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How-to's

Converting Color Wildlife Images to Black & White

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens)


Keywords: d500, d800, 70_200mm, 500mm, wildlife, birds, black_white

I recently learned about a very successful fine art photographer, David Yarrow, and saw some of his black and white work online.  He also does some color images as well. I had never heard of him before and I was excited to learn about him after seeing his incredible black and white images.  In 2017 his image, MANKIND, sold at a Sotheby’s auction for a “record breaking $78,000.” In 2019 one of his images, “Africa” sold for $106,250.  As with, or so it seems, many well-known photographers who have been successful in selling their work for large amounts he is concerned with “the natural world” and the animals in it.  He supports animal conservation in Africa and other countries and the royalties from a 2016 book he wrote went toward a British charity called Tusk Trust (he was born in Glasgow, Scotland) that supports animal conservation in Africa. He is, apparently, committed to animal conservation on a number of fronts and in 2018 he “raised over $2 million” for a charitable foundation and has probably raised that much and more in 2019. I found his images to be motivational, although images like his also make me a bit disheartened as I know I can never produce such wonderful art (especially since a day’s photo-shoot might start at $50,000 or a longer shoot at even “half a million dollars”), not to mention my skill set is no match for his. Something he stated in a recent article gave me pause for thought as it pertained to photographing wildlife.  And, this started me trying to figure out how to create a good black and white image of some wildlife shots I’ve taken over time. 

1A (A-BW and B-Color) Juvenile Bald Eagle, Sacramento Wildlife Refuge
Nikon D500, Nikon 200-500mm lens, 1/2000 sec at f/5.6, ISO 500.
Click for an enlargement

 

1B (A-BW and B-Color) Juvenile Bald Eagle, Sacramento Wildlife Refuge
Nikon D500, Nikon 200-500mm lens, 1/2000 sec at f/5.6, ISO 500.
I’m not a fan of plain blue sky, although I do think it worked for this shot of a juvenile bald eagle. I chose to turn it into black and white in an attempt to tone down the blue sky and I liked the end result of BW better than the color image. I used Lightroom initially for processing and then Silver Efex Pro for the BW conversion.
Click for an enlargement

 

Most of us who photograph wildlife are always trying to obtain a longer lens, preferably a fixed length lens if we can afford it or have the strength to lug it around.  Long lenses do make a big difference in being able to “get the shot” in many wildlife situations, especially where the photographer wants to fill the lens with the subject.  And, so far, I have been a big advocate of this concept.  I most often photograph with a Nikon 200-500mm lens. Also, for most of my wildlife shots I don’t normally finish them in black and white. And, for most of the other wildlife shots I see, other photographers don’t usually finish their shots in black and white.  It just does not seem to be common to finish our animal images in black and white. After reading about David Yarrow, however, I am beginning to think about the way I have been photographing and processing wildlife images and asking myself if there is a better approach for me.  I love learning and I love the challenge of learning photography so I’m always open to new techniques and new approaches.  And, I’m actually excited about the thought of learning a new way to approach obtaining images of wildlife.  

01A

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14 comments

George A Dondero II (GAD2) on March 2, 2020

Hi Connie, Great article that I almost passed over, and then remembered that B & W photography is where I started back in the days of film and darkroom work. I haven't done B&W in a long time, and your article has me wanting to try it again. I enjoy your style of writing, as you share your own discovery process in learning. Very natural while encouraging creative thought by the reader. Good stuff!

NATHAN FRISBY (natpat) on February 29, 2020

Good reading in your article and I always give consideration to such successful photographers as David Yarrow is. I must always consider the shooting conditions that he would face versus what I face in the US. While I'm no where near being a high quality photographer as he is I strive to someday get a few photos that would attract a great deal of attention to my luck of gathering such a eye holding photo. You mention equipment, that in itself is what will separate someone like myself from that great professional. $$$$$$$ is how many of these photos become more than what my photo of a wild horse or deer might be in Kentucky.Thanks for sharing!

Bonnie Christensen (BChrisRad) on February 28, 2020

Donor ribbon awarded for her most generous contribution to the 2017 campaign. Ribbon awarded for her most generous support to the 2018 fundraising  campaign

Thank you for your article, Connie. I really enjoyed reading it. It has made me rethink B&W for wildlife and how I view my ongoing learning process. I have known of David Yarrow for a while and love his work. Several years ago I was invited to an opening at a gallery that was exhibiting some of his work in Chicago, including the Sudan photo you mention. (It is impressive to see in person on a large scale.) Unfortunately the night of the opening, David did not show up until way after we had to leave for our dinner reservations. (He was out shooting a photo of a large cat prowling the streets of Chicago.) As it was my birthday, my husband arranged for a signed copy of his book. Recently he had another exhibition in Chicago and gave a lecture. My mother attended the lecture and bought me his latest book. When she told him about how I had missed seeing him last time, he signed my book and apologized for being so late and missing me. As is mentioned below he does a lot a research. He even has special boxes made to house the cameras so he can leave them in the path of a herd of elephants or prowling lions. One of my favorite fun photos of his, is of a lioness holding a D5 by its D5 strap in her mouth. He said he was able to retrieve the camera the next day and it still worked. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and photos. You have inspired me to go back and look at some of my African photos in another light.

