Friday, July 8, 2011

Step by Step

A couple of posts back I kinda explained how I transform a seemingly uninteresting photo into a far better black and white image.
I've decided to do a more detailed description of what I do in this post. So let's begin.


This is the original shot straight out of the cam. You notice the huge blue/green cast on this image. This is because I used my custom White Balance in combination with that White Balance Shift I was talking about in this post. Blue in combination with a red filter gives you a very dark result. And that is the result that I like most. I love real blacks in black and white photography and lots of contrast too. That is me. This is not necessarily something YOU love of course.


Now let's start the conversion. For this shot I used a green filter. Hey, wait a minute. Didn't you just say you almost always use the red filter preset. Yes I did but wait a minute. Green is the opposite from red. Using the green filter produces very light grays where you have green. Using the red filter produces darker blacks where you have green (deep blues produce a solid black). You can get the same result going both with the green or red filter presets. On one you will be adding blacks and burn a lot of areas. On the other you will dodge a lot. In the end, you should get the same result. But what I'm always trying to achieve in these early stages of a print is to get a very flat looking photo where I have detail in every single area of the scene.


In 90% of my B&W shots, the first thing I do is drag a gradient going from black to nothing (see through) from the top to the horizon. This is of course done on a separate layer. This layer was set to "soft light" at 100%. This effectively burns that section of the shot, in this case the sky. 100% black gives you a 100% burn. 50% black, well... 50% burning. It's like using a grad filter and it sets my overal darkness of the photo.


Alright! Before I go and put even more attention in the sky I want to make sure my foreground is to my likings. So by using the same technique I burned the foreground. So I created a new layer and with a big soft brush, set to 20% opacity and using 100% black (just use the default black, Press D in photoshop), I burned away. Again I've set this layer to "soft light". You are entering the creative stages of the conversion now. It is up to you to render darker areas where you think they should be. It takes a little bit of practice but you can learn a lot by just looking at what Mother Nature does in real life. Be always on the lookout for light patterns and try to analyse if you see something you like. You can recreate this. Learn to understand how light works!


OK so we are getting somewhere here. Now in addition to the darker spots in the previous step, I want to create some contrast in the foreground. It's dodging time! So using the exact same process but this time using WHITE start dodging selected areas where light could be hitting the scene. You are trying to create a sweet spot for the eye to land on as well. So analyse your shot and decided where that spot needs to go.


In this stage I am concentrating on the sky again. I definitely want some more contrast in there as well. I looked at the lighter tones in this area and dodged them a bit more. Effectively enlarging the range of contrast between the darker clouds and the lighter clouds.


Sweet! What I did here was setting the overal contrast of the scene. Remember we started with a gray shot with lots of info in all areas? Now at this stage I went ahead and defined a black and white point using both levels and curves. After that I added contrast just by using curves again.
I like the overal darkness of this shot but it still lacks that central hooking point. That point where your eye focusses.


If you scroll back up to the previous image you can see that I added contrast to the central white spot adding overal texture to it. This gives your eye the necessary amount of detail to hover here for a sec (or longer). Ultimately this is a very simple scene with no real subject like a tree or rock. I also darkened up the sky some more.


I liked this. So the only thing that was left to do is some minor tweaking. I burned the upper and lower edge of the frame some more. Removed all spots and added sharpening using a high pass overlay. DONE

Now this is just a demo on how I process black and white shots in 95% of the time. Sometimes I do use NIK Silver Effects Pro because – well – it works very intuitive. But most of the time I use Photoshop CS5.
Feel free to ask any questions about this technique in the comments. Try it out. You'll see it is so much fun to create something out of nothing!

You can see the final result here.