Posts tagged with Black and white

Can B&W tell the story better than colour?

See Derrick Story Webinar: A Fresh Look with Familiar Subjects in Black and White a bit of  B&W, a bit of Nik Silver Efex Pro.


Sadly I don’t have six grand burning a hole in my pocket. Even then I’m not sure a shiny new B&W-only Leica M Monochrom would be on my shopping list – certainly not ahead of a Nikon D800 (E?) and a couple of fancy lenses for it.

Much though I love my black and white, one thing I love about digital photography is that you shoot in colour and can defer until later the decision about how to separate the colours into black and white tones. It’s not that I don’t know how to use coloured lens filters or am lazy. In fact I happily carried two bodies or film backs, one loaded with colour and the other B&W, and I used to keep a range of coloured lens filters in my bag. I appreciated and enjoyed choosing a filter that seemed to make the best of the scene, and from what I hear Monochrom users are indeed working that way. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that in return for the Monochrom’s better high ISO and higher resolution they’re more…

“Readable and inspiring”

From the North Korean leadership school of modesty, here’s the first review I’ve seen of my Advanced Digital Black and White Photography. It’s from last week’s Amateur Photographer and is short and sweet – the book’s “readable and inspiring”.

Like the first edition, it is an end-to-end treatment of the subject from camera to print. In between it covers every known method of doing black and white in Photoshop, but most of all it tells you which ones are now best forgotten, and why. The first edition was bang up to date when it was first published and so was the first book on B&W to feature Photoshop CS3’s B&W Adjustment Layer – as well as Lightroom and Aperture. That content is now updated, and there’s a lot more material on Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro.

It now seems to be available at Amazon UK and Amazon US, and translated versions will follow – including Korean. Brown and white?

Some lovely black and white images are at Adrian Davis’s site, or rather:

Actually, brown and white! I like color images too, but for personal, fine art work, I prefer monochrome with a slight warm tone. I print exclusively on Hahnemuhle Torchon, which is a highly textured surface. I like to think of, and refer to my prints as, “Neo-Vintage” as they looked slightly dated but use a modern, digital process. On many occasions I’ve been asked if my prints are Platinum on textured papers! I get a big kick when asked this question by the viewer!

His site’s slightly-odd organization means the best starting point is here and there’s next-to-nothing about him. Best to see this interview at ND Magazine.


Ian Bramham

Ian Bramham is an architect and photographer based in the Peak District but seems to prefer coastal regions for his mainly black and white work.

This was my favourite, from Ravenglass in Cumbria, but also see his Morecambe Bay

Killip retrospective

The Guardian notes that Chris Killip’s retrospective is being held in Essen and asks “why is great British documentary photography overlooked at home?”

Surely, too, a group retrospective of the above-named pioneers of British photojournalism [Tony Ray-Jones, Graham Smith, Chris Steele-Perkins and Brian Griffin] is long overdue? My instinct is that this kind of work has long been out of fashion with our arbiters of culture in Britain. It is black-and-white, gritty, hard hitting and politically provocative – the photography critic, Gerry Badger, correctly described In Flagrante as “taken from the point of view that opposed everything Thatcher stood for”.

I’m not sure it’s true that we’ve lost our appetite for that kind of work – maybe some of it’s now under the “street photography” umbrella. But with the film, the economy grinding along the bottom, and the Argies getting one-eyed about the Falklands again (let’s see if they give the pampas back to the native peoples), it does seems the right time for a Thatcher-era retrospective.

Anyway, Killip is one of my long-time favourites, so much so that I still remember more…

Peter Hogan

Peter Hogan seems to be a black and white guy – at least, calling his site is a pretty convincing clue. No doubt I enjoyed his site all the more for its having a decent number of Lake District scenes, like this one from near Ashness Gate on Derwentwater.

I suspect the pictures are quite a lot better than they appear from the rather poorly-compressed soft versions on the site.

Passing away

Today’s helping of black and white goodness is Elin Hoyland‘s reportage work, particularly her Brothers series which I think I first noticed in a magazine somewhere. If I remember – because her site doesn’t contain much info – it depicted two Norwegian brothers on a remote farm and I still find it an incredibly sad set of pictures:

As Harald said, they chopped wood, carried wood and burned wood. At least twice a day, they also fed wild birds in the twenty bird boxes that they monitored. Their days followed a predictable and comforting routine. In their free time they each listened to a radio or read the local paper. In the 1960s they had rented a TV for a one month trial but returned it after deciding that it took up too much time. Little changed from year to year, though Mathias once said that changes were happening the whole time and it would probably end up with them getting an inside toilet with running water.