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on February 26, 2020

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Thanks everyone, for your comments and information.

Marsha Edmunds (meadowlark2) on February 25, 2020

Donor Ribbon awarded for her support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Fellow Ribbon awarded for her continuous encouragement and meaningful comments in the spirit of Nikonians. Donor Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for her generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Awarded for her in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas.  Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

Enjoyed your article and fine images, Connie. I enjoyed looking into David Yarrow again and found some great info I hadn’t stumbled on before. Thanks for the motivation!

Barry Higgins (bhiggins) on February 25, 2020

Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas.

Yarrow's philosophy, methods, and outcomes are inspirational. The macro forum recently ran a thread calling for Yarrow inspired images. There is an excellent documentary/interview on him for those who are interested in learning more. Nice review and exposure piece Connie many will be inspired to give it a try, Here is the link I posted in the Macro forum for the video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcVRe9X5Prs

Tom Egel (tegel) on February 23, 2020

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Winner of the Best of Nikonians 2018 Annual Photo Contest Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

Wonderful article Connie. Excellent photos as well! Thanks for sharing. Coincidentally, I recently learned of David Yarrow while on a photography workshop in Yellowstone. He certainly creates amazing photographs. I also ordered his book and look forward to it’s arrival. While in Yellowstone, I often found the 500 PF on a D500 to be too close for the bison, and often used the 70-200 instead. I also used a Z6 for landscape and environmental shots. I converted many of my images to B&W due to the winter conditions. That seems to create more impact when color is lacking.

David Summers (dm1dave) on February 21, 2020

Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded as a member who has gone beyond technical knowledge to show mastery of the art a

Great article, thank you Connie!

David Burns (DJBee) on February 21, 2020

Dear Connie, Excellent photographs, especially the Grizzly in the river. I first bumped into David Yarrow's photographs some years ago in the Netherlands, when I accidentally discovered an exhibition of his work in an art gallery in Leiden. The gallery was full of prints that were two or three metres across and I remember being in genuine shock at their impact on me. I was emotionally overwhelmed. They were truly astonishing both for their visual quality and their amazing technical prowess. At the time he was using a D4s as I remember. I love it when I read people's opinions about how many megapixels are necessary as a minimum for good images! It may be worth noting that many of his shots are taken on wide or moderate angle lenses using remotely triggered cameras. I believe he also has a lot of special permissions, rangers, trackers and assistants helping him and his operations are pursued on a very professional level with a good deal of investment up front. I say this not in a critical sense, very much the opposite, as I admire his dedication and professionalism very much. It is probable though that without that sort of organisation behind you, that part of his approach at least, would be inaccessible and the best that mere mortals can do, may well be to mostly shoot from a vehicle with a long lens! However, I have never been to Africa on a safari, so my real experience of all this is actually zero!

Dale Maas (marnigirl) on February 21, 2020

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2017-2018 fundraising campaign

Connie, will be very interested in your 58mm trial. Let me know please if you pull the trigger and buy it. Take Care, Dale

Connie Cassinetto (Via the Lens) on February 21, 2020

Ribbon awarded for her valuable contributions to the Articles Section.

Hi Dale, I hope you enjoy the book as much as I am. I'm excited about attempting to set up a scene at some point in the future and then use the 58mm, which I do not own at this time, to photograph it. Even if I can get one shot this year that sort of uses what he does I'll be happy. Don't hurt your arm reading the book! John, thanks for your comment on the article. What other photographers do you like? Is it just BW or do they do something very different with the subject?

Dale Maas (marnigirl) on February 21, 2020

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2017-2018 fundraising campaign

Hi Connie, I bought the book and it is indeed a behemoth! Intend to glean what I can. Very impressed with Mr. Yarrow. Dale

John D. Roach (jdroach) on February 20, 2020

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign Awarded for winning in The Best of Nikonians 2019 Photo Contest

Thanks for your fine article. There are many fine photographers who practice monochrome photography in many genre. I am glad to see Nikonians sharing one of them. There are many more that can be presented for the wonderful tonality and expression in their photographic stories. I hope we see some more on the subject.

Dale Maas (marnigirl) on February 19, 2020

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2017-2018 fundraising campaign

Hi Connie, very interesting and intriguing article. Enjoyed it very much. I have been to Tanzania during the Jan./Feb. 2020 period. Prior to leaving I rented a Nikon 500mm f4 to see if I could handle it. I did not feel comfortable with it at all. Besides weight, I realized that I would have to zoom with my feet. That is simply not possible if you are on Safari in a vehicle. I therefore relied on my 200mm-500mm f5.6 and a 70-200 f2.8. A vehicle is what most of us are required to use, very few photographers can afford to use the accoutrements that you mention that Yarrow uses. I love to use B&W but always struggle to get it to look the way I would like and am also always concerned how others would view it. Thanks so much for your great article. I intend to delve into Mr. Yarrow and glean as much as I can from his expertise. I appreciate you bringing him to my attention. Dale (aka Marnigirl)

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