I confess--I used to hate black and white photographs. Okay, hate is too strong a word, but B&W images never did much for me. I used to view them as throwbacks to earlier times when photographers didn’t have any other choice—after all, why would you deliberately throw away all that information? But three years ago I joined a camera club that happens to have a separate competition category for B&W prints. That’s all it took. My competitive juices started flowing, and I realized I had to learn more, and think more critically, about this subject. The result: I’ve grown as a photographer and had fun doing it. Now I try to ask myself whether color is actually contributing anything to an image, or whether it is a distraction by masking the image’s best qualities.
Here is an example of how a boring photo can be improved by removing the color. Mount Kirkjufell and the nearby waterfalls are well-known landmarks in southwestern Iceland. We were there at midday when the shadows were harsh, but at least the clouds were pretty. I wanted to create a smooth effect in the waterfalls, so I used a 6 stop neutral density filter which allowed me to make a longer exposure. I thought the resulting image had promise, but it was dull and lifeless, and no amount of color enhancement improved it much. But converting to B&W helped to emphasize the interesting textures in the scene.
There are several specialized software programs for converting photos to B&W. In this case I used Topaz B&W Effects 2, but I’ve found that using the capabilities of Lightroom are often all I need. In the color adjustments section of the Develop module (HSL/Color/B&W), select B&W and then play with the eight color sliders until you get the look you want. You can also start by choosing one of the B&W presets (on the left side of the Develop module), and then using the sliders to tweak it. I also used the adjustment brush to select and enhance certain features (such as the little island on the bottom left), in order to bring out detail in areas that were in deep shadow. It’s amazing how much structure you can often recover in Lightroom—but only if you start with a RAW image.
Shutter Speed 1.6 seconds. Aperture f/22. ISO 100. Lens: Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L set to 16mm. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod.
TODAY’S QUOTE: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.” --Miss Piggy
Stan Collyer bio:
Stan has dabbled in photography since he got his first Kodak Brownie at age eight. Since that was a very long time ago, he should have been famous by now. But work and family responsibilities took priority, and it’s only been recently that he’s had the time to devote to his hobby. Two events have made all the difference to him. The first is the digital revolution, which has enabled him to throw away his poor pictures without feeling bad about all the money he wasted. The second was his decision to join two camera clubs, which has motivated him to get out and shoot more, and to buy more expensive stuff.
Stan enjoys many kinds of photography—especially nature, travel, macro, abstracts, architecture, and street photography. One of the many things he enjoys about it is the need to combine technical and artistic skills to create a successful image. This forces him to use both sides of his brain for a change. He is a dedicated Canon shooter, and currently uses a 7D and a 5D Mk III, both of which are smarter than he is. He doesn’t yet have a proper website, but many of his recent images can be found on Flickr, at www.flickr.com/photos/stancollyer/sets
Stan has advanced degrees in experimental psychology, and used to be an R&D manager with the U.S. Office of Naval Research. He lives in Maryland with Linda, his wife and best friend. They enjoy traveling, and recently spent two spectacular weeks in Alaska on a photo tour with Awake the Light. He has also organized field trips with his camera club to attend Awake the Light workshops.