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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre General Photography Talk 
Thread started 29 Jul 2014 (Tuesday) 19:12
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What Makes a Good Black & White Image?

 
MDJAK
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Jul 29, 2014 19:12 |  #1

Even with after market plugins, I can't seem to get a good B&W image.

Just how many different shades of gray are there, 256?

What makes a good B&W? Does it have deep blacks and then lighter and lighter shades of gray? I recently shot an elephant in the zoo, turned it BW in LR and it is just a mass of light gray. Actually looks terrible.

Thanks.

Mark




  
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MDJAK
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Jul 29, 2014 19:14 |  #2

This is what I mean when I say gray:

IMAGE: http://markrichman.zenfolio.com/img/s7/v159/p949461360-5.jpg



  
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tonylong
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Jul 29, 2014 20:16 |  #3

Yes, your elephant is pretty ugly. Maybe some skin touch-up, get rid of some wrinkles and blemishes?:)


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TooManyShots
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Jul 29, 2014 20:33 |  #4
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You should try to reproduce the 7 tonal zones, based on the Ansel's zone system. That is, if you have clouds, the brightness and tones should be under Zone 7 to 8. Sky, zone 6. Typical foreground subjects (trees, mountains, roads, and buildings) under a somewhat shady day, zone 5. Light shadows or objected being shaded should be in zone 4. Shadows themselves in zone 3. Dark shadows should be in zone 2.

http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorial​s/zone_system.shtml (external link)


Some of my digitally converted BW shots...

IMAGE: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3668/14106908348_d267e5197b_b.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/nuzA​nJ  (external link) DSC_7608 (external link) by vracing (external link), on Flickr

Notice the white on the shirts. They are borderline clipping...very close to.
IMAGE: https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7395/14169867321_b3a8d00257_b.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/nA9g​Tg  (external link) DSC_7488 (external link) by vracing (external link), on Flickr

IMAGE: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5147/13569200005_837e448ca8_b.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/mF4G​qe  (external link) DSC_6831_01 (external link) by vracing (external link), on Flickr


I used the CS5 BW conversion. Then, I move the color sliders to give me the necessary "tonal brightness." For an example, if I want the blue sky to look darker, I move the color blue and cyan sliders to the left. Or if I want your skin to look brighter and you are Asian, I will move the yellow slider to the right. Also, it helps if you understand what would various color filters do too. An orange filter would render yellow and red colors more brighter while making the green and blue darker. And you move the color sliders accordingly to achieve the necessary color filter effects.

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buphoto
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Jul 29, 2014 20:38 |  #5

I used to use the photoshop CS5 bw conversion until another photographer told me to:
1. Set your colors in the color pallet in the bottom left corner to pure black and pure white
2. Tools - gradient map
(I believe it's under tools---I'm on my iPad right now)

I have had nothing but success using this way.

Just my two cents. ;)


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kf095
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Jul 29, 2014 21:35 as a reply to  @ buphoto's post |  #6

Good B/W? I was told it has to be wet printed of fiber paper in DR. :)

In LR, only conversion to b/w will do not good enough, often.
I play with two bars for temperature. Very little adjustments makes big difference.


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Preeb
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Jul 29, 2014 21:58 as a reply to  @ kf095's post |  #7

I honestly can't answer our question. When I make a B & W conversion, I fiddle with it until I like it. I don't know if it's technically right or not, but if I like it, then it's right for me. This was done in LR, Working all of the sliders from WB right down the line, then tweaking a couple of them them some more. I ended up with an image I like, so I'm happy. The color version is okay, but this one works better for me:

IMAGE: http://rapriebe.smugmug.com/photos/i-xSqSmgF/0/XL/i-xSqSmgF-XL.jpg

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Clean ­ Gene
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Jul 30, 2014 00:30 |  #8

MDJAK wrote in post #17064804 (external link)
Even with after market plugins, I can't seem to get a good B&W image.

Just how many different shades of gray are there, 256?

What makes a good B&W? Does it have deep blacks and then lighter and lighter shades of gray? I recently shot an elephant in the zoo, turned it BW in LR and it is just a mass of light gray. Actually looks terrible.

Thanks.

Mark

This is such a broad question that it's impossible to get a simple answer. It really just depends on the image. Someone can give you advice on a good workflow for producing black and white images, but maybe your images just worked better in color in the first place. Or maybe this black and white image needs one kind of treatment, but a different black and white image needs to be treated differently.

So, I guess for starters, don't try to force an image to be something it's not. Unless you're on assignment or something and your continued employment hinges on making it something it's not. But in general, I kind of see images as like people. They don't all need the same thing, they take on a life of their own. If you have to struggle to force an image to work in black and white, then I have to ask...why are you trying to do it in black and white? If it works better in color, then stick to color.

