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Up for Discussions: Images in Monochrome

The Monochrome Madness challenge has been wonderful, yet I am finding many people feel their own work is not good enough, or they don’t really know, or think they don’t know, how to do monochrome images.  I offered to write a post about it.  I thought why not, but I don’t feel like I am in any way an expert on monochrome images, or black and white, so I am going to get the discussion going, and like we did with other discussions, like common mistakes newbies make, I will talk about what I do and give some ideas and hopefully other people will keep adding to the discussion. What happens, I will start the conversation.  The first part is how to choose an image, and the second part will be about how to convert them to black and white.  The post will remain open and as people, you, make suggestions I will add marysville-steavensons-falls-water-monochrome-100-2them to the post.  So please leave what you want to say in the comments, I will cut and paste them.  Remember this is about helping people who have trouble creating monochrome images. Shall we get on with it.

The Image

Textures and Patterns

Not every photo you take will be a good monochrome image, sad but true.  There are things to look for when you are going to convert an image.  Images with lots of textural elements or patterns are great for monochrome, the patterns and textures can laurent-melbourne-littlecollins-building-monochromereally stand out.

Contrast

Really what a great monochrome image needs is lots of contrast.  I am going to try and explain contrast because I know a lot of people say they know what it is and they don’t.  I used to be one of them.  People say to me it doesn’t have enough contrast and it took me years to work out what they meant. So contrast is about the difference between the whites and the blacks.  If you have ever used the threshold on an image, and converted it to just blacks and just whites, then you will find an image with a lot of contrast.  Though the image would look crap, but a good image would have blacks, and whites and lots of shades in between.  What you are looking for are lots of tones, or greys from light to dark.  Often images that don’t have a lot of contrast just look grey royal-exhibition-building-reflection-museumand not very good.

Tones

If you want to know if an image will be good for black and white, look at the tones in the image, the lights and darks, is their enough of a difference. Remember that some colours will have the same tones when converted. For example red and green will have the same tone, and when you convert they may look the same. Dramatic images often lend themselves very well to monochrome as well.

Camera

A couple of people have mentioned how you can take photos in Black and White with a setting on your camera.  One way is to take Black and White photos, but then you loose the flexibility of your image because you can’t make it colour again. The other option is to make your screen show you the preview in B&W. The images are still colour, but you get an idea of what it looks like in monochrome. I don’t do either, but I know people who do.  To be honest, I just don’t think of it.  If you are new to this and learning, then changing your screen to give you the preview could be very beneficial.

Zone System

The zone system that Ansel Adams developed has been mentioned.  I’ve never been able to work it out, but there are others who have read it and used it to get better images.  If you are really stuck, could be good to look at.

Taking Images

It has been suggested that if you have the intention of getting images in black and white, then when you set out to take them, remember that, and look at what you are taking.  Think about whether it will be a good image for monochrome.

From Merilee, her point of view.

The best way to learn the language of black and white is to work only in black and white. And I don’t mean allowing the camera to take black and white images for you. You must go out and take the photograph in color, and really LOOK at what you are shooting. Before you shoot it, you need to train your eye and brain to convert the image from color to black and white in your mind first. After awhile it becomes automatic. You can be looking at a sign that’s in bright colors, but you know instinctively that when you convert that color photograph into black and white, that the colors on the sign will all turn the same shade of grey. You must do this and do it a lot to learn the language. Also, when composing for black and white, it will be different than composing for color. Because your color becomes part of the composition itself. When shooting for black and white you need to SEE the large, dark areas and the large light areas while you are composing. Work like this for two or three years. I’m not talking about a few weeks. This takes years. I know. It’s what I do. All the time…

Chris had similar views as Merilee

Have to agree with Merilee, to some extent. it does help to convert to black and white completely . I did this about 4 years ago and only shoot for black and white images as an end product, unless some one asks me to do specifically colour for family shots or something like that.

I shoot with a Nikon and preview only in black and white when out and about, I use the histogram a bit when out . The images a raw colour images though. Lightroom is the program I use for conversion, just my preference, presets are good to get a starting point, then the B&W sliders , contrast and lights and shadows sliders used a lot, and the tone curve box fro very subtle changes , lights out – to isolate the image on the screen , then export to PS for resizing and a little sharpening maybe .

Sometimes I use PS for doging and burning using layers.

From Dan

As you know, I “convert” several of my seascape images to B&W. Seascapes are difficult due to lack of contrast in water. I find that adding other elements (clouds, sand, rocks, people, etc…) to be very effective. The key is the light… the sun’s direction and height specifically. Midday sun can be too flat, but early morning and late afternoon (just after/before golden hour) can be a great time to shoot. Look for clouds to add drama, shading on rocks, and wet sand for some glimmer. Here in San Francisco, I like to go out in the early morning. It’s typically overcast which softens the light. Remember that the sun is still shining through those clouds adding that much needed contrast. You just have to figure out its direction.

