrated to show colors the way they appear in real life (though Amazon’s photography might have also had something to do with that). Your monitor needs to be calibrated, and not just so it will show you true colors but also so that it will give you an accurate look at your black and white images. This is important because when you decide to print your images you don’t want to be surprised (and disappointed) by the results. So don’t use a monitor that has been set to high contrast and 100% brightness when editing those black and white photos because your photos aren’t going to look like that anywhere else. Use a monitor calibration tool to find your monitor’s black point before you start converting all those files.
I like the Red channel image the best. It shows a contrast between the colors of her clothing, and also between her jacket and the background leaves. The only thing I’d be concerned about would be her face. It could be seen as too bright.
Black and White Photography Tip #8: Watch for texture. As long as texture is not front-lit, it will show contrast in fine details, which makes it a compelling subject for black and white. This is why black and white photos of old items such as barns or antiques are so compelling–they have a lot of weathered texture.
So now that I’ve convinced you that black and white photography is worth pursuing, you may be thinking about those black and white images you’ve already taken with your camera’s “black and white” mode, back in the days when you were experimenting with all the things your camera could do. They seemed flat and lifeless, didn’t they? That’s because your camera’s black and white mode is really not the best way to capture a stunning black and white image. The processor in your camera just isn’t very good at taking that color scene and converting it to a range of tones that make for a pleasing black and white image. If you rely on this mode your photos will have that flat factor – a bunch of muddy, ugly grays where there used to be color.
Ok I’m doing all that, and my images still don’t look good when I print them. Why?
Remember that converting to black and white isn’t going to save a bad image, so you still need to follow all those composition and exposure rules you use for your color images. Think of black and white photography as a different way of viewing the world – try to see each potential photograph in terms of line, shape and form before you decide if you want to photograph for black and white. If those qualities in your scene stand out above the color in that scene, you’ve probably got a potentially good black and white image. Either way, it pays to know how to make that choice.
If this is your thinking, it’s time to re-examine the way you think about photography – and the way you see the world around you. Black and white photos have something that color photos do not: simplicity. When you strip away all the color from a scene, you immediately have something that is simpler than its original.
Like in the color world, where colors can be slightly different depending on what white balance you set (and you can set the balance yourself to make the colors look how you want), the same is true when converting your image to black and white.
If you were one of those old-school photographers learning your trade in the campus darkroom, then you already know what qualities a good black and white print ought to have. If you’ve only ever taken digital photos in color, then you may need a little primer.
First, take the term “black and white” literally. Your black and white photo should have a black and a white. This means a deep, rich black and a clear white (a blown-out sky doesn’t count as your white).
Black and White Photography Tip #14: Shoot in HDR!!! I’m actually surprised how little attention is given to black and white HDRs on the web. I am so convinced of the merit of the black and white HDR that I spent an entire chapter in my HDR eBook talking explaining how to do it. HDR is great for black and white photography because it exaggerates the dynamic range and edges. Nothing pops quite like a black and white HDR.
Black and White Photography Tip #4: Pay special attention to noise. With the outstanding low light performance of modern DSLR cameras, in addition to the noise removal programs at our disposal, photographers are used to getting away with noise.
Now use the color sliders (that’s right, the color sliders) to adjust the tones. I know your image is now in black and white, but that underlying color data is still there, and that’s what you’ll use to tweak the image.
As well as getting black and white parts, you can also use these sliders to choose the grays in your image. For more on how to do this, see my other article on the secrets to great black and white photography
Black and White Photography Tip #10: Look for patterns. Patterns are interesting because of their ordered repetition. Color merely distracts us from giving the pattern our attention. By using black and white, images of patterns are far more compelling. Once you start looking for patterns to shoot in black and white, you’ll notice them everywhere: cars in a parking lot, the shoes of a wedding party standing in line, or a row of bushes.
Black and White Photography Tip #12: B&W isn’t a replacement for bad lighting, but it can soften the blow. The photo of the deer on this page is an example of a photo that looked terrible in color, but which looks nice in black and white. I shot the photo at high-noon. Because I used a polarizer, I was able to cut out the reflections on the leaves and mask the fact that it was shot in terrible light.