And that's not a rhetorical question. I'm really curious to hear the answer here. Is there a particular reason why you need this image to work in black and white, or do you for some reason just feel like you need to do some black and white photographs?

Anyway, I say...let the work go where it's going. Try it out both ways, obviously. But each image can be like a person with its own special needs. Don't try to make it what it's not, just listen to what it's telling you that it needs. If it needs color, then let it be a color image.




  
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melcat
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Jul 30, 2014 03:13 |  #9

Traditionally, B&W photography involved filters. For example, you'd use a red filter to blacken the sky (since red is the complement of cyan). And so on - B&W photographers carried at least red, yellow and orange filters which they screwed on the front of their lens.

Photoshop or specialised B&W conversion tools make this easier. There should be sliders in which you can choose how much each colour contributes to the greyscale level.

In the case of your elephant, the background is probably green, and the elephant is not green. You obviously want the elephant to stand out more from the background. To make the background very dark, move the green slider in Photoshop's B&W conversion all the way to the left. To make it near white, move the slider to the right.

If your elephant has red dirt on it, move the red slider back and forth to give that a different tonality from the rest of the elephant.

The highlight on the bridge of the elephant's nose is blown.




  
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MattPharmD
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Jul 30, 2014 06:52 |  #10

I think that a good black and white image has an appropriate level of contrast and something of interest that maintains that interest once the color is gone. So many pictures rely on vibrant color to generate interest, you have to be able to do it without color in black and white.

I am not sure if more contrast would help your elephant image or not. It might only have been good with the "contrast" of the gray elephant against a colored background.


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airfrogusmc
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Jul 30, 2014 06:59 |  #11

See Ansel Adams....

And a couple of books that might help.
The Camera
The Negative
The Print

Go look at his work not in books or on line but real prints.

Also I would recommend see the work of Edward Weston.

I know, not digital but these were two that set the bar for all B&W.




  
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vraspagraphix
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Jul 30, 2014 07:07 |  #12

I don't think the problem with you photo is the conversion as much as it is the subject and lighting. The elephant is gray so it appears gray in your photo. The only contrast in your photo is the black in the skin folds and they appear correct.




  
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airfrogusmc
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Jul 30, 2014 07:19 as a reply to  @ MattPharmD's post |  #13

Here are a few of mine that I think are decent. The most important part is you have to be able to see in B&W.

IMAGE: http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y118/airfrogusmc/RetiredNurse.jpg

IMAGE: http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y118/airfrogusmc/233Domingo09.jpg

IMAGE: http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y118/airfrogusmc/IMG_7577-1.jpg

IMAGE: http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y118/airfrogusmc/48Texas.jpg

IMAGE: http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y118/airfrogusmc/L1010299_zps764b8223.jpg

IMAGE: http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y118/airfrogusmc/L1015804_zps4430c30e.jpg

IMAGE: http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y118/airfrogusmc/airfrogusmc016/IMG_4870BampW_zps7bfd28c0.jpg

IMAGE: http://i4.photobucket.com/albums/y118/airfrogusmc/L1016211_zps3ada3e30.jpg



  
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hokiealumnus
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Jul 30, 2014 07:49 |  #14

MDJAK wrote in post #17064804 (external link)
Just how many different shades of gray are there, 256?

Everybody knows there are fifty shades of gray, duh. :p

Seriously though, I have no idea what technically makes a good B&W image. In my very limited experience converting the few shots I have, it's based on instinct - 'hey, I bet that would look good in B&W.' Considered after conversion, the main thing that makes them stand out to me is contrast. There have to be both dark & light areas, just like the photos posted above. It doesn't have to be black and white per se, but definitely darker and lighter. Without that contrast you end up with the drab shades of gray you're talking about.

Here are a couple examples I had on Flickr that seemed to work to me. Sorry I'm not great at articulating why I think they work!

IMAGE: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3774/13643728325_fc1375aedd_c.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/mMDF​6g  (external link) Tracks Bound for Nowhere (external link) by hokiealumnus (external link), on Flickr

IMAGE: https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3792/13852202923_7356e3dbae_c.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/n75a​jT  (external link) Gallery Plaza Metro Station (external link) by hokiealumnus (external link), on Flickr

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airfrogusmc
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Jul 30, 2014 07:56 |  #15

Some of the ones I posted are film, some are conversions and some were shot with a Leica M Monochrom.

Just remember white never looks more white what than when its up against black and black never looks more black than when its right next to white. B&W photography is really about tone, shape, texture, line and ultimately form. How successful your photograph will be will be determined by first how well you saw those elements and how successful you were in looking past the color and then how successful you were in your ability to capture those elements.




  
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What Makes a Good Black & White Image?
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