My final tip is to know what your goal is “before” you push the button. Visualize your final image in B&W. It becomes easier with practice, but an important goal, nonetheless.

Converting to Black and White

Simple Editing

There are so many ways of converting images, and it really is an individual thing.  There is no right way or wrong way of doing it.  You can do what works for you. apollo-bay-funghi-rainforest-monochromeThe most common thing to do is to reduce the saturation and take out all the colour in the image.  You can go to the menu and find where you can convert it to greyscale. They are the two most common ways that I can think of to convert your images.

Black and White Adjustment Layers

Photoshop has an adjustment now that allows you to convert them, you can click that and your image is monochrome, then you can adjust the individual tones in the image to make them darker or lighter, according to how you want them.  It is one of my preferred methods of doing the conversion.  I will often give the contrast slider a little push as well for extra effect.

From Judy

On choosing what to convert, I am not sure I do. I think the picture choses. Crazy I know but I just see it and must convert!! For me using Photoshop or taking advantage of such software as Silver Efex, I find the starting point of color very powerful. Once you are in a neutral black and white stage, you can use sliders to lighten and darken various colors in the scene. For example green leaves with lighter yellow areas can be separately lightened or darkened to give highlight and interest to the leaves. Once I like the look of the image, then I can take that composite as a black and white with no more help from underlying color and adjust lighting and contrast in various ways so the final image has a nice mood. If you love nuances of light on just about anything, water, rocks, leaves, trees, birds…then a black and white treatment will always be a wonderful temptation.

Toning

From InfraredRobert

However the photographer goes about the conversion, don’t forget that when all is said and done, you can still use one more ‘trick” from the old days of printing on paper – specifically: Do you want a warm tone or cool tone image? Often this final step (by using a photo filter in PhotoShop) really gives a nice finishing touch to a monochrome image.

Plugins

There is also lots and lots of software that will help you get that black and white effect.  You simply open your image in them and hey presto there is your black and white image.  There are many around, with the most popular one being apollo-bay-treetops-rainforest-monochromeSilver Efex from the Nik Collection. I know Topaz Labs also have one, but I have never used it, so I don’t know what it is like. They usually have a heap of presets, to help you decide exactly how you would like your image to look.

Actions

I have also seen some actions that when you apply them they will make your image black and white, however you need Photoshop to use them, though I believe you can also use them in Elements, but I’m not positive about that. You can often pick up an action quite cheaply or a bundle of them.  I am experimenting with doing them, perhaps I should do one for people.

Other Software

From Victor

Another piece of software for Mac uses is MacPhun’s Tonalality. It’s got lot if bells and whistles that make it easy and fun to use.

Conclusion and Photos

I am leaving it there, so I am hoping those that are much better at monochrome will help add more information. What little tips can you give people who want to get better at doing them?  For those of you who want to learn how to get better images, try looking at more monochrome and if you don’t like an image see if you can work out why, or why the black and white doesn’t work. I am not going to put everything in the article, so you should also read the comments, as people might add information to what I’ve already said. All the images today are ones I’ve done in monochrome.  I am fairly certain they have been on the blog before, some for monochrome madness, and some just, well just because I wanted to. If you look at the file names and see SEP in it then it usually means that it was done in Silver Efex.

113 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Benji Martin Photography.

    April 3, 2015
  2. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez #

    I have used the Paint Bucket Tool and the Clone Tool with the Opacity adjustment for odds and ends but I am still learning Photoshop. I have used the various filters and converted to black and white, too, so this is all good information. (First I have to get better at taking pictures worth looking at.) 🙂 I love the way it looks like you have focused the light through trees and on the mushroom.

    April 3, 2015
    • I’m still learning Photoshop as well Jackie, takes years I think, OMG you cracked me up with that bit about taking photos, I’m sure they are way better than you think they are. I wish I could take the credit for the focused light, but it was just like that. I was very lucky. Thanks Jackie.

      April 3, 2015
  3. msmithj567 #

    Reblogged this on Mohit – The caretaker.

    April 3, 2015
  4. last year I wrote a comparison color vs. monochrome. Maybe it helps: https://solaner.wordpress.com/2014/05/05/color-vs-black-and-white/

    April 3, 2015
    • I’m sure it will, so thank you for adding the link, I am sure people will get something from it.

      April 3, 2015
  5. I am not doing that much of monochrome photo but I will use monochrome for these photos
    – For me monochrome means black and white and also sepia.
    – Not everything that is beautiful in B/W will look good in sepia.
    – Street photo is always B/W especially if you have the human presence in the photo
    – Portrait is definitely only black and white, sometime sepia
    – I have a tendency to use sepia for photos of old objects, to give a more vintage look. I use it with the infrared finish; it really gives an old and just a little blurry finish.
    – I have tried a few time monochrome for photos taken in a forest, it’s a BIG NO for me
    – I agree with you the more contrast you have in the colors, the better the results will be in black and white
    – I know that my Nikon is equipped with the software to transfer the photo in monochrome when it’s taken but it gives me less flexibility. The problem, once it has been taken in monochrome, it cannot be reverted in colors.

