IMG_3522_BWColor

 Why do you need to understand color to get the best black-and-white images?

Let me count the reasons.

1          You Need To Understand How Flexible The Luminosity Of Saturated Colors During Exposure And Conversion

Understanding how light and/or dark you can make saturated colors will help you pre-visualize the tonal possibilities within an image before exposure. When post-processing, while you’re converting color images to black-and-white, I recommend you make all of these ideas visible realities, making many different black and white versions and comparing them side-by-side. At the same time, you need to understand how neutral and near neutral colors do not offer the same flexibility, which will improve both your vision and your efficiency.


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Suffusion VIII

You may not think there’s a problem. You may think you know the difference. It’s obvious right? But is it? Do you? After a lifetime spent in the arts, I find photographers’ ability to describe color woefully limited, and this is never truer than when describing “black-and-white” images.

Most antique processes are black and white, right? Certainly, silver gelatin is black and white. But what if you tone it? Is a platinum print black and white or brown and white? Is a cyanotype black and white or blue and white? What about hand-tinted photographs? They were black and white but then they became colorful again, but it’s a different kind of color, isn’t it? And if only a little color is added is it still black and white? At what point does an image become black and white?

The problem is that having only two terms – color and black and white – for a wide array of color palettes limits not only our communication but more importantly our perception and thinking.


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Revelation XXVI

Can you effectively present a project or body of work that contains both black-and-white and color images? It rarely works, but in rare cases it can.

The problem is that color and black-and-white images appear to be from different times or even different worlds and sometimes both. They’re so different from one another that presenting them together breaks the continuity of the larger story being told (Even a collection of separate poems creates a larger story, albeit with a much looser narrative and context than an essay.) and it undermines the suspension of disbelief required to imagine that a small two-dimensional image accurately represents our much larger three-dimensional world. Viewers end up paying more attention to the way the images are presented and our attention is deflected away from their content. We spend time and effort trying to figure out a pattern between images that are color and images that are black-and-white and the reasons why they’re different from one another, which is wasted if there aren’t any. “It looks better.” isn’t a strong enough reason to break continuity and suspension of disbelief. If there is no reason that contributes to the content of the series, then it’s a few small wins for individuals but a big loss for the team, and we leave the work feeling confused and frustrated. (“I don’t get. Is it me?”) For these reasons it’s best not to mix color and black-and-white images. Instead, present them separately.


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BWphotographers_425

You can learn a lot just by looking at great photographs.

Want to learn more about black and white images?

Start by studying these five photographers.

010_Steiglitz

Alfred Stieglitz explored the softer sensibility of platinum with muted blacks, very full highlights, and a surprising range of tints.

View 12 Great Photographs By Alfred Stieglitz here.

02_adams

Ansel Adams epitomized the modern sensibility with deep blacks, bright whites, and a full smooth range of tones in between.

View 12 Great Photographs By Ansel Adams here.

01_BrettWeston

Brett Weston moved modern photography towards abstraction with extreme contrast often eliminating shadow and sometimes highlight detail.

View 12 Great Photographs By Brett Weston here.

01_Witherill

Huntington Witherill advances the classic modern sensibility into the contemporary by achieving extreme separation in even the deepest blacks and the brightest whites, often side-by-side.

View 12 Great Photographs By Huntington Witherill here.

10_Tenneson

Joyce Tenneson has explored many high key black and white palettes over her career - neutral in her early years, semi-neutral tints mid-career, and more recently gold-leafed.

View 12 Great Photographs By Joyce Tenneson here.

View more 12 Great Photographs Collections here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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2) journey grayscale

There are as many reasons to add color back into black-and-white photographs as there are ways to do it.

3) journey duotone custom copy3) journey duotone custom

You can change the emotional tone of photographs when you add warm or cool tints to them.

2) journey grayscale copy

You can separate areas of a photograph by toning them differently.

5) journey splittone

You can enhance the illusion of volume in a photograph by adding different colors into highlights and shadows; typically highlights are warm and shadows are cool.

3) journey duotone custom copy (1)

You can increase volume further by adding gradations of hue in specific regions of a photograph; typically this is done with brushes.

6) journey subdued color

You can add still greater realistic complexity by restoring trace amounts of the original color.

1) journey full color

If you increase the saturation of any of these treatments beyond a low level, you turn black-and-white photographs into color photographs.

Read more in my Black & White lessons.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.


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In my presentation (sponsored by Canon) at B&H's OPTIC 2016 Conference I share unique insights into black and white photography including - why black and white are colors, why you need color management, ways of seeing in black and white, how to prepare files for conversion to black and white, how to tone black and white images, 5 classic styles of black and white photography and more.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Read more with my black and white resources.

View more in my DVD Black and White Mastery.


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