Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dramatic Black & White By Rick Sammon [kopipesediseng]

Dramatic Black & White
By Rick SammonPublished in Quick Fix
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Making beautiful black-and-white images is easier than ever before, thanks to powerful adjustments in Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as specialized conversion software like Google's Nik Silver Efex Pro, Perfect B&W from onOne Software, Tonality Pro from Macphun and B&W Effects from Topaz Labs.

You can play around with the sliders in these programs and in plug-ins, and you may wind up with good results. However, with a deeper understanding of black-and-white imaging, you can create a more powerful, more dramatic and more artistic image. I'll cover the basics in this column, showing just some of the endless possibilities that await you in black-and-white processing.

Here's the file (cropped from my RAW file) from which I created the iceberg image.
Before we get going, however, here are some important factors to think about as you're shooting when your goal is to create a great black-and-white image.

You need to see in values rather than seeing colors. You also need to envision how shadows and highlights will "play" in your black-and-white images. As you shoot, envision how the scene will look without color, which can be enamoring, as well as distracting (in a good way). With practice, you'll start to see in black-and-white.


Dramatic lighting leads to a dramatic black-and-white image. In other words, strong shadows are very important in black-and-white photography. In fact, the expression "Shadows are the soul of the photograph" is especially important when it comes to black-and-white photography. 

Lightroom—which I used to create this image of an iceberg in a glacier lagoon in Iceland—offers awesome black-and-white capabilities, even when you don't use a plug-in. This screenshot of the Lightroom Develop module shows my enhancements to my original color file. First, I selected the B&W Contrast High preset. To add more impact to the image, I boosted the Contrast and Blacks, and then reduced the Highlights.


Textures are also very important in black-and-white photography. Textures are emphasized by shadows, usually created by side lighting.


When you combine shapes, forms, patterns and textures with dramatic lighting, you're on your way to creating a dramatic black-and-white image. 

Technically, here's something else to consider when it comes to black-and-white photography: Color files can have up to 16 million different colors, whereas a grayscale image has only 256 shades of gray. This is why considering and adjusting contrast—the difference between shadows and highlights—becomes more critical in black-and-white photography.


Understanding the effect of color filters is very, very important in creating the black-and-white effect you desire. Basically, here are the effects of digital color filters on an image: 

Red: Darkens a blue sky for a more dramatic image.

Orange: Darkens the sky slightly more than a red filter. Like a red filter, it can also reduce atmospheric haze.

Yellow: Darkens the sky less than a red filter, which can be beneficial, depending on the desired effect.

Blue: Honestly, I've never found a use for a blue filter in black-and-white photography. In landscape photography, it often lightens the sky too much.

Green: Lightens foliage and slightly darkens the sky. 

Infrared: Simulates, somewhat, the effect of black-and-white infrared photography. 

Experiment with the effects of applying filters in your processing software. You may be surprised to see how an image changes as you switch between filters.


My iceberg image has strong contrast—one of the elements, as I mentioned, that contributes to strong black-and-white photographs. Strong contrast is often desired, which is one reason to shoot in the early morning or late afternoon (as I did here) when strong shadows add contrast to a scene.

Enjoy your exploration of black-and-white photography. In doing so, think about black-and-white photographer Ansel Adams' philosophy: A picture is never really done. Go back again and again, and try different changes—even subtle ones.

Also keep in mind what another great black-and-white photographer, Ruth Bernhard, said, "There is no such thing as taking too much time, because your soul is in that picture."

Rick Sammon is a longtime friend of this magazine. See more of his work at ricksammon.com.

1 comment:

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