Category 'Black and white'

Some people have a natural eye for shooting black and white but sadly I am not one of those people, I guess because I like how expressive colour can be. I took black and white photography in high school, the kind that used expensive film and meant extracurricular hours spent in dark rooms but I was never very good at it; ending up with muddy grey images of vegetables and carnival rides. It’s actually difficult for most beginning photographers to recognise light and contrast because they initially focus on the technical and the aesthetic. I can remember the very minute it all clicked for me and I started to see light, but that was a good year into my photography journey. Photography really is about learning to see and I guarantee that photographers view the world in much more detail than non-photographers. [caption id="attachment_2747" align="aligncenter" width="300"]The dappled light really highlights the subject The dappled light really highlights the subject[/caption]  

The best methods for shooting black and white photos

When looking for good black and white subjects you need to seek out high contrast situations. Contrast is created in two ways:
  • Colour contrast - when something white is next to something black
[caption id="attachment_2739" align="aligncenter" width="200"]White vs black White vs black[/caption]  
  • Light contrast - when something bright is next to something dark (Chiaroscuro)
[caption id="attachment_2740" align="aligncenter" width="197"]Light vs dark Light vs dark[/caption]   Other things to look for are:
  • Lots of tonal variation. Different shades of grey (fifty?) give more interest and depth to the image.
[caption id="attachment_2741" align="aligncenter" width="200"]Shades of grey Shades of grey[/caption]  
  • Texture and detail make an image look crisp and interesting which is why HDR looks fantastic in black and white.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2742,2743"]  
  • Repeating patterns / shape and form – colour can sometimes distract from patterns but the simplicity of repeating lines can make a really dynamic subject in monochrome. The same goes for studies in shape and form.
[gallery link="file" columns="2" size="medium" ids="2746,2745" orderby="rand"]   If you can, shoot in RAW because the tones of the image will be easier to manipulate later. To help you recognise suitable subjects you can change your camera's picture style to 'monochromatic' and photograph real time in black and white. A great feature of doing this in RAW is that your camera is still recording all the colour info in case you need it. Try and shoot with a low ISO. Black and white conversions tend to make noise more pronounced. Having said that sometimes grainy black and white can look quite good stylistically. Photographing black and white is effective on a cloudy day because the skies look more moody and dynamic BUT photographing on a sunny day is also great because the sun naturally introduces a tonne of contrast (bright light and deep shadows) into your scene. Keep in mind that if you expose for your highlights you’ll get nice looking clouds but the blacks will go very dark. If you expose for your shadows you’ll get detail in the darks but the highlights will blow out and become very white. Decide which of these is most important to you and consider taking two images – one exposed for highlights and one exposed for shadows and combining them later.  

The best methods for editing black and white photos

Converting an image to black and white is so super easy that you’re probably wondering why I’ve devoted an entire blog post to it. The problem is that there’s SO MANY WAYS to do it that people get confused knowing which method is best. I’m not going to cover them all. Ain’t nobody got time for that. But here's my favourites.
  1. If you only have Lightroom (and if you don’t even have that I doubt your commitment to photography) press ‘v’. That’s it! You don’t even have to be in the develop module! BUT if you want to improve the result do be sure to play around with your sliders. If you want that super crisp HDR look that I adore pull your highlights slider down and your shadows slider up and then play with the black and white sliders to add contrast back in. I used this process on all the components of my image this week before opening them in Photoshop. If you won’t be doing any editing in Photoshop also open the HSL / Color / B & W panel, select B & W and experiment with those sliders as well. You can even click the targeted adjustment tool, place it over an area you wish to make darker or lighter and click and drag it up or down to affect only the colour sliders related to that spot.
[gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="2748,2749"]  
  1. In Photoshop if you’re looking for a really quick and effective black and white conversion add a Gradient Map adjustment layer. In the Properties panel, click on the gradient bar and make sure the third gradient ‘Black, White’ is selected. This maps all the tones in your image to black and white making the darkest area black and the lightest area white. This gives an effective conversion with punchy contrast straight away. You can play with the smoothness slider and add stops to the gradient bar to customise it further. It’s the method I used for this week’s image purely because someone once told me it works best and I tend to agree.
[gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2751,2750"]  
  1. Adding a black and white adjustment will do the conversion for you but also provides six colour sliders for you to affect the tone of the original colours as you wish. Like the Lightroom method it also has a targeted adjustment tool. This offers the most control out of all the Photoshop methods.
[caption id="attachment_2752" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Black & White adjustment layer Black & White adjustment layer[/caption]  
  1. There is a further option that black and white photographers rave about because of the level of control it offers and that’s to use Silver Efex Pro. This is now part of Google’s Nik Collection and can be purchased for around US$150. I’ve never used it as it’s a little out of my price range but it’s definitely on my wishlist.
  There's a couple of other techniques you can try to complete your image:

Selective colour

Selective colour allows you to retain a little of the original image's colour as I have done with the umbrella in my image. A stern word of warning - this technique is frowned upon by photographers (in the same way that the font 'Comic Sans' is frowned upon by graphic designers) and I've seen many a novice photographer shot down in photography forums for using it. Like anything though I think it can be tastefully done in moderation and only if it furthers the story of your image. (The red umbrella in my image actually doesn't add anything to the story but I can’t get enough of red, white and black in photos so I couldn’t help myself.) To add selective colour in Photoshop you would just add a mask to your black and white adjustment layer and mask that area away. Then you can use a hue/saturation adjustment to change the featured colour if you wish. In Lightroom you can create the same effect by loading an adjustment brush and taking the saturation slider all the way to the left. Paint this all over the image leaving your desired colour intact.

Tinting

I have added a bluish tint to my image to make it look more cinematic. I did this using a Channel Mixer adjustment layer (a Photo Filter adjustment layer also works). You can achieve the same effect in Lightroom using the Split Toning panel (pull up the saturation sliders slightly and then play around with the hue to choose a tint for your highlights and shadows). [caption id="attachment_2753" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Adding a sepia tint in Lightroom Adding a sepia tint in Lightroom[/caption]

About 'Storm Clouds Gather'

When I create my weekly images I always have a secondary goal that I rarely tell you guys about. For this image my goal was to build a scene from scratch incorporating a moody sky, an interesting landscape and a character doing something. I went through SO MANY images to find a suitable landscape but it was actually really tough to find one that looked good in black and white. I first settled on this dirt scene and shot a concept based on a girl lying on the ground protecting a seedling. But come time to edit it just wasn't working so for me I abandoned it. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2754,2755"]   Then I chose this desert scene and shot poses of a girl with an umbrella holding a cup up to the sky but the image wasn’t quite conveying the irony of a girl in a desert with an umbrella so I abandoned that one too. But I kept some of the outtakes of this shoot and experimented with different backgrounds until I found one I liked. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="2756,2757"]   The final landscape image was taken at a beach in Yeppoon. I like this image very much in colour and was disappointed to convert it to black and white, but the contrast between the rocks and sand was too good to pass up. I started importing different cloud photos and masking them so it looked as if they were wrapping around her. The final black and white image uses both types of contrast that I mentioned earlier; a light contrast with the bright and dark clouds and a colour contrast with the black hair, skirt and rocks and white top and sand. The rain is a combination of two of Jessica Drossin’s rain overlays. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="2760,2759,2758"]  

Since the Exposing Illusions tutorial blog is now a fortnightly affair I've decided to fill the off-weeks with other bits and pieces I've been working on. Recently I'd been thinking about doing a lifestyle shoot to add to my portfolio with the stock agency, Arcangel. While driving around my suburb with my mum looking for locations we found this field that happened to be full of wild flowers and a few days later we returned at sunset loaded with costumes, wigs and props. It was good timing as the field was mowed a few days later. We didn't have a lot of time so I struck a few poses and came home with about 100 images. I challenged myself to spend no more than half an hour per image working on colour and tone, which I mostly did using Lightroom presets so no fancy Photoshop trickery here. Here's some of the results. [gallery columns="1" link="file" size="large" ids="2382,2391,2386,2389,2388,2387,2383,2385,2384,2390"]

