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Thread: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

  1. #1

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    B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    As I've commented in other posts in the forums, two things I rarely do are people and B/W. B/W conversions, other than in rare cases, seem like a waste of perfectly good colors that we pay for the technology to deliver. A few weeks ago during an agility event, I managed to capture what I thought was a fairly decent candid shot of a handler with her dog at the start line of the course. A couple of days later after I had posted images for the event, the young lady contacted me and asked if I could do a B/W conversion of the shot. While I was glad that she liked the content of the image, I was a bit perplexed at the request for B/W.

    Since I know next to nothing about B/W, I'd appreciate any feedback on how to improve the image. I simply used the portrait preset in the B/W conversion function in PSE.

    Also, in the context of expanding my understanding of how people view photography and on humanity in general, I'd appreciate comments on the attraction of B/W photos. Below I've posted both version of the image in question.

    B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    As color photos go, this is not one that in my way of thinking begs for being converted to black-and-white. That's because the major areas have colors that are complementary. Having said that, this is the kind of photo that does work very well in black-and-white if it is post-processes using the same skills that you have when dealing with color images.

    In this particular case, using the automatic function to create the black-and-white image is sorely lacking. As an example, take a look at the histograms of both photos and you'll see the difference. Without looking at the histograms, notice that the black-and-white version is really flat compared to the color version. So, you're comparing apples to oranges in this particular case.

    To improve it, convert it using a filter in the range of yellow to green. (I don't know if PSE has that capability.) Then use the same approach that you use with color post-processing techniques by attending to overall brightness, contrast, dynamic range, etc. Dodge and burn where appropriate.

  3. #3
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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Dan, we see things in color. As a result a pic in color may pass muster even if the composition is not quite up to par.
    B/W takes away this "color" which means you have to rely more on composing an image more accuartely.
    I believe there are other reasons for shooting b/w.
    Back before digital came along, beginning photography students took b/w to learn effective compositional techniques (it was also cheaper).
    The great master Ansel Adams mastered composition (and darkroom techniques) without the use of color to "bolster" his images.
    I do not know if color film was even invented in his day.
    IMHO this is my story, and I am probably going to stick to it.

    Bruce

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    I think that, between them, the guys above have pretty much covered the key points about 'Why B & W'. For me, in colour photography, colour has got to be one of the key reasons for the image. With B & W it is exclusively about lines, shapes, tones and texture. I don't think in terms of one being better than the other. They are different, at least in my head.

    In terms of teh picture above, I, like Mike, would not have seen this as a candidate for B & W. The colours are complementary and there's not a huge tonal variation. So, it would always need quite a bit of PP work to separate out various bits of the scene.

  5. #5
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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    The difference is that we do see in colour but we can photograph in whatever we wish. Photography isn't necessarily about recording what is there. It's also about what it is we 'see' as part of our perceptions. It is an edited view of the world. Therefore we can present it in any way we want.
    I had my portrait painted some years back by a friend. He painted my face green. I asked him why. "That's the way I see it" he responded. I can understand that. There doesn't need to be a reason for you doing it any way. The person requesting the picture didn't have to explain to you why she wanted it in B&W . You don't need to explain it to us.
    Adams did live in the time of colour. He used it often. He just didn't 'see' the American landscape in colour. For a photographer to shoot in B&W we do need to inderstand a bit about tonal values but its easier than with colour. There are many other reasons but most photographers who have a preference for B&W will tell you it's because they can express themselves better.

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Thanks for the responses, guys. I guess this is one of those topics that simply is what it is. Problem is that since I "don't get it", I have no clue how to process a B/W image. I tried what Mike suggested. Used the histogram to adjust contrast like I would for a color image. Then lightened up the shadow around the lady's eye a bit and brought out a bit more detail in the shadows on the dog's head. Well that's what I attempted to do. But I look at the two images and just don't see any meaningful difference in the two. What I mean is I can see the tonal differences but one doesn't look any better than the other. Oh well, it's not something to spend a lot of time worrying about I suppose. It's not an issue that comes up every day for me so doesn't warrant spending a lot of time on it. Unfortunately I have one of those contrary personalities that has trouble walking away from unsolved problems.

