NEVER GIVE UP ON A DULL OR FLAT IMAGE
Come on, you have to agree with my total disappointment when I first opened this color image on my computer at home. It is totally lifeless. No color, no contrast, and a terrible sky. In fact, when I took this there was actually a pretty bad sand storm blowing through the park. Since it was my last afternoon there I just kept shooting as long as the blowing sand didn’t start attacking my cameras.
My persistence eventually paid off, and I always knew that these wonderful and whimsical picnic sail chairs would make a great image if photographed at the right angle. With the right treatment in Silver Efex Pro I was able to pull out some fine blowing sand in the air. And the contrast was there after all, especially on the chair sail, it just needed some coaxing.
Aside from the obvious lesson here to always persist, there is another tip to take away from this example. If you look at the B&W conversion closely you can see that all that makes this an interesting image was really there in the original all along. The changing tonal values of the corrugated steel, the heft of the concrete base, the fine detail of the desert floor, and of course, the interesting wisp of blowing sand.
USE DIGITAL COLORED FILTERS TO BUILD THE CONTRAST YOU WANT
One of my favorite features of Silver Efex Pro and B/W Styler is the ability to add the effects of using colored filters just like you do when shooting B&W film. When choosing a B&W conversion program make sure it has this feature, it is invaluable.
In general terms a colored filter will only let through its own color of light while blocking all the others. So, a red filter allows all the red light through, a green the greens, a blue the blues, and so on. This affected transmission of light is represented in darker tones for the light it blocks and lighter tones for the shades it lets through. As you can see this can be a very effective way to create more contrast in certain situations.
In my image above of the bison skull you’ll notice that the adobe wall is a red tone as is the ladder. Both look featureless in the color version, but look at the transformation when I added a blue filter in the conversion. Suddenly you can see detail in the wood of the ladder and the grass in the adobe is more pronounced, you can even see the strokes as the stucco was laid on. I chose to use the blue filter because it has the widest effect of all the colored filters, and while it turns red to almost black, it also darkens just about every other color as well. I figured it would handle all the warm tones in the image, and indeed it did. All that was left to do was to boost the brightness of the skull and the image took on a very dramatic look.
TONE YOUR IMAGES FOR DISTINCTION
Sorry, more skulls. Can you handle one more skull image? Seriously, this final tip is totally optional. To be honest, I don’t often tone my black and white images using different shades, preferring to almost always use a very faint Selenium tone. I’m just partial to cooler tones. The tip here is to simply never overlook toning an image, sometimes it can really take that shot to the next level.
When I first converted this image it looked fine in neutral tones but for some reason I felt it wasn’t really representative of the beautiful Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas where this was taken. It is a little known gem in the middle of the Chihuahua desert that just shouts Texas cowboy chic, all done very tastefully. So, in honor of the old girl, I decided to tone this in a more appropriate manner. This is not Sepia, mind you, but Coffee toning. I think it gives it an early 20th century look as opposed to Sepia’s late 19th century character.
I hope this small collection of tips and pointers will help you with your black and white conversions. And for those of you who have never tried it, I urge you to go out and make full use of the mid-day light. You might miss out on a nice nap after an early rise but you’ll be rewarded with some interesting photographs.
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