[caption id="attachment_1955" align="alignright" width="300"]Oh god, MY EYES! Oh god, MY EYES![/caption]   HDR is photography’s most controversial technique because when overused it produces garish results capable of making your eyes bleed. Cameras are limited in the tones they can capture, meaning if you expose to get detail in the shadows, your highlights will blow out, or if you expose to get detail in the highlights, the shadows go very dark. HDR, short for high dynamic range, is a processing technique that gives photographers the ability to create images with a higher range of detail from lights to darks, giving a sort of hyper-real effect. Used in moderation it’s a really effective technique that brings detail into every portion of your image, more in line with how our eyes actually see a scene. For three years I eagerly processed ALL of my images this way because I liked the look of it so much, even when it was probably overkill. HDR is traditionally created by taking a number of photos of the same scene with different camera settings and then blending those images together with post processing software. But using Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom you can also give a single image the HDR look, which is how I usually do it. I’ll touch on both methods today. [gallery columns="2" link="file" size="medium" ids="1957,1956"]  

How to photograph HDR (Canon instructions)

  1. Because you’re taking more than one exposure of the same scene you’ll ideally need a tripod to hold your camera. [caption id="attachment_1958" align="alignright" width="182"]Any option with a triangle on top of other triangles is a continuous shooting mode. Image courtesy of Canon. Any option with a triangle on top of other triangles is a continuous shooting mode. Image courtesy of Canon.[/caption]
  1. Press the AF-DRIVE button on the top of your camera and using the main back dial make sure you’re in a continuous shooting mode. This means the camera will take all the exposures for you. If you have a ‘single shooting mode’ selected you will need to press the shutter yourself for each of the three shots.
  1. In your camera’s menu, locate and highlight the auto exposure bracketing function called ‘Expo.comp./AEB’ and press the SET button. Using the dial on the top right of your camera move it to the right to set up bracket instructions. What you’re doing here is telling your camera to take a standard exposure (0) and then choosing how much darker and how much brighter you want your other exposures to be. The brighter exposure will expose for dark areas and the darker exposure will expose for the sky. The typical amount of exposures is three but your camera may allow you to do more. Press SET again when you’re done.[gallery columns="2" link="none" size="full" ids="1959,1960"]
  1. With the shooting modes dial (big button on the top left of your camera) choose aperture priority (AV).
  1. Choose the aperture you wish to use with your top right scroll wheel. The camera will automatically vary the shutter speed with each exposure. If you don’t want the exposure of your bright image to take too long (eg. for a moving subject) you can always boost your ISO.
  1. Set your camera on the tripod, find focus and press the shutter button. Step back and let the camera take all three exposures, starting with the standard, the underexposed and then the overexposed (which will take the longest – so don’t touch the camera until you hear all three clicks).
  1. The camera should stay in bracketing mode until you switch it off or deactivate it.
  1. While HDR is great for landscape scenes to bring detail into the sky, it’s also really wonderful at bringing out the texture in rusty metals or brickwork.

How to combine your HDR exposures

Because HDR was so popular a few years back there are a number of different products and methods to combine your exposures, but for the sake of this post I’ve experimented with only the most common. [caption id="attachment_1961" align="alignright" width="300"]Photomatix Pro using Enhanced Photomatix Pro using Enhanced[/caption] The most lauded HDR software is Photomatix Pro which retails for about $100 -  although you can play around with a trial version first to see if you like it. It’s easy to use and will walk you through the process of combining your HDRs. But while Photomatix offers the most options, the majority of them are way over the top. However you can customise the sliders to your own taste. The ‘Enhanced’ preset was the most natural looking option for me but I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the way Photomatix combined my exposures. It’s worth the investment if you’re serious about HDR but if you prefer subtle results I’d personally look elsewhere. [caption id="attachment_1962" align="alignright" width="300"]Photoshop HDR Photoshop HDR[/caption] Photoshop has its own HDR function which you can access with File>Automate>Merge to HDR Pro. Open the files you wish to use and check the box to align them if there was some movement between exposures. In the next dialogue box, play around with the presets and sliders. Tone mapping HDR images is very much about personal taste so I won’t spend time explaining all the options as plenty of other bloggers already have. But I will mention that if you find an element in your images has moved, check the ‘Remove ghosts’ box and Photoshop will attempt to fix it. Because subtlety is key for me I found the results from Photoshop were still a bit too strong. Lightroom has recently added an HDR function to its workflow with version 6. Highlight the images you wish to merge and go to Photo>Photo Merge>HDR. On the next screen click to ‘Auto Tone’ and choose ‘Auto Align’ if your camera moved between exposures. Choose a deghost amount if necessary. The resulting image won't look typically HDR but it will throw you into your Develop dialogue box with the sliders moved to best enhance your photo, which you can adjust to taste. I was really not expecting to like this new feature considering it was added as an afterthought but I really love that I can play around with sliders I’m already familiar with, so this is the method I chose for this week’s image. [gallery size="medium" link="file" columns="2" ids="1964,1963,1965,1966"]   There’s one other method I experimented with this week which isn’t really HDR but it’s a good option for selectively combining your exposures … so if I only want my underexposed photo to show up in the sky and my overexposed photo to show up  in the shadows. This method involves ‘Luminosity masks’ which use Photoshop masks to obscure and reveal various light values. So I could use a ‘Brights Mask’ to select all the bright values in my image and have my underexposed photo show through in  just those areas. Now the guru in luminosity masks is a chap named Jimmy McIntyre so if you’re interested in this technique, please visit his website and download the free action panel which creates all the masks for you at a click of a button! You can then refine the masks as necessary. [gallery columns="2" size="medium" link="file" ids="1968,1967"]