    April 3, 2015
    • I forgot about the cameras being able to do that, I have heard that you can just get the screen to do it so the image is still colour. I am like you though, I like the flexibility.
      You’ve got some great ideas here Nelson, someone else has said the same thing about the camera, so I am going to add that to the post. Thanks

      April 3, 2015
  6. Hi Leanne, Don’t think I’m better than you at all but since you asked for comments – I found reading up about Ansel Adam’s Zone system helped me – I didn’t get too technical about it but it made me stop and think about light and the different areas of black and white and all in between… And lots and lots of experimentation – I think just playing with the software and seeing what produces different results is invaluable… Thanks!

    April 3, 2015
    • I tried reading that once, and couldn’t hack it, LOL, but that’s me. I think you are right, playing around it is great way to learn. You’re welcome, and thanks for sharing what you do.

      April 3, 2015
  7. Darrell Curtis #

    Always a pleasure to read your articles and to see your work. Great tips, especially about textures and tones. I find B&W to be the best for conveying the “inner view” behind the surface image. Personally, I like to apply filters or effects to the photo if I’m not getting the look I want. Otherwise, I try to rely on the natural lighting.

    April 3, 2015
    • Do you mean the filters you put on your camera Darrell, or the filters you use in photoshop? I used to use filters all the time in film black and white, the red filter especially. I still have my red filter, maybe I should try it again, but I would have to take the images in black and white. Natural lighting is always the best. I think. Thanks for that Darrell.

      April 3, 2015
      • Darrell Curtis #

        Well, it would be either the ‘filters’ the iPhone camera has, or in Instagram Nothing more exciting, I’m afraid. I don’t recall all the names of them, but they do alter the depth of the contrast as well as skewing the focus of the exposure (meaning shadowed edges with a lighter center). I’ve considered using low-tech filters, though, like colored filters etc., over the camera lens. Thank you for asking for feedback.

        April 4, 2015
      • I often play with the filters in Instagram, and I love them they are fun. I tried using the colour filters on the camera, I still have some, but they didn’t quite work the way I hoped they would, maybe you will have better luck.

        April 4, 2015
  8. I completely agree with you: the best images for monochrome conversion have a varied tonal range, strong texture and vivid shape/pattern. I tend to tinker with the contrast when editing to make these things emphatic but they should mostly already be there in camera. I actually think about an image becoming monochrome when I am taking the shot. I think maybe that helps.

    April 3, 2015
    • That’s a really good point Laura, I’m trying to work out how to add that. I find upping the contrast a little can often give an image a little boost. We used to do it in the darkroom, you would give an image more or less magenta to get more or less contrast. Thank you for that tip.

      April 3, 2015
  9. poppytump #

    I just want to say a big *thank you*
    Time is so precious to everyone in this hurry scurry world , to put the effort in that you do in supporting and encouraging others to explore photography and ALL that entails from picture taking to processing in these kind of posts is just … well just so marvellous and generous 🙂 I still feel that ‘down under’ your days MUST be longer .. how can you fit so much into 24 hrs 😀
    Some real moody images to look through in your gallery … lovely !

    April 3, 2015
    • You don’t need to do that Poppytump, I so love doing this, it would be nice if it was a paid gig, but hey, who knows where it might lead right. Haha, no the trick is, your see, is that I don’t do anything else. My house is quite neglected. Haha.
      Thank you Poppytump.

      April 3, 2015
      • poppytump #

        Smiling @ your honesty …. I shall imagine you this weekend then at your screen surrounded by … Lots of Chocolate Egg Wrappers … Happy Easter Weekend 🙂

        April 3, 2015
      • LOL, no chocolate eggs here I’m afraid we all forgot to get some. How sad are we? 😦

        April 3, 2015
      • poppytump #

        OH no :’-( ’tis really only for little ones anyway …
        *Poppytump averts eyes from the Lindt Chocolate Bunnies on the sideboard 😉

        April 3, 2015
      • You better send me one of those bunnies Poppytump, haha.
        They will probably be all gone from the supermarket when I get there tomorrow. 😉

        April 3, 2015
  10. Straight to the point and easily followed. I thought you descriptions of contrast and tones were really helpful. Thanks heaps.

    April 3, 2015
    • Oh good, I worry about going on and on. That’s great, glad you could understand them. You’re welcome and thanks.

      April 3, 2015
  11. A couple of ideas Leanne. First, for anyone who is brand new to the idea of B&W, take all your shots in full color. Most cameras have an option to shoot B&W. Shooting that way does not give the best final results.

