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DPChallenge Forums >> Tips, Tricks, and Q&A >> Discussion: Black and White
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10/07/2002 01:50:43 PM · #1
Thoughts on Black and White

When I shoot digital photos, I always shoot them in the color mode. When I have the image in color, I can convert it to any desired format after that. Why would I convert an image to black and white? There are several reasons.

When I refer to ‘black and white’, I am referring to any mode that is not multi-color, such as sepia tones, any other duotones, or grayscale.

My purposes of using black and white (or other reduced color modes) are to highlight some specific aspect(s) of the image other than the given subject.

Contrasts

“Contrast” is the variation of light and dark areas in the image. Sometimes these intersections of light and dark are sharp, and sometimes they are gradual changes. In either case, black and white mode can accent these contrasts. Highlighting these contrasts in an image can sometimes improve the overall impact of a photo. In a colorful image, sometimes these contrasts can be obscured by the color itself.

Texture

Textures are a finer element of contrast. Without contrast, the textures are invisible. In some photos, there are textures available that would otherwise go unnoticed in a color representation. I really love photos where I can visually ‘feel’ the surface texture. Once again, since textures are visible through contrast, a black and white image can often enhance the texture.

Mood

Black and white can be used to change the ‘mood’ of a photo. Removing the color can enhance a photo by providing a mood that is supported by the contrast in the image… This mood can be either a dark and somber mood or a bright and cheery mood, depending on the lighting and contrasting elements in the image. Black and white can also be used to provide a sense of ‘age’ in an image. Since black and white photos were the normal mode of printing and photography for many years, we view a lot of black and whites as ‘old’ photos anyway. Creating new images in black and white are sometimes associated with something old because of this. Sepia toning (adding the brown/yellow tinting) to an image is generally used to promote a sense of antiquity. Sepia toning is a way to reproduce the effect that light has on black and white prints over time. Old black and white prints tend to fade to this brown/yellow tinting over the years from light exposure and other forms of pollution. The printing methods in the days of old did not have the ability to reduce this effect as we do today. Since the sepia toning generally promotes an antique feeling, it sometimes is effectively used to give a new photo an antique mood.

Converting a photo to black and white should serve a specific purpose. Don’t do it just for the sake of it. When I see black and white photos, I automatically start looking to determine why the image was presented this way. Does the conversion support one of my own ideas on what makes a good black and white? Do I see some new reason that I had not thought of before?

What are some other interesting aspects of an image that are enhanced by black and white modes?

What are some reasons NOT to convert to black and white?

10/07/2002 02:16:02 PM · #2
Originally posted by JohnSetzler :
Thoughts on Black and White

When I shoot digital photos, I always shoot them in the color mode. When I have the image in color, I can convert it to any desired format after that. Why would I convert an image to black and white?



John,
I am struggling with that that question. I understand the reasons you gave, but I don't "see" or "feel" it yet.
Interestingly enough, I started a critique discussion in the Q&A forum for pictures I posted here , as well as in a Canon forum on the dpreview site.
Interestingly enough, the reaction has been about 50-50 for color vs b&w. I added a 3rd perspective in response to comments on composition. After some time looking at them, I am beginning to prefer the b&w versions, as they give a sense of loss (as pointed out by someone).

I would guess most of us make too hasty a decision in keeping a picture in color or in b&w. I for one should take time to get a feel for the picture.
10/07/2002 02:18:20 PM · #3
Converting a photo to black and white should serve a specific purpose. Don’t do it just for the sake of it.

I think that's a VERY good point. I have seen a few shots posted here from time to time where I have wondered why they chose B&W.

I think that B&W is best used to create a mood... either to show age or the actual mood of the subject. I have seen some great B&W shots of yours, too, that don't necessarily speak to a mood, but really lend themselves well to that medium. I'm thinking of a shot/shots of a motorcycle you had posted somewhere. The sharp contrast with the chrome made the shots suburb for B&W.
10/07/2002 02:24:40 PM · #4
some people just don't like black and white and think that since were in the age of color everyhting should be how it is. I started with black and white and love it though.
10/07/2002 02:59:41 PM · #5
Actually, technically if you take a shot in B&W you can allow for greater contrast ratio. This does apply to the digital cameras, as the don't have to interpret the colours, so you will get a sharper more detailed image.
10/07/2002 04:31:51 PM · #6
Dimitrii,
i'm not sure that i understand what you are saying. i know on my camera i only have the option to shoot in color. do some digital cameras have a b&w option?
one thing i wanted to say is when you convert from a color to grayscale you will have to do some correction on the image. if you do just a straight conversion without any levels or contrast adjustment you will end up with a muddy flat looking image. you really have to tweek them to get a nice tonal range. this is all assuming you have a decently exposed image.
10/07/2002 04:52:05 PM · #7
Originally posted by goodtimecharlee:
Dimitrii,

one thing i wanted to say is when you convert from a color to grayscale you will have to do some correction on the image. if you do just a straight conversion without any levels or contrast adjustment you will end up with a muddy flat looking image. .


Today, I am correcting my color images with levels and curves in PS before converting to B&W using channels. There I vary the 3 components until I see what I like.
Do you adust the levels again after you convert to B&W ?
10/07/2002 05:00:31 PM · #8
Originally posted by jimmsp:
Originally posted by JohnSetzler :
[i]Thoughts on Black and White

When I shoot digital photos, I always shoot them in the color mode. When I have the image in color, I can convert it to any desired format after that. Why would I convert an image to black and white?



John,
I am struggling with that that question. I understand the reasons you gave, but I don't "see" or "feel" it yet.
Interestingly enough, I started a critique discussion in the Q&A forum for pictures I posted here , as well as in a Canon forum on the dpreview site.
Interestingly enough, the reaction has been about 50-50 for color vs b&w. I added a 3rd perspective in response to comments on composition. After some time looking at them, I am beginning to prefer the b&w versions, as they give a sense of loss (as pointed out by someone).

I would guess most of us make too hasty a decision in keeping a picture in color or in b&w. I for one should take time to get a feel for the picture. [/i]

Jim, when deciding whether or not a photo 'should' be in black and white or color, I don't usually ask for feedback from others. There are simply too many people who do not like black and white, no matter what. I use black and white when I think the image looks better that way.

I would love to hear any input on these two questions that I posted originally here:

What are some other interesting aspects of an image that are enhanced by black and white modes?

What are some reasons NOT to convert to black and white?

10/07/2002 05:48:18 PM · #9
jimmsp ,
there are different methods. i usually convert my image to lab color space and then disgard the a and b channels. then i do my levels, burning, dodging, sharpening etc. then if i want to tone it i do that next which usually means converting to grayscale and then to duotone where i choose either a duotone, tritone or quadtone.
this is just one method. i'm not sure it works any better. i learned it in school. they told us it produced a better image than just converting to grayscale from color. i'm not sure that i am convinced of that. old habits you know.
you should evaluate your image at every stage. i have had to readjust my levels after converting to a multi toned image. just use your histogram in levels as a guide to show you if you have a good tonal range.

john,
i cant think of much else. i'm biased though. i love b&w. it is my preference. so i tend to think most images look great in b&w.
i think my strongest reason for b&w is texture. i love texture and you can sure find some great texture when converting a color image to b&w. it really emphasis texture and makes it jump out at you.
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