Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What makes a good B&W conversion

What makes a good B&W conversion? Good question. B&W photography is a lot more different than colour photography. If you take the colour out of a photograph other elements become more important and will need more attention to create an interesting B&W photo. B&W photography revolves around contrasts. And by contrasts I mean contrasts in light, textures, shapes etc. 

Let's take this shot for example. 
I've already made all the necessary colour adjustments to this photo. So this is not a straight out of the camera shot.


When I took this shot in early winter last year I knew I would have a nice image to do a B&W conversion on. Now why did I know this? First the light. I had pretty good side light on the clouds and the mountains and I was in shadow. That already makes a nice contrast. Look at the foreground, lot's of texture there: ice flowers, the grass. And the lake was perfectly calm so I had a nice reflection. I used a polariser to get the darkest blue sky as possible. Blue makes a nice black when you use the red filter preset in your black and white conversions. So after conversion we got something like this.


OK that looks pretty good! Just because we had a good original to start from. 
Learning to see in B&W though has to be the hardest part of B&W photography. Understanding colours and tonal contrast and how they translate into B&W. But also a mayor factor is knowing how light works. And how to add drama to a shot.
Coming from a wet darkroom background where dodging and burning, chemicals and what kind of paper you used where are tools to add contrast to a picture. Nowadays in Photoshop I feel like I have even more control over my images than in the past. Especially since I've discovered luminosity masks – thanks to Tony Kuyper's website – I've reintroduced the dodging and burning techniques I once used inside the darkroom into my digital work flow.

This dodging and burning process is something that is very personal. I like dark tones. And I like to emphasise  certain parts of a landscape by making them lighter. That adds more drama to your shot. It takes practice and I am not saying that I have mastered it yet. But the above image can look like something like this.


'I reworked the light' to add more drama. Look at the mountains, the tree line to the left and the clearing on the right. Of course the grass in the front needed just that little extra too to balance things out. I love creating photo's like this. And makes much more interesting shots than a straight conversion. This is where the artist in you comes out. This is of course nothing new. Ansel Adams was the master of all of this.
Happy dodging and burning!