    I do a lot of B&W. I use both Silver Efex and B&W Effects from Topaz. Both work very well. I find that the presets for either are a good starting point. In almost all cases each image needs to be treated on its own merits.

    Any of these tools are easy to abuse or overdo, so take it easy at the start. I would recommend that anyone just starting out monochrome look into getting one of the two mentioned packages as they are not expensive and make it easier to start getting the desired results.

    I do know several world class pros who strongly recommend against just desaturating.

    Just my thoughts.

    April 3, 2015
    • Good thoughts John. I would advise against that as well. I think it gives you less options in the end.
      I’ve never used the Topaz Labs B&W effects, so good to hear from someone that has, thanks for passing that on.
      I think the desaturating is a good way to see initially, but I agree, not the best way of doing it, though if it is your only option, then that’s it.
      Thanks John, some good back up information there.

      April 3, 2015
  12. Amy #

    Thank you for the conversation and discussion! Very helpful, Leanne!

    April 3, 2015
    • My pleasure Amy, I’m glad you think it’s helpful.

      April 3, 2015
  13. Sometimes I hear people say that if a black and white image was ‘converted’ that is bad or inferior to shooting black and white from the get go. I really couldn’t say since if I like the final result, it does not matter to me as a viewer how it got there. Since I like having color possibilities all the time, I have never set my digital camera to capture in black and white.

    On choosing what to convert, I am not sure I do. I think the picture choses. Crazy I know but I just see it and must convert!! For me using Photoshop or taking advantage of such software as Silver Efex, I find the starting point of color very powerful. Once you are in a neutral black and white stage, you can use sliders to lighten and darken various colors in the scene. For example green leaves with lighter yellow areas can be separately lightened or darkened to give highlight and interest to the leaves. Once I like the look of the image, then I can take that composite as a black and white with no more help from underlying color and adjust lighting and contrast in various ways so the final image has a nice mood. If you love nuances of light on just about anything, water, rocks, leaves, trees, birds…then a black and white treatment will always be a wonderful temptation.

    As a lover of black and white and toned images, I always appreciate you bringing the topic to the table!

    April 3, 2015
    • That idea about converting really goes back to the darkroom Judy, colour negatives never really looked good when printed at B&W images. It is different today with digital cameras and software like Photoshop, so many images that you see these days start being in colour and then get converted.

      I have to say what you described is pretty the sort of thing I do as well, I like playing with the separate tones in the image.

      That’s good to hear Judy, I am enjoy it far more than I used to and I’ve noticed I’ve started converting some images because they might look good, I like that. Thanks for sharing what you do Judy. I might add that under the Photoshop thing.

      April 3, 2015
      • Me too…and it is addictive once you get into the rhythm of it. It is nice to know that we can evolve to a methodology that pleases and not worry so much if you have made a grievous error in perception. But then, some of those grievous errors become the stuff of serendipity…..like Velcro!

        April 3, 2015
      • It certainly can be. Oh yes those errors, I do love it when that happens, when something magical happens from one of your experiments.

        April 3, 2015
  14. I’ve saved a lot of color images I would have otherwise tossed out had I not converted them to monochrome. I still don’t have any post-production software other than iPhoto, but I’ve found that playing with saturation, contrast, definition, and highlights is sufficient for my needs at the moment. I think practice is really what it takes to get better; at the very least it hones your preferences and thereby gets you to an effect you like faster. I’m by no means an expert, though! Just an experimenter. 🙂

    April 3, 2015
    • I have to say that doing the MM challenge each week has made me practice and refine my skills with doing it as well. I don’t know iPhoto, I tend to stay away from Apple products, so I can’t comment on that, but if you think it works for you, then why not. Thanks for that.

      April 3, 2015
  15. Great post. Another piece of software for Mac uses is MacPhun’s Tonalality. It’s got lot if bells and whistles that make it easy and fun to use

    April 3, 2015
    • I haven’t heard of that, but then I don’t use a Mac, so that would explain it. I will add that Victor, thank you.

      April 3, 2015
  16. Very good post especially the first statement that not every image will convert well to monochrome that is very important. I have Nik SE and Topaz B&W Effects and each one has it’s merits.

    April 3, 2015
    • Thank you, and I am glad you agree with me, always good. I haven’t used the second, but silver efex is fantastic.

      April 3, 2015
  17. One trick I recently learned to help me “see” in b&w is to set the screen on the back of the camera to display in b&w. (The image is still captured in color.) On a Nikon D7000, you get to it from Shooting Menu>Set Picture Control>Monochrome. I also keep an eye on the histogram so I can adjust the exposures as needed.

    April 3, 2015
    • Yes, I know someone that does that as well, though I don’t. I did add that to the post earlier, I saw this a while back, so added it then. Thanks for the tips for your camera too.

