Black & White

When colour film arrived over half a century ago the pundits who presumed that black and white film would die a quick death were surprisingly mistaken. Colour is all very nice but sometimes the rich tonal qualities that we can see in the work of the photographic artists are something to be savoured. Can you imagine an Ansel Adams masterpiece in colour? If you can – read no further.

Creating fabulous black and white photographs from your color images is a little more complicated than hitting the ‘Convert to Grayscale’ or ‘Desaturate’ buttons in your image editing software (or worse still, your camera). Ask any professional photographer who has been raised on the film medium and you will discover that crafting tonally rich images requires both a carefully chosen colour filter during the capture stage and some dodging and burning in the darkroom. Colour filters for black and white? Now there is an interesting concept! Well, as strange as it may seem, screwing on a colour filter for capturing images on black and white film has traditionally been an essential ingredient in the recipe for success. We can also control how each colour is translated into a darker or lighter tone in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). The result is an image with considerable tonal differences compared to an image that is desaturated. Adobe Lightroom or ACR offers all of the editing features and flexibility we need to create a high quality black and white image.

The drama of the location in the image used to illustrate this blog, however, has not been recorded by the camera – only the Raw data. The tones in their Raw state do not accurately reflect the emotion that I felt in this environment. The challenge with any black and white conversion is to balance each and every visual element (sky, mountains, buildings and foreground) to tell a different and more dramatic visual story for the viewer.

There are no magic presets (one click solutions) that can be applied to create the perfect black and white image. The photographer must selectively dodge (make lighter) and burn (make tones darker) areas of image in order to craft a back and white image that will then communicate what they want to say. This requires thoughtful localised adjustments such as graduated filters and adjustment brushes in order to complete the picture.

A tutorial that demonstrates how to craft black and white images using Adobe Lightroom can be found in the ‘Create’ section of this Community Group