    Just as a side note, this image was shot indoors under fluorescent lights mixed with natural light coming in through a few windows. Which is actually an argument for B/W. No white balance to struggle with.

    Anyhow, here's my attempt at a bit of PP. Any better, worse, much of a muchness?

    B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....
    Last edited by NorthernFocus; 27th June 2013 at 12:35 PM.

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Hi Dan,

    I have also 'problems' seeing in black and white.
    Conc. this particular image, for me, the color version are two pretty faces, nice warm colors; but the
    B/W is all about concentration on the job. So B/W makes sense to me.
    Iff you have Nik Silver Efex, try this one ...
    Just my 2 cents....
    Kind regards, Rudi

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Ah don't particularly like b+w conversions. Ye should set out to shoot in b+w, taking all the resultant requirements of tone/contrast/light/dark intae consideration. Ah rarely shoot b+w in digital and even then shoot in greyscale mostly - rather than colour for later conversion. Aye, ah know most folk say if ye don't shoot colour and convert then detail is lost. Well it's lost in conversion anyway...Here's my take on the conversion...

    [IMG]B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....[/IMG]


    Greyscale conversion, levels adjust, slightly adjusted colour temp/contrast/clarity

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Leaving aside the question of mono or not mono Dan given that it has all been said, Bobs version has brought back the luminosity of the original comp and IMHO, it's a nice conversion and what you should aim for.

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Thanks for taking a whack at it, Boab. I see a fundamental difference in your conversion vs mine in that you enhanced the shadows even more whereas I tried to bring out detail in the shadows.

    Quote Originally Posted by rudi View Post
    ...for me, the color version are two pretty faces, nice warm colors; but the
    B/W is all about concentration on the job....
    Thanks, Rudi, I can see that point. Which also explains a bit what I've never put my finger on regarding the type of images that I do like in B/W. For example, B/W seems to fit on portraits of old men with creased faces and tired eyes. I guess for that reason, no color to draw attention away from the signs of age and the look in the eyes. Or the beat up pickup sitting beside an old barn. It's all about the texture of the weathered wood and the dents on the truck, not the color of either or the blue sky. It's beginning to make some sense.

    Thanks, folks.

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Quote Originally Posted by John 2 View Post
    Leaving aside the question of mono or not mono Dan given that it has all been said, Bobs version has brought back the luminosity of the original comp and IMHO, it's a nice conversion and what you should aim for.
    Thanks, John. I was typing when you replied. Yes I see your point regarding the lighting.

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    I also tend to avoid black and white photos. Generally for no reason more complicated than liking the color version better. However, I do use it in certain circumstances, and there are a number of pros and cons associated with B&W. Some have nothing to do with the process or the result, but with people's perceptions.

    • A black and white photo can generally handle more contrast than a color photo while still looking natural. This makes them well-suited to photos where texture is a strong aesthetic element (think croc skin, or a person's face with weathered wood in the background).
    • Film is cheaper. Less relevant now (though you can still get 400 Tri-X at CVS), but a major reason a lot of people learned on B&W.
    • Black and white is perceived as sophisticated. This is probably why the woman asked for her portrait in B&W. I had a fire performer make the same request, when the major point of the photo was the bright orange trails twining around them. I tried it, but ultimately denied the request because it just looked terrible.
    • B&W is sometimes used to rescue photos. If you have odd color casts that are beyond your skill to remove, you can sometimes use a B&W conversion to bypass the problem. I did this with a model shoot in a room with highly luminous, bright yellow walls. Fortunately, the subject matter happened to work with the conversion.
    • The final phenomenon is something I call the Hipster Paradigm. B&W conversions are frequently used to apply a thin veneer of artistic merit to otherwise terrible shots. For whatever reason (because it's associated with old cameras?), B&W can make a shot look "artsy," which will frequently make people overlook high noise, iffy composition, missed focus, etc. Note that I say "people," not "photographers." Naturally, we're all immune to these downsides and never play games with our viewer's perceptions.


