Glen Goffin Photography

Monday, January 25, 2010

82 Black and White Photographs - Not as Easy as it Looks

Boy with Camera Banner
This young lad and I encountered each other at a recent wedding.  He was having fun with the camera his mom had handed him and he seemed such a poster-child for the joy of photography. He and I squared-off ... camera to camera ... mano-y-mano. Or, I guess, cámara-y-cámara? I think I won though I never actually looked at his pictures ... hmmm ... now I wonder?

Working on this image, however, frustrated me because I couldn't get the black-and-white tones that I wanted. This frustration has prompted me to go on a quest for better B&W technique. Join me if you dare.  Or better yet, drop me some advice and save me a lot of hard lessons :)

Clearly all the panels but especially the third panel from the left is blown out.  So there are some easy things for me to fix but before I do, I want to get a bit more disciplined in my B&W technique.  Wax-on ... wax-off

Little Girl Drinking
Tones, textures, forms, lines, motion ... all of these take front when in black and white.   Color is like candy.  The sugar makes your tongue tingle but it doesn't satisfy like richer and more complex flavors can.

I foolishly thought I would do a quick google search and learn pretty much everything I need to know in about an hour.  An hour later I learned that either nobody really knows anything or they're hiding it better than their Aunt Irene's Christmas gift.

Let me save you an hour of google searching in one sentence.  "It aint easy and you have to do it to suit your artistic taste".   If you'd rather read that same thing from 100 famous photogs ... feel free to waste an hour.  Or you can buy one of their books and pay for the same message.  Fine by me.

Of course there are some essentials that have more to do with basic photography than B&W artistry per-se.
o Skin tones should look natural
o Eyes should pop and have expression
o yada yada yada

Little Girl Drinking
This is no scientific analysis but I have found 50 Lightroom Presets and then ran this image through them (thank God for preview) and found the best preset I could for this image (posted above).  Then I used the Nik Silver Efex Pro technique (to the left).  Let me know which one is better.  The top is a tad more contrasty.  I intentionally added some film grain to this one (Nik SEP lets you do that).
Silver Efex Pro

I'm going to keep practicing and reading.  I'll post the stuff I learn or at least the mistakes I make along the way.

Peace out bean sprouts,


Scott McQ said...

I did the same - I looked all over the place. I finally bought a book that helped. I can't remember the name right now - but honestly, he could have given the same information in about 1/3 of the number of pages.
I found the best help in a Kelby on-line class by Katrin Eismann. But that requires a subscription, but if you're serious its a great resource.

In short, the key lessons/techniques:
- Set your White/Black balance to distribute the tones
- Don't just de-saturation. Use the PS Black and White adjustment tool (CS3) or the Lightroom Develop Module - Grayscale adjustment and adjust the different color values to get the tones that work for the image. If you shot B&W with filters in the past it works the same way as different color filters on B&W.

Those two things are a huge start. A little more complicated is using image channels to bring out the details/tones you need.

Hope this helps.

Kathleen said...

Hey Glen! Wondering if you shoot in RAW or JPEG or both? Just curious. After some anguish a few years ago I narrowed down my B&W technique to one simple thing in PS:
Image -->Adjustments-->Gradient Map. Select the B&W gradient. Done! You can add tone (and I would argue for very, very little) in the Color Balance tool - just make sure the "Preserve Luminosity" box is UNchecked. Let me know if you have quetions! :)

Glen Goffin said...

Kathleen - woohoo ... I'll give that technique a go tonight and let you know how it works out. Thanks for the tips.

Scott - So if I follow you correctly, basically balance out the histogram first to get a good distribution of tones in the image. Then pick a good mapping profile from colors to gray-scale. I sort-of did that with this images in that I used Lightroom to first correct the WB, then "spread" the dynamic range of the image from top to bottom adding detail in shadows and highlights as much as reasonable. Then I went through a bunch of preset profiles till I found one that seemed to map to a good "density" for lack of a better term. Then I tweaked the color to gray mapping. The harder part is settling on good overall contrast and local contrast choices. I probably just need a lot more practice.

Glen Goffin said...

PS - another thing I'm going to try is mapping skin tone to a very specific range of gray values and work to ensure that there is nice smooth gradients of tones through the face which may mean keeping the local contrast down in that area (except the eyes which I will probably pump up the volume).

Glen Goffin said...

oh ... pps ... sorry, Kathleen, I never answered your question. I used to shoot RAW but then I got the 5DMKII (which I LOVE LOVE LOVE!) and the image sizes were >50 MB. Ouch. I just went back to JPEG though, for professional work, I would likely shoot RAW. What is your feeling about that?