How to create HDR from a single image

[caption id="attachment_1969" align="alignright" width="300"]Create three exposures from one image Create three exposures from one image[/caption] The most well-known way for creating HDR out of a single image is to duplicate the image three times and then raise the exposure of one and lower the exposure of the other and then combine these together using the methods covered above. This is completely unnecessary and just adds noise to your image. The way I do it, which I was so overly fond of for so many years is by opening your image in Lightroom and copying these sliders. As each image is different you’ll need to fine-tune the sliders to taste but I have these sliders set as a Lightroom preset so I can apply it quickly and at least see if an image has potential. This is my biggest editing secret! It's also a technique that photographers like John Wilhelm and Adrian Sommerling use to achieve their almost cartoon-like effect (I think). [caption id="attachment_1985" align="aligncenter" width="197"]Drop the highlights, raise the shadows and move the other sliders to taste. Drop the highlights, raise the shadows and move the other sliders to taste.[/caption]  

About 'Siren's Sorrow'

Siren's Sorrow was photographed on location at the Gayundah Wreck in Woody Point, Brisbane. Considering it's a large rusty structure it's been on my mind as the perfect HDR location for some time. I didn't realise until I came to photograph it that you have to ignore 'trespassing' and 'danger' signs and climb down a large wall of rocks to get to the wreck itself so I had to leave my assistant (Mum) behind. I was losing light quickly, the tides were coming in and the area is overlooked by afternoon walkers and a busy construction site (if I'd moved the camera 1cm to the the right you'd be able to see it) and so I was feeling both rushed and self-conscious. The image was expanded so I shot four different angles (main, left twice, and up) with three exposures each. These each had to be converted to HDR (using Lightroom), combined into one using Photoshop's Photomerge and then edited to taste. The mermaid tail is courtesy of DeviantRoze on Deviant Art. To be honest I really didn't like this image for most of the editing process but I'm quite fond of it now it's finished. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="1972,1973,1974,1975,1976,1977,1986"]   So if you’re of the opinion that HDR is a horribly overrated technique then you’re just not using it properly. :)

6
Dec

The best methods to shoot and edit black and white photos

Some people have a natural eye for shooting black and white but sadly I am not one of those people, I guess because I like how expressive colour can be. I took black and white photography in high school, the kind that used expensive film and meant extracurricular hours spent in dark rooms but I […]

13
Sep

Lifestyle shoot in a field

Since the Exposing Illusions tutorial blog is now a fortnightly affair I’ve decided to fill the off-weeks with other bits and pieces I’ve been working on. Recently I’d been thinking about doing a lifestyle shoot to add to my portfolio with the stock agency, Arcangel. While driving around my suburb with my mum looking for locations we […]

31
May

How to photograph and edit HDR for everyday use.

  HDR is photography’s most controversial technique because when overused it produces garish results capable of making your eyes bleed. Cameras are limited in the tones they can capture, meaning if you expose to get detail in the shadows, your highlights will blow out, or if you expose to get detail in the highlights, the […]