      April 3, 2015
  18. What you said from the outset cannot be over stated: not every (color) image makes for a good monochrome image. However the photographer goes about the conversion, don’t forget that when all is said and done, you can still use one more ‘trick” from the old days of printing on paper – specifically: Do you want a warm tone or cool tone image? Often this final step (by using a photo filter in PhotoShop) really gives a nice finishing touch to a monochrome image.

    April 3, 2015
    • Oh yes, the tones, I can remember doing things like putting printed photos into beetroot to get purple, or in coffee for that tone. Ahhh the good old days, or not. It does I will see if I can add that Robert. Yep, done, thanks Robert.

      April 3, 2015
  19. My ideas on what makes a good monochrome photograph are in this post. https://rainbowjunkiecorner.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/colour-or-monochrome/ mainly about contrast and the way colours of the same intensity come out as different shades of grey. So from dark to light you would get – red, green, blue, orange, yellow.

    April 3, 2015
    • Thanks for the link, I’m sure others will find it really useful. Thank you.

      April 3, 2015
  20. I love working with Lightroom for editing now. Otherwise I will use the Snapseed and Aviary apps on my iPad. A lot of it is experimenting with the different preset filters but it is a lot of fun to see where it goes. Also having a good photo is a must – as you said not every photo translates so well in black and white.

    April 3, 2015
    • It really doesn’t, nice when you get one that really does though. I hadn’t thought of things like the apps, but can’t you only use those on your phone? A few people are mentioning Lightroom. thanks Raewyn.

      April 3, 2015
  21. great info and inspirational for those looking to process more monochrome images. Having begun my photographic journey so many years ago in the darkroom I think I see that most images can be beautiful in black and white, it is a matter of using the filters to create the contrast that is needed. Nik Silver Efex Pro makes this exceptionally easy. But using your channels in photoshop to make adjustments to magenta or blue should also work. So much to learn….. thanks for the inspirational images.

    April 3, 2015
    • Thank you Janice. That’s great to hear, and yes, so much to learn and so many ways of doing things. You’re welcome, thanks for your contribution.
      If you don’t hear from me about the email, please remind me.

      April 3, 2015
  22. Reblogged this on CADEPhotographic and commented:
    Some brilliant advice from an amazing photographer. Thanks Leanne Cole Photography

    April 3, 2015
    • You’re welcome and thanks for the reblog.

      April 3, 2015
  23. The first consideration, in my view, should be “why monochrome?”. The B&W image is a whole different genre, I like the way Darell Curtis put it, it is more of an “inner view”. It gets past the brain’s system of seeing reality right to the emotional level. Light, shapes, lines, textures appeal to us and B&W can separate those feelings from seeing just a place and a time. Black and white is much more of an abstraction. When you are grabbed by more than just a pretty scene, maybe the play of the light on leaves, the way shadows show shapes, the texture in a rough garment, then consider B&W.

    My recommendation is to shoot in color and to do the conversion and filtering in post-processing. It is easier to select just the right filtration in a tool like PaintShop Pro – Photo Effects – Black and White Film. It provides a color wheel, actually a full circle, you can pick any point inside the circle and immediately see the conversion and how the colors are affected. Even Photo Gallery has several B&W conversions available, offering red, orange, yellow and neutral conversions, but no adjustments. Here too, you can see the effect instantly. Seeing how a color image is translated to B&W is immensely helpful. Even if you plan on using a more powerful tool, clicking the B&W filter icons in Photo Gallery can help you plan your action.

    Unfortunately the “Zone System”, originated by Ansel Adams and others, has “evolved” into “cults”. There is an immense amount of misinformation around, and precious little useful guidance. It does put emphasis on seeing light and dark, and on deciding on what you are after. Digital cameras are very different from the films used half a century ago. We have easier tools. The histogram display that is available in your camera right after you take a shot (and even before in some cameras), can be a valuable guide. For a little more on that see my blog post
    http://photo-lc.blogspot.com/2014/03/use-histogram-to-improve-your-photos.html

    Some photos work better in B&W than in color. Color can get into the way. My wife and I like to stroll around a neighborhood pond and I find many photo opportunities. Unfortunately the water is a dirty brown-green. Photos in color often pull the eye of the viewer right to the ugly water instead of the intended subject. I have some illustration and now that Leanne has provided the inspiration will share in a couple of posts.

    Just yesterday I inadvertently conducted an experiment over on Google+. In my series of close-up photos celebrating the arrival of spring I had a dandelion seed head. I also manipulated the photo into B&W abstractions, one with stark black on a white background and another just the inverse. Of the three photos the white on black abstraction got the most “likes”.
    Here are links to the images:
    https://galleryludwig.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/spring-8/
    https://silvercanvas.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/dandelion/
    https://silvercanvas.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/dandelion-2/
    What do you think?

    As Leanne pointed out, contrast, or maybe it is easier to say as full range of tones, can give B&W images totally different feelings. But this comment is already way too long, so I better save that for another time.