    Obviously there's a lot of stellar B&W work out there, and plenty of photogs who use it to great effect. I learned to do conversions with Photoshop or ACR's B&W conversion filters, which let you darken or lighten discrete color ranges. This is not the same as "seeing in B&W," since you're selectively adjusting brightness, but it can create very interesting and pleasing effects. Try messing with a photo with a broad color range and see if you can produce effects you like. It can be very handy for making tattoos pop, emphasizing makeup, bringing your subject away from the background, etc.

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Hi Dan,

    Ah shoot much more film than digital and have done for several years now. Ah shot a lot of b+w way back when folk looked at ye strangely when ye produced a set of b+w photos."Why b+w ?" and that was 20-25 years ago! Using B+W film produces (eventually) a different but complementary skillset tae colour photography. Apart from learning tae visualise the important elements in b+w composition, ah found that ah paid more and more attention tae leading lines and composition (especially what to leave out).

    Shooting street or city scapes/industrial makes ye walk more and more before even thinking about a shot - 24/36 shots instills a new discipline! It was fortunate that ah kept my slr and rangefinder and so kept my interest in b+w. Ah've never taken a shot in colour and thought "that'd look good in b+w", then converted it. Re. using b+w tae "hide" faults - A bad photo's a bad photo, b+w conversions won't rescue it...

    Spend $20-30 on an old slr/rangefinder, a couple of rolls of film and try it out. At the very least ye'll get yer money back on the camera and lens.
    Last edited by tao2; 27th June 2013 at 08:36 PM.

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Quote Originally Posted by tao2 View Post
    ...Spend $20-30 on an old slr/rangefinder, a couple of rolls of film and try it out. At the very least ye'll get yer money back on the camera and lens.
    I appreciate the recommendation but I'm not likely headed back to film. Someone I know recommended taking cold showers every morning as a character building exercise and I didn't listen to them either. I'll just struggle along with digital and continue inhaling steam every morning acknowledging the fact that I'm missing self improvement opportunities on both counts.

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    There was a time when black and white photos, television, film, and computer graphics were all you had. You appreciated what technology afforded you and when color technology became popular, available, and affordable you never looked back or took for granted what was easily available. There's no reason for you to "get it" or even need to practice the conversion if it doesn't appeal to you.

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Quote Originally Posted by Shadowman View Post
    ....There's no reason for you to "get it" or even need to practice the conversion if it doesn't appeal to you.
    I agree there's no need to satisfy my personal interests. It's in the context of business and fulfilling the desires of clients that I'm seeking to expand my skills through understanding.

  17. #17
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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Quote Originally Posted by NorthernFocus View Post
    I agree there's no need to satisfy my personal interests. It's in the context of business and fulfilling the desires of clients that I'm seeking to expand my skills through understanding.
    Then you've got a challenge on your hands as the client know what they want (hopefully) and you will be only guessing at it.

  18. #18
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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    B&W done right is a very powerful medium. The best I've seen is in a little publication called "LensWork". This pub. will give you a visual guide of great digital B&W. As far as the conversion to date is Scott Kelby's "7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop". Photoshop loves duo-tone and quad-tones. I think you will too. Enjoy........ You will.

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Quote Originally Posted by tao2 View Post
    Re. using b+w tae "hide" faults - A bad photo's a bad photo, b+w conversions won't rescue it...
    Boab - Sorry to disagree with you, but you can take a an image that is quite ordinary in colour and it comes out to be quite compelling when done in B&W. I posted an example of this in another thread quite recently:

    B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Started out as this:

    B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    The real skill is understanding when one genre works better than the other.

    But of course, one has to be interested in doing so in the first place...

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    Re: B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    Boab - Sorry to disagree with you, but you can take a an image that is quite ordinary in colour and it comes out to be quite compelling when done in B&W. I posted an example of this in another thread quite recently:

    B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    Started out as this:

    B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....

    The real skill is understanding when one genre works better than the other.

    But of course, one has to be interested in doing so in the first place...
    I totally agree with you Manfred. Some photos can come out dramatic & interesting when converted to B&W.
    As with this Dan's photo, I find the colored version fine, but if I have to convert it to B&W or monochrome, I'll do some cropping of the distracting background, do some dark vignetting and set the focus on the faces.

    Somewhat like this:
    B/W Conversions - I Don't Get It....
    Last edited by lumicks; 29th June 2013 at 02:03 AM.

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