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Introduction to Black & White Photography Kanata Seniors’ Centre Camera Club September 4, 2020

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  • Introduction to Black & White Photography

    Kanata Seniors’ Centre Camera Club

    September 4, 2020

  • Overview

    • What is B&W photography?• B&W vs Monochrome• Seeing in B&W

    • History of B&W Photography• 1800s to current

    • Why B&W

    • B&W conversion• In camera• Editors• Plugins

  • What is B&W Photography

    • It is photography where all values except for pure black and pure white are shown as a shade of gray

    • B&W Photography is a special case of monochrome photography.

  • Monochrome vs B&W

    • B&W is a monochrome image• It is the most extreme form as the tonal range can range from pure black to

    pure white.

    • Other monochrome images will substitute some other tone or colour rather than pure white.

    • In digital images colour may be added during the post-processing to create monochrome images.

  • Monochrome vs B&W

    These are all monochrome images; only the one on the extreme right is B&W

    Monochromatic (green) light Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 Colour Digital image converted to B&W in Photoshop

  • Seeing in B&W seems “normal”

    • Human eyes light receptors – 103 million per eye

    • Rods – B&W vision• ~ 96 million – used in B&W (low light night vision) and peripheral vision

    • Cones – Colour Vision• ~ 6 – 7 million

    • Humans are built to see in B&W!• Over 93% of our optical receptors are for B&W vision

  • Short History of B&W Photography

    • Historical Processes

    • Film

    • Digital

  • Oldest Known PhotographView from the Window at Le Gras; Nicéphore Niépce ~ 1826

  • PictorialismThe Hand of Man; Alfred Stieglitz, 1902

  • ModernismThe Tetons and the Snake River; Ansel Adams, 1942

  • Contemporary direct B&W Processes - Film

    • Contemporary practice• Shoot B&W Film

    • Traditional “Wet” Darkroom

    • Digitize Negative• Use standard software tools

    to Post Process scanned images

    • Usually medium format andlarge format• 35mm is usually not used

  • Silver halide paper print - 1982

  • Contemporary direct B&W ProcessesDigital B&W Camera

    • Leica M10 Monochrom• Only “mainstream”

    digital B&W camera currently on the market.

    • Very high end• Body $12,000

    • Lens - $4,000

  • Modern Digital Camera

    • Convert a colour digital capture to B&W• In-camera

    • In post-processing

  • Why B&W Photography?

    • Simplification

    • Abstraction

    • B&W can be “pushed” harder than colour

    • B&W can fix colour “problems”

    • Provides historical perspective

    • Personal taste

  • Simplification

    • What can make an image simpler than removing all colour content?

    • With an 8-bit jpeg image there are a maximum of 254 shades of gray• Plus pure white and pure black (total of up to 256 tonal values)

    • An 8-bit colour image (256R x 256G x 256B) = 16.8 million colours

    • Over 99.998% of data that the camera can capture has been thrown away.

  • Abstraction

    • Humans see in colour• Approximately 10-million individual shades

    • Tristimulus – red, green & blue cone receptors

    • Representing scenes that we normally see in colour in B&W presents them in an abstract manner.• We are forcing the viewer to view the image using only luminance and


  • B&W

  • Colour – Looks over-processed

  • B&W – no white balance issues

  • Colour / mixed lighting – WB issue

  • Historical perspective

  • Historical perspective

  • Personal taste

    • Some people prefer colour pictures

    • Some people prefer B&W…

  • Can any image work as a B&W?


    • There has to be enough tonal separation for the image to be effective

    • Too many similar tones can lead to a very confusing image• Sometimes we need colours to separate different parts of the image.

    • When colour is an important component of the story you are telling

    • Some images work better in colour than in B&W and sometimes the opposite is true• Experience will teach you which to use

  • Colour is a key element of the story

    • Colouration is a key component of• Animals – especially birds

    • Plants – especially flowers

    • Colour is an important element for other reasons

  • Learning to “see” in B&W

    • B&W is an abstraction• The photographer needs to learn how to recognize a scene that will work in

    this genre.

    • Need to recognize tonality rather than colours• Takes time and takes practice

  • Learning to “see” in B&W

    • Work Aids:• Set camera to RAW + JPEG and shoot in B&W mode

    • Get immediate feedback via the camera rear screen

    • Convert existing colour image to B&W on the computer

    • Many experienced B&W photographers make the decision of whether they are shooting in B&W or color at the time they frame the image in their camera

  • B&W Conversion from a Modern digital Camera

    1. Get the camera to do it

    2. Use a RAW Converter / parametric editor • Lightroom / Adobe Camera Raw• Phase One Capture One

    3. Photoshop or other pixel based editor• Do not do the conversion in a parametric editor if using this approach.

    4. Third-party plug-ins (Nik Color Efex 2)

  • Get the camera to do it

    • Set the camera to shoot in B&W• Most cameras will output B&W JPEG

    • Some can be set to produce TIFF output

    • Raw data (if used) will still be in colour

    • BONUS: The image shown on the screen on the back of the camera will be in B&W

    Consult your camera’s manual for directions on how to do this.

  • B&W Conversion Using Post-Processing Tools

    • Raw Convertor / Parametric Editor• Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw, Capture One, DxO PhotoLab, etc.

    • Pixel-based Editor• Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Affinity Photo, GIMP, etc.

    • Plug-ins• Nik Collection Silver Efex Pro, Topaz Labs Studio, etc.

  • Desaturation – How to not do B&W!

    • Use the hue / saturation adjustment

    • Move saturation slider to -100• Problems

    • Assigns equal weight to each colour channel

    • This is not the way we tend to see the colours when converted to B&W so the results look “flat”

  • Desaturation

  • Luminance Aware Conversion

    (Red=30%, Green=59%, Blue=11%)

  • Desaturation vs Luminance Aware Conversion

    Saturation Luminance Aware

  • Black & White Adjustment

    • Six sliders – similar in most editing software

    • Convert to monochrome

    • Allows for colour filter effects

  • Affinity Photo

  • Plug-ins

    • DxO Labs Nik Collection• Silver Efex Pro 2

    • fast B&W conversions

    • Pre-sets

    • Can tweak individual pre-sets for custom looks

  • Nik Silver Efex Pro 2

  • “Best Practices” - Black and WhiteModernist View – Group f/64

    • Most of the image is gray scale• Most B&W images should have a full tonal range from pure black to pure

    white• Set appropriate black point, white point and mid-point

    • Any significant amounts of pure black and pure white are considered poor photographic practice and should be avoided.• Small areas of blown out specular highlights are generally acceptable• Small areas of blocked shadow detail are general acceptable• Large areas of either pure black or pure white are generally not acceptable

  • Partial Colourization

    Use the Adjustment Layer Mask and “poke” a hole in it to let some colour through

  • Additional Reading


  • Questions?