It used to be that you bought
black and white film, exposed it, took it into the darkroom and spent
days upon days selecting the right paper, developer, time, and temperature.
Not anymore...at least, not for me! I'm shooting with my Canon
EOS 10D and EOS-1Ds cameras and changing color images to black and white
on my Mac computer in only minutes. My "film" is a Delkin
640MB CompactFlash card and my "darkroom" is my home office
with window shades pulled down. Thanks to my guru Photoshop instructor,
Eddie Tapp, I'm enjoying my computers more than I could ever have
believed and creating images that years ago I would never have thought
The posing and lighting haven't changed from my color film days.
I'm just a little more careful with exposure and white balance.
The switchover was exciting, painless, and rewarding. For all of my
daylight pictures I had my ISO set for 200. That gave me a little more
speed to work with. I've recently begun working with custom white
balancing, helping me to get a better color balance right from the get-go.
Otherwise, I would have set the white balance for open shade.
Photos © 2003, Monte Zucker, All Right Reserved
All of these photographs were
created at my Whitewater, Wisconsin, class at the studio of Michele Gauger,
whose open barn door gave us the perfect light source for many of these
pictures. Regardless of where the sun appeared, the open side of the building
was our light source--covered overhead and wide-open on one side.
What more could we ask for?
The hay piled up just inside the barn was a natural for casual portraits.
This first full-length portrait was created with just the aid of a single
Westcott silver reflector placed camera-left to help open up some of the
The black and white photographs in this story were all created similarly
in Photoshop by starting in Channels. I begin by checking out which of
the three channels I feel works best for each image. The red channel is
usually soft, feminine in its feel, and very forgiving. The blue channel,
I find, has more information in it and begins with a little more contrast.
I use it for the majority of my black and white images from color beginnings.
The green channel I hardly ever use, except when I want my image to have
very strong contrast with exceptional strength in the darker areas.
This close-up of the same young lady was created using the red channel.
I chose the red channel because I wanted a soft, flattering image of her
face. Once I choose the channel that I feel will be most effective for
what I want to achieve, I take the photograph into Image/Adjust/Levels.
Working with the three sliders I can adjust the light, middle, and dark
tones individually to create the exact contrast I want.
One major problem that I find oftentimes with window light is that the
stronger light often is at the bottom part of the subject's body,
rather than in the facial area of the portrait. I burned down the lower
part of these first two portraits by creating a duplicate layer, darkening
that layer by bringing down the lighter end of Curves and then erasing
the most important part of the portrait at 100 percent. Finally, at decreasing
pressures I erased the areas that I wanted to appear darker in the finished
picture. A heck of a lot easier than doing it in the darkroom ever was!
The original color version
of this portrait was pretty awesome in itself--just the way it was
shot. For some of my close-up portraits I've been bringing the reflector
below the subject's face, bringing some fill up from the bottom.
See how the light coming up from below her face opens up the color of
her eyes. It's similar to when I now put a fill light at the knees
of my subjects in a studio environment.
I did burn in her hands, arms, and background slightly to concentrate
the viewer's attention on her face.
Here's a shot of the whole setup. I do these with each setup so
those attending the class can remember just what the conditions were when
each of the portraits was created.
Here you can see just how
it all came down. The open side of the barn was a natural choice for a
light source. The stacks of hay not only created a great backdrop, but
at the same time reflected light back into her shadowed side. You can
see the reflector and the white card used for my custom white balance.
I can't believe how easy this is and how much fun it is at the same
time! Notice that the stronger light is at the lower side of the barn
opening. That's why I had to tone down the bottom of each of the
One of the best reasons for
taking the color out of portraits is to eliminate distracting color areas
that vie for attention with a face.
In this case, for instance, the colored flowers seemed to be too much
competition in the photograph when I brought the flowers up so close to
her face. It was a natural for a black and white photograph. Again, I
selected the red channel, creating a very soft, flattering skin tone for
Profile lighting seems to
always work well for a black and white conversion from color. The specular
highlights, the transition of light to dark, the deep shadows...they
all work perfectly. I used the blue channel to change the color to black
and white. In this particular case the color of her clothing was also
toned down in importance when the color was eliminated, allowing you to
concentrate on her face without any distraction.
At last, I finally found an image that worked perfectly using the green
channel. This biker in his black jacket was the ideal subject for a dramatic
transition from color to black and white. All I had to do here to complete
the portrait was to tone down the zipper of his sleeve, the mirror in
the lower left corner, and his glasses in the upper right corner. I did
it the same as before, by darkening the entire picture with Curves and
erasing back to the face to retain all the incredible tonal range.
The location for this portrait?
The interior of the barn again. Wouldn't you go back to a tried
and true location if you knew the light would work for you? I do it all
I also always go back to the original way that Eddie Tapp showed me how
to convert color to black and white in Photoshop. I know that there must
be countless ways to do everything in Photoshop, but I've found
that selecting one of the channels and then converting to gray scale works
just fine for me.
So, you see, red, blue, and green are my way to black and white. Try it.
You'll like it, too. Black and white photography has never been
easier or better--at least for me!
Outdoors, I have found that
oftentimes I can easily create a high-key portrait simply by placing Westcott's
translucent panel between the light source and the subject. This works
best, of course, for a bride in her light gown. I simply turned her profile
away from the light source until I created the shadow pattern that I use
for all of my portraits. A silver reflector, camera-left, opened up the
shadowed side of her face--lightening it beautifully to help with
the high-key effect.
What would ordinarily have been splotchy sunlight coming through the tree
branches was changed to a beautifully diffused, even light source for
this portrait. The sunlight did, however, create incredible shadows on
the translucent background. I had seen similar patterns of light and shadow
created years ago in studio bridals by holding up tree branches in front
of incandescent spotlights.
Again, I selected the red
channel--a surprise to me, because I had seldom used the red channel
before. Although the bride's flowers were beautifully colored to
go with her complexion, the black and white version of this profile also
helped to keep the attention on the bride's face.
On another day in the Whitewater Experience, Michele, to my dismay, booked
an appointment for me to photograph a nine-month pregnant mother of three
children (all under 5). The clothing consultation was perfect--they
were all wearing white. Michele had a hanging white backdrop near a double
glass door. There was no alternative. This is where it all had to happen.
To keep the light coming in from a high angle we blocked the light at
the bottom of the doors by standing up some of my sample prints on the
floor. I first tried to get a photograph with the kids all seated around
their mother on the floor. Ha! What a joke! You try photographing a bunch
of kids like that with a ready-to-pop mom and see if you can get all the
kids looking at the same place at the same time. It just wasn't
going to happen!
Finally, in desperation Michele brought out a bassinet and threw a stuffed
animal into it. The attention was there for only a split second and I
caught it. I can't believe it!
I call the photograph "Anticipation." The children's
brother was born two days later. Once more I used the red channel to convert
the photograph to black and white. Calm, soft, and delicate was the mood
I wanted to create in this black and white image. Actually, the color
was almost a disruption to the picture.
I did set each of the children in position to be facing toward the light.
That much of it was planned. What I hadn't planned, however, was
the fact that I caught all three of their faces perfectly--mom's,
too. There they all are: profile, 2/3, and full face--and then almost
a 2/3 of the baby. Just look at the outline of that profile against the
dark background of her brother's arm. Talk about luck.