Text and Photography by Chuck Place©
I am continuing my quest to learn black and white photography through the process of converting a number of my color images to b&w. If you didn’t see my last post converting landscapes to black and white, jump back there and take a look.
Each photographic subject, whether sand dunes or deep forest, has presented its own unique challenges. I have been especially struck by the amount of burning and dodging that was necessary for images that look quite good in color.
It has also been a challenge deciding how much contrast I want, especially in the details. I like some velvety blacks in my images, but it is easy to go too far with contrast—almost like too much saturation in color images.
Let’s see how black and white conversions work with images of people.
My first portrait conversion was almost monochromatic to start with. While teaching lighting at a design school in China, I used the schools lighting kit—two fluorescent lights with umbrellas—to demo beauty lighting. These were tight head and shoulder portraits and I was going for a clean, graphic look.
I chose a student from the first row as a model and had her position her hands to help frame her face. The images looked pretty good, but I wanted a little more impact so I had her close her eyes.
The twin arcs of her dark eyelashes on her pale cheeks worked well and seemed to be a natural for black and white conversion. Using the HSL slider, I darkened her sweater and lightened her skin. The last step was pushing the Clarity Slider to -15, giving her skin a soft glow. Ridding this portrait of color seems to have created a more dramatic yet serene image.
Tight head and shoulder portraits seemed to convert well, but what about environmental portraits with all their location details? This, I found, was similar to converting a forest scene. Detail contrast was critical and some of the presets in the Develop Module proved useful shortcuts.
Subtle vignetting using the Radial Filter helped focus the viewer’s attention but a fair amount of burning and dodging was still necessary, just as it was in the landscapes.
The one thing that changed drastically from the tight portraits was the Clarity Slider. A slight negative Clarity setting smoothed out skin texture, but with less skin and more detail in the environmental portraits, I defaulted to my usual Clarity setting of plus twenty or so.
My “street photography” is often busy restaurant interiors, like the image at the top of this post, shot in the venerable Paradise Café.
Converting this image to black & white seems to pump up the energy of the scene, stripping away the soft mood of warm afternoon light and replacing it with pure vibrance and hard-edged light.
I’m starting to actually see the possibilities in a color image before I convert it. Decisions on the processing steps are getting a little more intuitive and the particular “style” of black & white that I personally prefer is also coming into sharper focus.
I’m getting a terrible urge to start printing some of these images, but I know my eye for black & white needs to develop further. A box of archival matte paper is already on my shopping list along with extra black ink cartridges, just in case my willpower fails.