    April 3, 2015
    • I agree about shooting in colour and then converting Ludwig.

      I don’t use the zone system, I tried reading about it once, but couldn’t get into it.

      Thank you Ludwig and thanks for the links, I am sure others will find them very helpful.

      April 3, 2015
  24. I do not look for BW. Usually I will change to BW once I’m ready to edit. I do see some images and because of experience I know they will look good in BW. Also you can set your camera to shoot raw and JPEG and if you set it for BW, the image it will show it will be BW but the raw file will contain the color information. Also learn the color wheel.

    April 3, 2015
    • I am a bit the same Luis, when I need to get an image for MM I tend to go through what I have already shot and wonder what would be good in monochrome and try a few. I don’t like shooting in both as my raw files are so large that I don’t get to take enough photos.
      The colour wheel yes, colour is very important and it is important to understand it. Thank you for letting us in on how you work Luis.

      April 3, 2015
      • Thank you for sharing. I only shoot raw and in color. You are right. Files get too big, etc.

        April 3, 2015
      • My pleasure. I tried shooting in both for a while, but in the decided it was pointless. They do.

        April 3, 2015
  25. SASS-A-FR-ASS #

    BEAUTIFUL blog!!
    I look forward to seeing and learning everything! 🙂

    April 3, 2015
    • Thank you, that is wonderful. 🙂

      April 3, 2015
  26. Ahh monochrome. I have always loved and appreciated BW images. There is something about stripping away the color of an image, it’s raw beauty and components holding your eye. I am in no way an expert on this topic but I do appreciate the discussion. I have learned a lot over the past year, while participating in MMC most weeks.
    I use LightRoom for my BW conversions. Before I had LR I used Corel Photo Paint, I would change the color mode to grayscale and then again to RGB color. It would allow me the ability to add sepia tones or work with the tones within the image more as well. I didn’t have much control if I left it in just grayscale.
    In some cases I see the monochrome image before I take the photograph and in other cases I am surprised at what works and what doesn’t. LR presets are really helpful for seeing a starting point. I am always shifting the contrast and shadows first once I decide it is worth diving into the BW pool.

    April 3, 2015
    • Glad you are enjoying the discussion Carrie, I’m enjoying it as well.
      The trick with greyscale is one you have done the conversion, when you want to add colour back you save it and then turn it back to a RGB file. I think that is what you do, it has been a while since I did it.
      I must admit I haven’t used any of the presents, but I must try it.
      Thanks Carrie, sounds like you are getting a handle on LR, that’s wonderful.

      April 3, 2015
      • My favorite place to play with BW is now in the tonal curve area of LR. It is a nice place to make fine adjustments. I rarely use the presets in LR either, although they are a great way to “test” if an image has enough contrast to warrant working on it further 🙂

        April 3, 2015
      • Sounds like a great place to work in Carrie, I think you have to do what works for you in the end. I haven’t used any lightroom presets, I should try them out see what they do. 🙂

        April 3, 2015
  27. I have used the Topaz plug in but don’t think it adds much to what you can do already in Photoshop

    April 3, 2015
    • Oh, that’s good to know Tootlepedal, as I’ve said, I’ve never used it so no idea what it is like. Thanks for letting us know.

      April 3, 2015
  28. Really helpful post Leanne. Thanks!

    April 3, 2015
  29. Very good advice Leanne! I have not done many monochrome images so I have lots to learn, but I like the ways one can convert and change the tones in Photoshop. Just need to get better at it. Thanks for sharing.

    April 3, 2015
    • I think it is all practice Tiny, just keep doing it. That is what I do, just keep trying. You’re welcome, and thank you for sharing what you do.

      April 3, 2015
  30. Reblogged this on Café Ludwig.

    April 3, 2015
  31. Enjoyed reading your comments, Leanne, on B&W conversion – and also comments of other contributors. Having found Photoshop hard to handle I have settled for a simpler and more basic system which suits me as I work mostly in B&W film. This system is Picassa, which with a film scanner enables you to use colour film, colour slides, colour print for B&W. It also works with digital images – I often use I-phone and convert images to B&W in Picassa. The system is FREE and allows all sorts of variations in brightness, contrast, tones, cropping etc. Des.

    April 3, 2015
    • Thank you Des, oh you are old school Des, LOL, I don’t like film, but that is me. I tried to use Picassa once, but I really didn’t like it. Have you looked at GIMP? It is also free. Thanks for sharing what you do Des.

      April 3, 2015
  32. Reblogged this on candidlyclarissa.

    April 3, 2015
    • All a question of personal preference in the end – so long as our photography is giving us – and others? – pleasure. Gimp is good too – I should have mentioned it. Des.

      April 3, 2015
      • I agree Des, it really is down to the individual and how they want to work.

