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Have you ever seen a black and white photo of a beautiful landscape, the tones and nuances of separation between the blacks and whites, so wonderfully done and presented that your breathe is almost taken away? Yeah, well that’s not the photo I’m going to be talking about in this post. I love those photos too, and I would love to be able to take one of those photos. However, a lot of the work on these photos are done at the front end, during the selection of composition. A truely magnificient black and white photo is created based on the skill of the maker to see and convert the colours into gradients of black and white in one’s mind, while also seeing the textures and how they add and enhance the image. Then the shutter is depressed and the photo is taken. The actual post-production is just a tool used to make the final conversion from the colour photo in the camera to the beautiful selection of tonality splits and differences, already seen my the maker when taking the photo. I only wish I could create those types of photos, but they are a skill to be perfected all on their own. No, I’m talking about taking a photo that is substandard to all intents and purposes, and converting it to black and white to save it. For instance, you’ve just paid thousands to travel to Peru and there you are taking a photo of Machu Picchu with a lama in the foreground, but it is high noon with harsh light and you didn’t think well enough to bring any neutral density filters to this once in a lifetime experience. Duh!
So there you have it. The secret recovery which can work in all types of situations. It seems that buy removing the colour in photos, it often can smooth out many imperfections that colour seems to enhance. For instance, below are two photos, one is Sue’s in which the the subject was just slightly out-of-focus. She was using her Nikon and being blind, she was unable to see that her focus was a slight bit off when she looked at the photos on the back of the camera screen. The other is mine taken during the mid-day which blew out the highlights.
By converting them to black and white and then processing them in such a way, I was able to minimize the draw of the eye to the flaws in the photos, and instead pull the viewer into the beautiful divisions and pop of the gradients of blacks and whites. Tada. Pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I know these would never pass a competition or even manage to stand alone off a computer screen. But sometimes you edit for a medium and these edits would look good, small on a computer.
Another example is street photograpahy. Almost always you will see most street photography in black and white. This has nothing to do with technical problems with the photos, but rather compositional. Have you tried to take a photo on a busy street? You can’t remove all the people in the background, or that ugly green garbage bin, or that red coat that draws the eye right to that person. But when you convert the photo to black and white, it is easy to disguise and make the background much less glaring, which allows the maker to cut a path to the true subject in the photo. Here are a couple of my earlier coversions for example. Notice how after converting to black and white, the slight nuance of a vignette or a slight lightening of the area draws the audience right to the subject and away from the background noise.
This is not to be confused, however, with a black and white photo that has been purposefully taken with a soft focus, which is often the flavour in flower photography, as seen by my examples below.
Then lastly, the trip to ________ (you fill in the blank) and as you travel around, usually at mid-day times, you want to capture the sights for memories, or maybe to print and hang a photo on your wall. However, these times are the worst for photography, giving the harshest of light, illuminating all the flaws, and mostly, just washing out everything in over exposure, losing all the details. Some tackle this via HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, which takes photos at different exposures and then the maker blends them together in post-processing for the best results, and to capture the full range of light. But this usually requires a tripod, which we don’t always carry or often isn’t allowed or feasible in some crowded places. However, if you have one, you might opt instead to use a neutral density filter, which is essentially like sunglasses for your camera, reducing the harsh light. But this often requires longer exposure times and it is really hard to get people to hold still in a public space! So one option, like I’ve learned, is just take the photo of that person, or temple, or ruin or landscape or whatever, and just hope you got something salvagable and if not, be happy with a memory. That’s at least where I start. And so, I present my Peru photo, taken in the harsh aftenoon light, that looked much better once converted.
So, when looking at photos on your computer at the end of the day, maybe in Lightroom or some such software, before you hit the delete or rejected button, stop for a minute and consider the possibilities. Is it a photo you really like? That beyond the flaws you see now in it, do you actually really love it, transpotted instantly to the time and place and feeling you had when there, just by looking at it? Then don’t get rid of it. Instead, give a hand at converting it to black and white. The renowned, and thus far unsurplassed, in my humble opinion, is Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro, now owned and called DXO, is an excellent converter to black and white. A close second is Topaz Labs B&W Effects, also an excellent convertor. With a little dodging and burning, and properly placed vignettes, you could have a photo you enjoy on your social media accounts after all.