Also see here wonderful sand-dune rally in Qatar.

Martin Bailey podcast on Silver Efex Pro 2

Via Nik’s monthly newsletter I just came across Martin Bailey’s Podcast 297 : Silver Efex Pro 2 Walkthrough & New Features. Martin’s a Brit who has become Japanese and is based in Tokyo, and in the video I think he hits most of the right points about the software and delivered in a sensible tone (I think I detect a bit of a Scouse accent). I’d heard of him before but never really dug around his site or appreciated quite how much is there.

The Silver Efex video is well worth listening to, and he’s got a 15% off link if your credit card starts tingling.

Silver Efex Pro, smoking

People seemed to like the previous set of Silver Efex Pro re-enactment images, so with a bit more experience of the software, I thought I’d post another set of pictures with similar treatments.

This time they’re from a couple of events in October. The first ones come from a weekend when “my” regiment garrisoned the Tower of London. Even if for me the Tower is a building I used to pass every day on my walk to the office, it’s still quite a privilege to spend a couple of days photographing there, and for the re-enactors it’s about as sexy a gig as you can get. What made it especially poignant for these guys was that the regiment, the Tower Hamlets Trayned Bandes, is closely modelled on its 17th century predecessor which was raised in that part of London and guarded the Tower during the war. And it’s not every day you get to take weapons and gunpowder into a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the Queen keeps her bling, is it?

The pictures were corrected in Lightroom 3 but finished in more…

Black and White with Capture One Pro

I’ve been playing with Capture One Pro 6 a bit recently and though I still don’t get on with the workflow I thought I’d link to a couple of articles they’ve recently posted on black and white – see  Black and White conversions and Black and White: Working with Styles and Presets.

Do black and white workers need to deny colour?

In a fascinating piece Why Would a Digital Camera Have a B&W-Only Sensor, Mike Johnson makes a case for such a camera. As he acknowledges, analogies often end up in arguments about the analogy, but I think the core is here:

Taking a color picture and converting it to B&W is trivial. What’s not trivial is learning how to see in B&W. To name one trivial effect, you stop being attracted to, and taking pictures of, pretty colors. Why? Because your camera can’t capture them. It ignores them. So you have to do so as well. Working with a camera that can convert color to B&W is not the same as working with a camera that cannot record color. The latter affects the way you see things when you’re out photographing. When you know that B&W is all the camera will do, then you start to ignore colors and see luminances, tonal relationships, surface, and structure. It’s a different way of seeing.

An analogous example is what happens to blind peoples’ hearing. It becomes more acute. When you “can’t see” color, your more…

Silver Efex Pro 2 experiments

I’ve been experimenting a little with Silver Efex Pro 2 recently (in connection with the second edition of my Advanced Black and White book) and thought I’d post a series of re-enactment images, mostly taken over the last few months, that I took through SFX2 after initially processing them in Lightroom.

As you see, I added various tones and there’s a lot of use of control points, particularly with the selective colour option which I found very easy to limit to just faces. I also added fancy borders and was struck by how helpful the Vary Border button proved to be. I usually mistrust auto or lucky dip buttons, but here you do choose the basic border style but can then add a little bit of variation into the effect.

On the other hand, the problem with Silver Efex Pro 2 mangling keywords remains (UPDATE October 2011’s update v2.002 resolves this problem). And note, it’s not Lightroom’s fault (“I don’t agree with Nik” as we Brits might say) since it can be reproduced without any Adobe software on the computer. That this more…

George Jardine on black and white

As someone who has written a couple of books on digital black and white, I always enjoy seeing how others teach the subject. Sometimes one despairs, but occasionally you come across something that’s a cut above the rest and one of those is George Jardine’s excellent half-hour video on digital black and white conversion which is free on his site. If you’re vaguely interested in b&w, you should give half an hour of your time to watching it.

Why do I think it’s so good? Well, George does a great job in showing how digital B&W is not just about overall contrast but – critically – about what I as a B&W guy call “tonal separation” and what he as (I assume) a primarily-colour photographer calls “colour contrast”. It amounts to the same sensibility though, and it’s great to hear someone zeroing in on this key aspect.

