Suffusion XX

neutral image

The division between color and black and white in photography has been over emphasized based on the limitations of 20th century processes. 21st century processes are significantly different and beg a reconsideration of this division. Today, when we make black and white images we typically capture, process, and print with color.

When people use the term black and white they generally mean neutral (without saturation or bias towards one or more hues). Typically the use of the phrase “black and white” also encompasses warm and cold toned monochromatic images, cross-toned duochromatic images, and in some cases subtly tinted polychromatic images. The guiding principle behind these related but varied palettes is an emphasis on luminosity values, along with a restrained use of hue and very low levels of saturation.

There are many exceptions to these rules. Some heavily toned “black and white” images contain rich colors, sepia and cyanotype, for instance. By comparison, some images captured and reproduced in full color use hue and saturation in more restrained ways than other images typically described as black and white.

There are many blacks and whites. It’s not that black and white aren’t colors. It’s that they’re very specific colors. If you can see it, it’s color; color is a physical phenomenon, a biologic reaction, and a psychological response. So how much or how little of the rainbow would you like to use? Your choices create your personal palette, an essential aspect of any visual artist’s signature style. Endless possibilities await you.


warm-toned image


cool-toned image

Triple Goddess

selectively toned image


semi-neutral image


full color white image


full color black image

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Learn more in my Black & White Mastery workshop.

Read more about black & white photography here.


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This issue highlights techniques for Mastering The Essentials Of Black & White Photography.

It’s packed with inspiration.

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Color to black and white conversions are radical transformations of an image. They establish the tonal foundations of a neutral image, creating tonal relationships by determining which areas of an image become light and which are dark. While this process can generate some localized effects (all blues become darker or lighter), this is quite different than selectively lightening and darkening an image to accentuate existing tonal relationships (only select blue areas become darker or lighter). Selectively enhance a tonal structure after conversion, rather than before. Selective enhancement may yield dramatic results.

Here are two ways.


Method 1

Create a new layer set to a blend mode of Overlay. Use an appropriately-sized soft-edged brush. Paint with black to darken and white to lighten. Vary the opacity of the brush to control the intensity of the effect – lower is less, higher is more. If you’re not sure what percentage to use, it’s very rare that you will be when you first begin enhancing an image, take this approach.

Paint areas with a single broad stroke and use the Fade command (Edit: Fade or Shift: Command/Control: F) to modify Opacity. (Ignore the option to change Blend Mode; this is rarely helpful and far too complex.) This allows you to determine opacity visually with a dynamic preview and generates a smoother effect. Additionally, opacity can be reduced to 0% to eliminate the effect. Note that you can only Fade the last stroke made, so until you determine a precise opacity, fade each stroke after making it. Once you know the opacity desired for a given area you can set the brush to that opacity and continue painting without fading.

If you find you’d like to reduce the effect use a soft-edged eraser, at any percentage. This way you can selectively reduce or eliminate the effect.

Use the opacity of the Brush and Eraser tools to control the opacity of the effect. If you use the Opacity of the layer to limit one part of the effect you’ll limit the effect of all areas and won’t be able to generate a stronger effect.


Method 2

Selectively lightening and darkening with an Overlay layer generates stronger or weaker variations of a simple contrast response. If you’d like to generate a more specific contrast response, use another method. Roughly select an area; create a Curves adjustment layer that generates a specific contrast response; blur the layer mask; refine the mask with a soft-edged brush. This will allow you to precisely modify brightness and contrast. Just as the effect can become more complex, so can your layer stack when you use this method. It will generate multiple adjustment layers. (File them in a Group.) For instance, you cannot lighten and darken with a single layer and you’ll need two adjustment layers for different types of contrast. That said, no other method delivers the same precision.

Use the first method for basic moves (and industrial strength problems in dark shadows and bright highlights). Use the second method for very precise moves.

Periodically turn off these effect layers to monitor your progress. You’ll be amazed at how quickly and dramatically you can enhance an image.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Learn more in my Black & White Mastery workshop.

Read more about black & white photography here.


Alumnus Michael J Quinn was recently interviewed and his work featured on Phoblographer.

Here’s an excerpt.


“When you’re surrounded by so much awesome beauty from nature, how to do control yourself and not take pictures of everything?”

Michael J Quinn

“In the beginning, I did take pictures of everything. Not uncommon for me to shoot 10,000 images during a week trip, which is way too much. It makes editing and pairing down images almost impossible. The sorting process becomes daunting and thus does not get done. It is only after repeated trips and mentoring by both John Paul Caponigro and Seth Resnick, that I have begun to see better in the field. Make much fewer captures but at the same time increase the quality of the images that I am capturing. I am able to pre delete images before capture. That is to say that I can mentally edit.

Is this shutter click going to result in at least a 3 star image? If not, don’t click. This is a learned trait and must be practiced. I still have a long way to go, but I am making progress. During my recent 4 week trip to the Arctic, I shot less than 5,000 images. This makes the editing process much easier.

