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Approach to black and white

Often some development after a photograph leaves the camera is necessary. Photoshop is the traditionally accepted way to go about it. Most of the time I may put on a little of the Curve and perhaps some contrast or saturation, that sort of thing, and there is the final product. It’s all much the way it came out of the camera. Taking all the color out is more laborious. I am not certain how other photographers get to their black and white versions, but for me the process goes through either Calculations or Channel Mixer from my never updated Photoshop CS. Mostly Channel Mixer is my preferred tool. Lately though I have explored Calculations in a serious manner. The reason is that in one photographer’s advise Calculations is always the way to go far superior to my preference. So I decided to check this out. The results show in recent black and white (BW) entries to this blog and to my BW Flickr uploads (all approached through Calculations). Of course, as a rule, mostly one tries to translate colors into tonal values where the degree of greyness suggests a color. In my experience Calculations take a lot of additional tweaking to get the natural look with the desired detail in the right places. Calculations however is a natural to brilliant dramatic impact.

Being sweet on BW, many of my images have a BW alter ego and to get to the BW I tend to use good old Channel Mixer more often than Calculations (in the olden days I preferred Kodak Tri X to the smooth deep of Ilford film – is this my dilemma?).
Meanwhile, realizing that more modern programs than mine are the norm, I often wonder how others go about producing their beautiful BWs
Here is a series to illustrate this black and white tale starting with the original:
valentine 082
Calculations tweaked with a little more lightning and contrast:
valentine 082cr-bw-calc2
and Channel Mixer unadulterated (except for some high and low lights through Color Balance).
valentine 082bw
Coming from the age of darkrooms and being, probably, the only photographer who very much disliked working in the darkroom but loved what might come out of it, I have said yes to digital right from day one. Nevertheless often the stuff that comes from print film has a beauty all its own. It is somewhat comparable to the difference between the nearly perfect sound of today’s musical recordings and the beauty of vinyl and hi fi of  not that long ago. Bringing out some of that old timbre into our modern way of producing images tends to be my challenge.

About Joseph de Lange

Before retirement worked in art galleries, a photo studio, offices, and the trades. Don't travel much anymore but still photograph. For the past 5 years 95% of my photography is done with the phone. My prediction for big cameras: DSLRs and their beautiful lenses and even the smaller mirrorless cameras will be mostly a historical footnote in the not too distant future.

8 responses to “Approach to black and white

  1. Great post, Joseph, love the depth you went into with your description. My favorite version is the third, for some reason it looks the most natural in terms of film to me.

    • There are many systems, tools, and ways to edit photographs. The tools used to convert to Black and White and perhaps edit afterward are just as diverse. For that reason it may be difficult to have a conversation about this editing. I know PS CS and CS3. These are similar enough, but the latest CS edition may have so many menu items and tools added that it becomes a different animal altogether. You, Mr Toad, go through a different process with different programs every program with its own language, another person may use Gimp or Corel or…. Nevertheless a bit of a conversation about how people get to their final products is always interesting, There is something to be learned and it may even be educational.

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  3. the topmost looks magical!

    • Thank you, this goes to show that color is beautiful. Creating a suggestion of those colors in the black and white version and and that “magical” look, that often is the challenge.

  4. ehpem

    Hi Joseph – interesting series. I like the processing in the bottom one the best with the details in the vegetation and the toning is very nice as well. The crop is nice too, those lights at either edge in the others were a bit distracting. .

    • Preparing the colored image for B/W conversion so that through photoshop’s channel mixer the B/W image comes out nearly finished is my standard procedure. All the tones are then in place already and tweaking after is mostly minimal. Other tools get different results right from the word go, especially in the contrast department, but they are of just as much value when the time is right for their use. All together we have many aids to create a perfect B/W picture or two 😉

      • ehpem

        I have been drifting to a similar workflow – working on the colour and then going to black and white. I often do quite a lot of adjusting and am not always after the tonal range in my black and white, but I find it helps to get the colour right and set aside for comparison and sometimes it is what I end up preferring for the image.

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