        April 3, 2015
  33. The best way to learn the language of black and white is to work only in black and white. And I don’t mean allowing the camera to take black and white images for you. You must go out and take the photograph in color, and really LOOK at what you are shooting. Before you shoot it, you need to train your eye and brain to convert the image from color to black and white in your mind first. After awhile it becomes automatic. You can be looking at a sign that’s in bright colors, but you know instinctively that when you convert that color photograph into black and white, that the colors on the sign will all turn the same shade of grey. You must do this and do it a lot to learn the language. Also, when composing for black and white, it will be different than composing for color. Because your color becomes part of the composition itself. When shooting for black and white you need to SEE the large, dark areas and the large light areas while you are composing. Work like this for two or three years. I’m not talking about a few weeks. This takes years. I know. It’s what I do. All the time…

    In addition, just as a little tip, always force yourself to see light against dark and dark against light. This keeps the eye entertained…

    April 3, 2015
    • Great tips Merilee, I don’t know if I totally agree, but it doesn’t hurt to have opinions that I don’t necessarily agree with and others might find it really good. Thanks for sharing it with us.

      April 3, 2015
  34. Fantastic blog post, thanks Leanne. And great comments with extra tips. It isnt intrinsically natural for us to ‘see’ in Black and White so monochrome can at times seem rather unintuitive. Agree with the comment above about going out with the intention of shooting in B+W and finding this to help. Just need to get out and shoot more, and well, quite frankly that is fine with me.

    April 3, 2015
    • Thank you MsViks, I agree it isn’t, we tend to see in colour so it can take some getting used to. It is a good idea, and yes getting out to shoot can be a problem, I hope you do, I love getting out, quite a few trips planned over the next few days.

      April 3, 2015
      • Excellent, cannot wait to see the results of your trip. I dont think I have put enough thought into texture, so really a bit of a light bulb for me. Hoping to get out Easter Sat/ Sun, will look ‘better’ then.

        April 3, 2015
      • that’s great to hear. My trip this morning was good, had lots of fun. Cold morning, but great for photos. I hope you have a chance to get out. Where are you?

        April 4, 2015
      • Sydney, very wet Sydney… not conducive to camera outside weather today. Perhaps tomorrow.

        April 4, 2015
      • The weather is lovely here in Melbourne, great morning for photography, who says it always rains in Melbourne.

        April 4, 2015
  35. Thanks Leanne, I’m working on monochromes and still trying to figure it out. This helps!

    April 3, 2015
    • That is wonderful to hear Ardys, I am still trying to work it out too, some work some don’t.

      April 3, 2015
  36. Its got me thinking and more importantly looking ……some excellent tips thanks …..again : )) trees

    April 3, 2015
    • That is great Trees, so glad you found some tips here. Thanks Trees.

      April 3, 2015
  37. sweetpea85 #

    I don’t usually do monochromatic images, but if I get the chance I’d like to try and create some of my own. Thanks for sharing!

    April 3, 2015
    • I hope you get to do some, they can be fun and then you might consider sending some photos in for Monochrome Madness. You’re welcome and thank you.

      April 3, 2015
  38. So interesting and well explained. Thanks 🙂

    April 3, 2015
    • You’re very welcome and I’m glad you understood it.

      April 3, 2015
  39. Raconteur #

    To the point article. I read it once but it will take some time to follow the instructions. I donot have all the mentioned softwares 😦 . In the beginning would like to concentrate on contrast and tones. Once again thank you Leanne.

    April 3, 2015
    • YOu really need all the software, they were just to show how people what the possibilities are. I think that is a good place to start and concentrate. You’re welcome and thanks.

      April 4, 2015
  40. Have to agree with Merilee, to some extent. it does help to convert to black and white completely . I did this about 4 years ago and only shoot for black and white images as an end product, unless some one asks me to do specifically colour for family shots or something like that.

    I shoot with a Nikon and preview only in black and white when out and about, I use the histogram a bit when out . The images a raw colour images though. Lightroom is the program I use for conversion, just my preference, presets are good to get a starting point, then the B&W sliders , contrast and lights and shadows sliders used a lot, and the tone curve box fro very subtle changes , lights out – to isolate the image on the screen , then export to PS for resizing and a little sharpening maybe .

    Sometimes I use PS for doging and burning using layers.

    🙂

    April 3, 2015
    • Sounds great Chris, some great advice, I’ve added it to the post. Thank you. 🙂

      April 4, 2015
  41. I’m not a fan of monochrome because the world is in color. That’s the only reason. I do like monochrome if the subject itself is monochrome, like the old railroad steam engines.

    April 4, 2015
    • We are all different Russel and there is certainly no reason why you have to like it. I guess you won’t be participating in Monochrome Madness then.

      April 4, 2015
  42. Great discussion on B&W Leanne, and thank you for getting it started.