Silver Efex Pro 2

I’ve never been one who photographs in colour and occasionally dabbles with black and white. It’s very much the other way round, and I often look at pictures I’ve left in colour and think they’re rather monochrome anyway. But I’ve never seen doing a lot of b&w work as a reason why I would want to buy Nik’s Silver Efex Pro (SEP) or any of the other dedicated black and white plug-ins that it has now overshadowed. It’s not that I felt SEP1 deficient in any way – quite the contrary. SEP1 was a very polished piece of software, produced good results quickly (even if I doubted the film simulations), and I could certainly see why people liked it so much. I simply felt its price was steep, and I’ve not feel any real need for it.

Nonetheless, I was looking forward to seeing Silver Efex Pro 2 and these seem to be the new features:

History Browser – good, session-only and like Photoshop except with more detail,
Amplify Blacks and Amplify Whites – I remain neutral about this
Visual Presets – thumbnails on more…

Silver Efex Pro 2

I plan to try out Silver Efex Pro 2 shortly and we’ll see if it changes my old view of it (good software but overpriced), but for now see Bret Edge’s short tutorial showing how he used Silver Efex Pro 2 for a black and white picture:

The great thing about Silver Efex Pro 2 (and all the Nik plug-ins, for that matter) is that it affords tremendous creative control to those of us who aren’t and never will be Adobe Certified Experts.  I like anything that allows me to spend more time outside making images and less time chained to my desk.

That’s OK, but you really don’t have to be an ACE to do great black and white quickly with Lightroom or Photoshop…..

B&W from different angles

There’s an interesting comparison of doing black and white in Capture One 6, Silver Efex 1, and Lightroom 3 by Mike at The Intuitive Lens. It’s a two parter with Capture One vs Silver Efex and then both vs Lightroom. I’m not sure it proves much, if anything, other than one if one tries to do so one can produce similar results in different products! Leaving settings at default is a little odd, and there’s no real attempt to use the b&w conversion process to separate neighbouring colours into distinct tones – eg those in the left woman’s blouse or between the brown briefcase in the foreground and the middle person’s red sweater. Why didn’t he use Lightroom’s targeted adjustment tool, for example? I’d argue that it alone produces better b&w images because you’re keeping your eyes on the image. But it is an interesting exercise.


See discussion here and here.

My view tends to be that there are no jacks of all trades and skilled hands can squeeze the same “objective quality” out of each app. So my emphasis is less more…

David Eisenlord

Picking one of David Eisenlord’s pictures from Iceland seems appropriate right now – though we may soon be heartily sick of being downwind of the land of fire and ice. I could equally well have picked something from his wild places of the west of Ireland.

The images are hand coated platinum/palladium or gum over platinum and for me have a lovely a timeless quality – a memory of when we could still fly to Iceland, or anywhere.

Keep it bsimple

bsimple‘s miminalist web site contains some wonderfully-imaginative “conceptual” photography. It only says that “all images on this website are assembled & printed in a traditional darkroom” and seems to belong to Misha Gordin, a US-based Latvian, who explained his work in this (surprisingly-readable) artist’s statement:

… in my opinion, conceptual photography is a higher form of artistic expression that places photography on the level of painting, poetry, music and sculpture. It employs the special talent of intuitive vision. By translating the personal concepts into the language of photography, it reflects the possible answers to major questions of being: birth, death and life. Creating an idea and transforming it into reality is an essential process of conceptual photography .

Today’s conventional approach, with a few exceptions, completely dominates Art Photography. But introduction of digital photography will change this balance. The ease of producing altered realities will bring a new wave of talented artists who will use it to express their special world of visions, with all its more…

Mileage varies

Ben Long reviews Silver Efex Pro and correctly points out one of its best features

The Black and White adjustment in Photoshop is very good because it allows you to make changes to specific color values in your image. The problem is that if you tell it to darken the blue tones in an image, every blue tone will be altered. Silver Efex scores over Photoshop?s built-in Black and White [JB: or Lightroom or Aperture] because it can alter tone and contrast of specific areas, based on color, but constrain the alteration using an automatically created mask.

You could achieve the same effects in Photoshop using multiple Black and White adjustment layers, each configured differently and constrained using hand-built masks.

That’s what I do, and I don’t find it too troublesome.

At the moment Silver Efex Pro’s probably the best b&w conversion and grain utility around, though its film & grain recipes don’t take account of differences resulting from choice of developer or your agitation method (you can create your own recipes if you’re really anal). It also costs $199 – even as someone more…