Sunday, March 22, 2015

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Black and White

Face it: digital monochrome is superior to black-and-white film and conventional printing. You'll understand this in my upcoming workshop, “Black and White and Not Quite.” To get a suggestion of why this is, read the sections What to Expect in the Workshop, and Getting to Monochrome below.

Blue Mosque (Istanbul) infrared capture

A Little History

I received my first camera, a Brownie Hawkeye, in 1957. I shot black and white print film. Now, nearly 60 years later, I'm again loving monochrome imaging.

During my early career as a photographer—when I covered NASCAR and NHRA races—I shot about ten times as much B&W film as color, principally because four-color offset printing was expensive and we didn't publish a lot of color in the magazines where I worked.

Since then color became more popular: It became more affordable for consumers but also for publishers and professional photographers; Kodak, Agfa, Fujifilm and others offered a wide variety of color negative and transparency films. With the advent of digital photography, color became the default image capture mode (although monochrome could have been, and would have been superior).

About a dozen years ago, I had an idea for primarily monochrome output in which I created images with mostly sepia tonality, leaving in just a dash of some of the underlying colors. Then I started processing HDR images, again with an overall toned monochrome feel but a hint of original color peeking through.

What got me thinking about B&W even more was the availability of infrared-converted digital cameras. My first was a Canon G10, which really got my creative juices flowing when I took it to Istanbul and Bulgaria. In case you don't know, IR images come out of cameras (at least when you shoot raw) reddish monochrome. OK there are extended range IR conversions that produce false color IR, but I didn't go that way.

I recently had a Nikon D7100 converted. The lower noise in the D7100 images, coupled with the ability to use better lenses, has me again enthusiastically shooting IR.

Make no mistake: I still use my color camera to capture images destined for monochrome treatment. Right now that's a 36MP Nikon D800. With a full-frame sensor, wide dynamic range and low noise, it provides great raw material for black and white processing.

Color conversion to monochrome

What to Expect in the Workshop

Throughout this four day “non-linear” workshop we'll alternate between theory, examples, demonstrations, field work and processing.

So you take home some compelling new imagery from Whidbey Island, we'll discuss how to identify and visualize good subjects and compositions. You'll see how black-and-white shooting differs from working in color and can provide opportunities way beyond color. To mix things up, exercises will give you a chance to demonstrate to yourself some often misunderstood principles of photography, providing concrete ways to better control what you capture.

We'll also mix up shooting locations, covering iconic scenes and some of my secret spots. We take good advantage of the shorelines, forests, farms and structures that make Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve a visual treasure.

Color/monochrome comparison

Getting to Monochrome

Speaking of processing, we're going to cover many workflow options in the workshop. With so many choices, I'll help you zero in on what's the right path for you when you see me step through the ins and outs of:
  • Lightroom
  • Photoshop
  • Nik/Google Silver Efex
  • Topaz B&W Effects
  • DXO Filmpack
  • On Software Perfect B&W 9
In addition to the actual conversion processes, we'll explore how to maximize color images for later monochrome conversion. Just as we choose the right color scenes to create compelling monochrome photographs, we can optimize the color content of our captures to achieve our artistic goals in B&W. 

I most cases, you can download a 30-day trial version of these programs just before the workshop, then decide which to invest in after you've seen where each might best fit your workflow.

Some programs and topics we'll explore include:
  • Raw file conversion in Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw and DXO Optics Pro
  • Working in the LAB color space
  • Creating luminance masks and employing them to optimize single exposures and bracket sets.
  • Adding pop to color precursors or mono images with Topaz Clarity
  • Performing local adjustments without masks in Nik Viveza 2
  • Building maximum tonal range from bracketed exposures in HDR Efex 2 … or Photomatix, Photoshop, Enfuse or a great HDR program you've never heard of.
  • Adding finishing touches (such as selective color and toning) and preparing for printing.
Join me to sharpen your general skills and learn how to consistently produce B&W photographs that will have viewers saying, “Wow!”

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