I have more confidence in my abilities which plays a role too. I have the confidence that I can capture the scene with enough depth of field, exposure and focus. Slowing the capture process helps as well. If there is time, taking a moment to really look deeply at a subject, interpret my emotional response to a scene and then make the capture. Having a plan also helps in the capture process. Plan out what type of story or stories that you have going and where the holes are in your story. Then when you are in the field you have a shot list of images that you are looking for. It makes it much easier to sort through the chaos in the field and find the gems. You have to be prepared for the new opportunities that arrises as well – like when a Polar Bear pops his head out around a rock, but having a plan will focus your attention. Reviewing while in the field is also a valuable tool. You can confirm that your technique is working. You can look for new patterns and themes in your images. Finding new stories to tell is always exciting.”

Read the rest of the interview here.

Learn more about Michael J Quinn here.

Read more Alumni Success Stories here.

Alignment XXIII

Alignment XXIII

There are many ways to convert color images to black and white.

Here’s my preferred method.

1       Optimize Color

Start with an optimized color original; set black point, white point, and lightness; clear color casts; boost saturation to reasonably high levels; avoid clipping. Use Lightroom or Camera Raw.

2       Establish a Tonal Structure

Establish a tonal structure – the relative lightness and darkness of diverse image areas. For basic global conversions use Lightroom or Camera Raw. For advanced local conversions use dual adjustment layers – Hue/Saturation below Black & White.

(The primary goal of a black and white conversion is to set the overall structure of the tonal relationship in an image. During color to black and white conversions, you’ll be tempted to perfect the lightness and contrast of an image. Resist this temptation, if it leads you to creating too much contrast, loss of shadow and highlight detail.)

3       Enhance Global Lightness and Contrast

Enhance global lightness and contrast, the relative relationships of tone, after you establish the tonal structure, the fundamental tonal relationships. Use Curves.

4       Enhance Local Lightness and Contrast

Enhance local lightness and contrast after fine-tuning global lightness and contrast. globally enhancing lightness and contrast. Use a black and/or white soft-edged brush on an empty layer set to a blend mode of Overlay. Or, for more precision, make a selection, create a Curves adjustment layer and refine the mask.

5       Add Color

Optionally, add new color or restore some of the original color, subtly or dramatically. Use a Curves adjustment layer set to a blend mode of Color. Alternately, fill globally and/or paint on locally a layer set to a blend mode of Color.

Artistic License

How light or dark should an image be? How light or dark should a specific area of an image be? How complex should a toning solution be? While there are things to watch for, shadows that are too dark, highlights that are too light, posterization and solarization ­–­ there’s no right answer. It’s a matter of interpretation. Each image will require a different treatment and each individual will generate different results depending on their objectives and personal taste. And, those may change over time. And, that may be good. Here’s where the art of imaging enters. Once you master your craft, you can more easily express the things you want to express.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Learn more in my Black & White Mastery workshop.

Read more about Black & White here.

Find out more about Chris Orwig here.

Find Chris’s new book The Creative Fight here.

“Chris Orwig brings unique perspective, creativity and passion to all that he does. As a photographer, he subscribes to Marc Riboud’s observation that “Photography is about savoring life at 1/100th of a second.” For Chris the adventure is now, and the journey has already begun – discover, look, listen, learn and live.”

Chris shares that what’s imperfect or broken can be a source of depth, strength, and inspiration.

Find out more about Chris Orwig here.

Find Chris’s new book The Creative Fight here.

Chris Orwig lives by this quote.

“Photography is savoring life at 1/100th of a second.” – Marc Riboud

What quotes do you live by?

Read a collection of Chris Orwig’s favorite quotes here.

Find out more about Chris Orwig here.

Read more Photographers’ Favorite Quotes here.


Chris Orwig provides quick candid answers to 20 questions.

What’s the best thing about photography?

Life is short and time moves too fast. Yet, photography has provided me with the way to try to stop, slow and savor moments that otherwise would have been lost. Even more, good photographs seem to be a concentration of life, a distillation like evaporated sea water where only the salt remains. And photography has become a means and a passport to get out into the world and to live life with more focus, intensity and passion. In a sense, what’s best about photography is that it has saved me. It’s saved me from myself and helped me to focus on others and on the grand mystery of life. And in doing so, photography has given me a new way to see and live.

What’s the thing that interests you most about photography?

The idea that the camera can help you dig more deeply, see more clearly and live life more fully.

What’s the thing that interests you most about your own photographs?

In my own photographs I am always struck by the autobiographical nature of them. In a sense, I can look at a photograph and remember who I was when I took it and how I changed because of it. And collectively, these photographs help me appreciate, remember and make sense of my own life story.

Read more of this Q&A with Chris here.

Find out more about Chris Orwig here.

Find Chris’ new book The Creative Fight here.

Read more Q&A’s with photographers here.


Buy this book here.

Listen to Chris read the Introduction here.

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