28.08.2020 A process of processing…

Date: 28th August 2020
Location: Isle of Wight
Category: Foto Fridays

… black and white

Apart from finishing another zentangle piece (woohoo!), I have been going through photos I’ve taken so far this year and selected a handful to process in black and white.

It’s Friday and that means another edition of Foto Fridays, where I share insights, hints and tips from my photography practice. As I have been sharing black and white images all this week, this post gives you an insight into my own black and white process, which has developed over the years.

How do I select?

Hmmm, this is a tricky question because not all photos work in black and white, as you’ll see below!

I guess you have to start with the initial composition of the image as a whole. Often, I will do a quick conversion to b&w to see what an image looks like without the distraction of colour. If it looks worse, then I will move on. However, if it looks like there may be potential, then:

  • Are there clear shapes / patterns / lines / textures that stand out, even in colour?
  • Are the colours important to the image or not? For example, in a sunset, the colours are the photo!
  • What about negative space, clutter?
  • Are there some annoying distractions that you didn’t notice when you took the shot (light colours in the background, around the edges, strong colours like red and orange that draw the eye)?

These are the kinds of things I instinctively look at when I’m thinking about converting an image from colour to b&w.

It’s not enough to simply convert a colour photo to black and white and be done with it. There’s a little more to it than that. Here’s an example of a bad colour photo that cannot be made better by converting it to black and white.

  • Original colour shot:
    • Distracting wire across top right of picture (1)
    • A hint of a shape (2) but obscured with too much foliage (3)
  • In black and white
    • Same issues but even worse because there is no colour to distract us!
Converting to b&w will not fix a bad photo!

Its how you process that counts

Ultimately an impactful black and white photo rests on how you process it, of course 😉.

Assuming your composition is strong enough, there are a number of things to consider with regards to the black and white processing: what range of blacks to whites the image needs, contrast, how dark you want the shadows to be, how much grain you want, if the image would benefit from a vignette and so on. These are the things that in the past were done in the dark room and are what made for impactful b&w images.

I’ve selected a few shots to show you how I make decisions and explain why I have processed them in the way I have. Please note that this is not a tutorial in using a particular app or piece of software, but more about the process of selecting images and using traditional processing ideas to give birth to a black and white image.

One – Troll Face

  • Original colour shot:
    • Strong shapes (2 and 4) which will look good in black and white
    • Distracting blue nose (1) and pathway (3) which continually lead the eye away from the face
  • In black and white
    • Just the strong shapes
    • Lots of added structure for textures on the face
    • Use of contrast to accentuate the textures, including darker shadows
    • Slight burning of edges to create a ‘frame’

Two – Table

  • Original colour shot:
    • Good strong shape (1)
    • Distracting patch of blue sky through the trees (2) and dead grass (3) take the focus off the carved bugs on the table
  • With black and white processing
    • The table shape is accentuated
    • Lots of added structure for textures on the front of the table to highlight the bugs
    • Shadows darkened to make trees less obvious

Three – Fern

  • Original colour shot:
    • Lovely curved line and pattern (2)
    • But distracting light patches of out of focus background (2) lead the eye away from the fern itself, making the eye whizz around the frame
  • With black and white processing
    • One simple curved line and repeated pattern
    • Darkened background (underexposure, darker shadows and high contrast) to accentuate the fern

Four – Boardwalk

  • Original colour shot:
    • Good strong shapes and repeated patterns (2)
    • Distracting red buoy and branch on river bank (1) and orange-coloured clutter around the sign (4 and 5). Again, these catch the eye and take the focus off the boardwalk itself
    • Water very flat (3)
  • With black and white processing
    • Good strong shape, pattern and texture in the wooden planks and sign (achieved by adding structure to the image)
    • Text in sign is more noticeable
    • Water has more structure (added structure into the darker tones of the water)

That brings me to the end of this post. I enjoyed sharing my process with you and I hope you found something useful in the sharing. I’d love to hear from you, as always.


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