Friday Foto Talk: Black & White, Part III   6 comments

A sea cave on the southern California coast I entered recently. See below for color version. 21 mm., 6 sec. @ f/9, ISO 200; tripod; converted in Nik Silver Effex 2.  A little selective color was left.

This mini-series on black and white (B&W) imaging concludes with some tips for post-capture.  Be sure to check out Part I and Part II, as this post builds on those two.  My main goal in doing these is to motivate you to do more monochrome images.  It really can help your color photography.  You learn to pay more attention to texture and tonal variations.  Although I focus here on landscapes, B&W is great for any kind of subject.

As mentioned previously, I think it’s just as valid to make a B&W image by deciding later to convert from color as it is to shoot for B&W during the capture phase.  But you should find that the more images you convert to B&W on the computer the more often you will shoot specifically for B&W while you’re out photographing.

My little boy is sorely missed. 116 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/4, ISO 200; handheld; converted in LR.

My little boy is sorely missed. 116 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/4, ISO 200; handheld; converted in LR.

Here is my general procedure post-capture:

  • Work from the RAW color image.  I always shoot RAW, which is by default color.  You can set up your camera to display in monochrome on the LCD, but the image file (as long as it’s RAW) always includes color information.
  • Import & apply keywords.  If I had shot specifically for B&W during capture, I already know in general what’s going to be converted to B&W.  For those images I apply the keyword “B&W” and usually “monochrome” as well.  If everything from the shoot is to be B&W (a rarity for me), I apply those keywords on import.  If you have a favorite B&W preset you may want to apply that on import as well, but I don’t generally use import presets.
A fishing cabin along the Quinalt River, on my recent trip up to the wonderful Olympic Peninsula.

A fishing cabin along the Quinalt River, on my recent trip up to the wonderful Olympic Peninsula.

21 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod; converted in Nik Silver Effex.

21 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 100; tripod; converted in Nik Silver Effex.

  • Decide which images to convert.  Probably a more common situation is to not know exactly what images I’ll be converting to B&W.  So just after importing the shoot into Lightroom, key-wording & rating the selects leftover from culling, I consider whether some images might look good in B&W.  Again, texture and interesting tonal variations catch my monochrome eye, as do old-timey subjects.
  • Set aside my B&Ws to-be.  A good idea is to push the shots you want to convert to B&W temporarily into a collection you have set up for the purpose.  Just make that the target collection by right-clicking, then for each one you’d like to convert type ‘b’ while it’s selected.  Make virtual copies so you can work on the virtual copy instead of the original.  This way you have the convenience of being able to compare the two side-by-side after you’re finished.
Color version of the image at top.

Color version of the image at top.

  • Try some presets.  I have some presets I downloaded from the internet and the ones that come with Lightroom.  I’m not a huge preset person, which is probably not the best thing for efficiency.  But there are enough there to give me a nice start for quickly converting to B&W while in Lightroom.  So I take the virtual copies and try some different preset looks.  Sometimes it’s a look I like, so I spend more time editing to come up with a final image.  But for the majority of B&W images I…
I love the soft texture of this white-tail doe's fur in B&W. From Glacier N.P., Montana. 600 mm., 1/2000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 640; hand-held; processed in LR.

I love the soft texture of this white-tail doe’s fur in B&W. From Glacier N.P., Montana. 600 mm., 1/2000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 640; hand-held; processed in LR.

  • Go to Silver Effex.  Nik’s Silver Effex is the gold standard for black and white editing.  It is used most commonly as a plugin for Photoshop or Lightroom.  For example in Lightroom I just right-click the image, hover over ‘edit in’, then choose Silver Effex 2.  A dialog box comes up and I always edit a TIFF copy of the RAW image.  By the way, I occasionally use Topaz’s B&W plug-in.  It’s also very good.

 

  • Edit in Silver Effex.  Again there are a selection of built-in presets, along with a nice selection of film looks that you can add on.  I have made a few of my own presets too.  Through the use of so-called control points, the program gives you the ability to work on small areas of the image.  There are a lot of toning options too.  By clicking save the image comes back into Lightroom as a TIFF, where I may need to do a little tweaking.  This is when I scan around and clone out sensor spots, something you should always do at the very end of editing.
Springbok "pronk" through the grasslands of Namibia. 400 mm., 1/1000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200; hand-held; converted w/cream tone in LR.

Springbok “pronk” through the grasslands of Namibia. 400 mm., 1/1000 sec. @ f/8, ISO 200; hand-held; converted w/cream tone in LR.

  • Double-edit the odd color image.  Sometimes, not often, I will edit an image for color either using Lightroom or a plug-in, then decide to convert it to B&W as well.  For example I’ll take an image into Nik Color Effex & edit to a final color image.  After it’s back in Lightroom I make a virtual copy and convert that to B&W within Lightroom.  The image at bottom was processed this way.  Or I’ll go into Silver Effex, in which case there’s no need to make a virtual copy (you work on a TIFF copy).

I’m careful with this procedure, as it’s possible to end up with something that looks a bit over-edited.  One great thing about working from Photoshop instead of Lightroom is that you can edit in the plug-in on a layer.  That way you can lower the opacity of the layer, making the editing effects more subtle.  I’m most comfortable with Lightroom however.

I know, a bit long this time.  Sorry ’bout that!  Happy (black and white) shooting!

Bollinger Mill and covered bridge, Missouri, in sepia. 19 mm., 1.3 sec. @ f/13, ISO 50; tripod; processed in Nik Color Effex then converted to B&W in Lightroom.

 

 

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6 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Black & White, Part III

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  1. Mr. Flaherty, have you been able to sell any of your photos or otherwise have them published? Have you ever recovered your photographs of your magnificent horse-pack trip through Canyon de Chelly?

    • I’ve sold a few (got $+new pair of sweet Danner boots for a store display for them). I’m going to try as soon as I get somewhere, got that hard drive now.

  2. Nice shots. I’ve also been

    experimenting with B/W from time to time. As I used to play around in the darkroom for B/W back in the 70’s it’s like visiting an old friend.

    BTW, I’ve had success getting the Nik tools to work with Paint Shop Pro as well, even for layers.

  3. Beautiful black and white. I haven’t been a fan of b & w but mayabe I’ll change my mind. Thanks.

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