    As you know, I “convert” several of my seascape images to B&W. Seascapes are difficult due to lack of contrast in water. I find that adding other elements (clouds, sand, rocks, people, etc…) to be very effective. The key is the light… the sun’s direction and height specifically. Midday sun can be too flat, but early morning and late afternoon (just after/before golden hour) can be a great time to shoot. Look for clouds to add drama, shading on rocks, and wet sand for some glimmer.
    Here in San Francisco, I like to go out in the early morning. It’s typically overcast which softens the light. Remember that the sun is still shining through those clouds adding that much needed contrast. You just have to figure out its direction.

    My final tip is to know what your goal is “before” you push the button. Visualize your final image in B&W. It becomes easier with practice, but an important goal, nonetheless.

    Keep up the great work Leanne. Cheers!

    April 4, 2015
    • Thank you Dan, I’ve added what you said to the post, thanks for joining the discussion Dan.

      April 4, 2015
  43. Leanne, as you know I produce a lot of black and white, and here are some details from my experience of the medium. I never have the camera set to display black and white on its screen and, in any case, the vast majority of my images are composed through optical viewfinders – I only ever use the cameras’ screens to check the Levels & Curves. Strange though it may seem, when I’m out photographing I more often than not forget to look for subjects that might suit black and white but, rather, just take pictures of things I think attractive or, if not immediately attractive, which I think have photographic potential.

    I always shoot raw format, and then apply cropping, Levels and Curves and sharpening to the raw file in Nikon’s Capture NX2, before converting a copy into 16 bit tiff format – for further processing in either Silver Efex Pro 2 for black and white, or Color Efex Pro 4 for colour. After this, there may be a restricted amount of further processing in NX2.

    I’ve only used two black and white plug ins, Alien Skin’s Exposure 2 (quite a few years back now), and Silver Efex Pro 2. I would not be without SEP2, and think anyone contemplating black and white should at least take a look at it, I can’t emphasise this too strongly.

    One thing that I do a lot with SEP2 is to selectively restore colours to black and white images. This can often lead to images with a rather unnatural look, which I find attractive.

    Many black and white images that I see lack drama – and I’m reminded about Lee Frost’s advice to let our creative hair down when using black and white – I’ve written posts about not being afraid to have detail-less blacks or whites in an image. I get the impression with many images that I see that pure blacks and pure whites are anathema, things to be avoided at all costs – these extreme tones do not have to be in every image of course, but they should have their place in a photographer’s “armoury of possibilities”.

    Hope this is of some use. Adrian

    April 4, 2015
    • Some very clear ideas of what to do Adrian, thank you for sharing it with us. I do some and not others. I’ve never used Nikon’s Capture NX2, I rarely use SEP2 now, I like doing what I want to my images. I do like what you have said about solid blacks. I agree with that, and I certainly don’t worry about having them in images.
      of course it is of some use Adrian, thanks for sharing it with us.

      April 4, 2015
      • A further point to make about SEP2 is that it has a large range of manual tools that do allow you to do absolutely anything you want to images. When I post a black and white image manipulated with SEP2, I always mention the SEP preset from which I started. These presets are good for giving initial ideas about different looks that each image might have. But after selecting the preset that will be the starting point, I always spend a lot of time with the manual tools, testing out their various effects, and its frequently the case that my end result looks nothing like the preset starting point at all. And it is of course possible, should one be bent on a purist road, to use nothing but the manual tools to construct the final image. A

        April 4, 2015
      • I have seen the manual tools and played with them too Adrian. I used to do the same, but I stopped doing it because I wanted to do other things, but it really is up to each person and what they want to do doesn’t it? thanks again.

        April 4, 2015
  44. Back in the day, when I was a photographer’s apprentice and we had a darkroom and chemicals and a bellows camera, we also had lots of different sorts of photo paper to choose from. You could alter the result so much just by changing the photo paper. Same negative, but totally different results. These digital methods are a different universe.

    April 4, 2015
    • Wow that must have been an interesting experience, I remember trying different papers in the dark room, I like to still do it with my photography now. Thanks for that Mickey.

      April 4, 2015
      • You aren’t kidding. I have lots of “Mad Men” stories.

        April 5, 2015
      • Haha, maybe you should share them then Mickey.

        April 5, 2015
  45. Thank you Leanne, one of my favourite posts! Some fantastic information and great comments to help bring everything around. I do have to say for anyone starting out don’t have a pre-conceived idea of what should and shouldn’t be in B&W i.e it’s a big trap for people who enjoy street photography to say it must be in B&W, I don’t feel that way at all. There is a great Canadian street photographer (Fred Herzog) that has done some stunning work in colour.

    http://www.equinoxgallery.com/artists/portfolio/fred-herzog.

    April 6, 2015
    • That’s great Mark, I agree, it can be a trap to always think everything will look good in black and white and dismiss colour. Great point and thanks for the link Mark.

      April 6, 2015

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