RGB 2 B+W; Conversion Strategies For Tonal Control Page 2

This is all well and good and in fact quite revolutionary, but I am proposing that handling the actual conversion in software after exposure will lead to even greater satisfaction in your black-and-white work. That’s why I recommend shooting using the Raw+JPEG setting and making sure that you open the image as a 16-bit file. If you use monochrome previsualization and “filters” in your original you will see the effect of that rendition on the JPEG and, with most Raw programs and processors, the color in the Raw file (though some will also show the Raw image in black and white). Keep in mind that the Raw file retains the ability to go to color or any other interpretation, but the JPEG file is hardwired, if you will, as a monochrome and will keep the “filter” effect as the base image. This may hinder your interpretations on this file later.

Presets allow you to make quick “foundation” images that can be used as the basis for further refinement later. In some cases this might actually eliminate the need to do any more contrast or even tonal work later. This photo inside the Blaine Kern Mardi Gras Museum in Algiers, Louisiana (A) shows quite a different feel with the “green filter” preset (B) and “orange filter” preset (C) in Aperture.

My intent here is to show you tonal control and manipulation solely through the use of so-called “conversion” tactics, that is, selecting a tonal value for certain colors. I assume that certain refinements will occur after this step to complete the image, but that this step can eliminate a certain need for more tedious work later.

This color conversion can be done broadly or with very fine distinctions between shades and tints of a color, depending on the tools you use and the combination of colors you adjust. As you work you will notice that green is indeed a combination of blue and yellow, and that too much blue manipulation can bring noise in as a detrimental factor. But that’s something you can see as you work, given that you often bring the image to 100 percent as you go through the process.

This split view in Lightroom shows the original color shot and the “default” black-and-white conversion (A). The default Grayscale Mix toolbar (B) shows the settings. The sliders (C) were moved to deepen the blue sky, open up the shadows, and alleviate the flat contrast in the scene (D). This work was done without working in Curves or Levels or making any adjustments other than using the Grayscale Mix toolbar.

In this article I have illustrated the idea using some common image-editing programs such as Photoshop, Aperture, and Lightroom, including Adobe Camera Raw, but there are many more to explore such as Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro, Alien Skin’s Exposure, Adobe’s Elements, Corel’s Paint Shop Pro, DxO’s Optics Pro, Phase One’s Capture One, and most of the camera company Raw processor programs. Most of these have both “manual” and preset controls as well.

Most camera maker Raw processing software allows for black-and-white tonal control. This combined Black and White Conversion toolbar in Nikon Capture (above) allowed me to get pretty much a final rendition of this wintery scene (below).

Now that we have printers and papers that can deliver extremely subtle black-and-white prints and programs and tools that concentrate on the black-and-white workflow, black-and-white photography will continue to undergo a renaissance that will allow many more of us to create prints that rival those made by experienced darkroom workers in years past.

George Schaub is teaching a weeklong workshop on Black-and-White Digital Photography at the Santa Fe Workshops from March 13-19, 2011 (www.santafeworkshops.com) and a black-and-white printing course at the Maine Media College in the summer of 2011 (www.mainemedia.edu). Check the websites for more details. Schaub’s black-and-white work can also be seen at: www.georgeschaub.com.


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