Black and White Photography Tip #2: Give your photo some Silver Effex. Silver Effex Pro 2 is a Photoshop or Lightroom plugin that does one thing–make black and white photos look incredible. In theory, you could replicate everything that Silver Effex Pro 2 does using Photoshop, but I have to confess that I have never been able to do it. Black and whites look absolutely stunning in Silver Effex Pro 2. The program is a bit pricey, but it is worth the money if you love black and white. In fact, when I look at black and white produced by other photographers, I like to think I can tell if Silver Effex Pro 2 was used on the image. Check it out here.
Olympus E-M5 200 f/3.2 0.001 sec (1/2000) 17 mmNYC #7 by Flickr user Thomas Leuthard
Handy Tip 2: Once I’m finished with the channel mixer layer, I like to wrap it up by adding a contrast layer on top of everything. This helps to emphasize the different shapes in the photo. Play with this until you come up with something you like.
The red and blue channel images show her top and jeans being completely different shades of gray. That’s because in the red channel, parts of the original image that were red (like her top) will be brighter, whereas other parts with no red (her jeans) will be darker. Parts of the image with all three colors (like her white cup) will be bright always.
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.
Black and White Photography Tip #1: Shoot in RAW. Many times when I shoot for black and white, the photo just doesn’t turn out right when I finally review it on the computer. By shooting in RAW, you’ll be able to change your mind later if the photo wasn’t as great in black and white as you’d hoped.
Back in the caveman days, you know, when we took photos on film, a formal education in photography often began with black and white. Black and white photography was a good format for beginning students because the film was easy to process and darkroom techniques were straightforward. Today we bypass that whole film-to-darkroom thing, so a lot of us are passing over the opportunity to learn about shooting in black and white. After all, why would we want to shoot in drab shades of gray? We live in a color world.
Now, in those olden days, a darkroom photographer had to eyeball his print to make sure there was a true black and a true white, and then make adjustments in the darkroom. Today you can do this in post processing, and that’s what those sliders are for. Tweaking them can get you closer to that black and closer to the white. You can add or subtract contrast, bring out detail or lose it, depending on your goals. And the only way to really get the hang of what those sliders can accomplish is to practice.
(or how to create a great black and white image in the digital era)
Instead of clicking that “black and white adjustment” button, you can click on the “channel mixer” button instead (that’s the multi-colored one that looks a little bit like the universal recycling symbol). Now you can click the “monochrome button” and adjust the sliders until the image looks like you want it to.
Black and White Photography Tip #15: HSL is the secret sauce. The last black-and-white tip is probably the most important. When post-processing a black and white, you absolutely MUST tweak the colors in the HSL panel in Photoshop or Lightroom. An exact tutorial on how to do this would be a blog post of its own, but your black and whites will look TEN TIMES better with an HSL adjustment.
Improving RAW Photos with Adobe Photoshop Elements – Vibrancy, Saturation and Sharpness
The better way is to use just color to make your image, or adjust the levels of each color separately. This allows us to fine-tune how much of the Red, Green and Blue colors that will appear in our final image.
Once your file is open and staring back at you in all its colored glory, open up the “Adjustments” window. Now click on the “black and white adjustment” button (it’s a square divided into two diagonal portions, one black and one white).
If you’ve spent enough time in Photoshop or other post-processing software, you may be tempted to just open up your photo and select “convert to greyscale.” There, done. Sadly, while this is certainly the easiest method it really isn’t any better than using your in-camera black and white mode. But the happy news is that the conversion process really isn’t very difficult once you know what to do. Here’s how it’s done in Photoshop:
In Landscape/Nature, Post-processing by Jim HarmerMay 11, 201141 Comments
Remember how the red top and blue jeans of our lovely model blended together when the image was desaturated? Look at what happens when we choose just one color channel when creating our B&W image.
Canon 8800Fconey island bird man by Flickr user Barry Yanowitz
Black and White Photography Tip #11: Long exposures love black and white. I read this tip on the fantastic Digital Photography School website and decided to try it on an image that I took a few months ago. I didn’t like the picture and had almost deleted it until I read that tip and applied black and white to the photo.