A black and white tutorial • Indianapolis photographer
Meet Max...busy as a bee, but with the sweetest little spirit!
(black and white tutorial below...)
I looove this one.
I receive a lot of questions from photographers about how I create my black and white images. And while I don't have a specific "formula" that works for every image (or a one size fits all photoshop action for sale - sorry!), there are a few basic pointers that I am happy to give out. (Btw, if your monitor is not properly calibrated, you may have a hard time seeing the differences in these examples - an obvious disadvantage of viewing photos online.)
First, analyze your light before you even think about pressing the shutter. Shadows and highlights lend depth and drama to your sooc (straight out of camera) images with very little photoshop work needed. That is by far my favorite way to create eye pleasing contrast in an image. The image below was taken in a wonderful pocket of dramatic light, with the curtain acting as a reflector to "wrap" the light around the subject and Max at the perfect angle to have catch lights (the sparkle of light) in both eyes. (And here his parents probably thought that I was only after a cute expression - ha!)
If you happen to be working with flat light, pay attention to the tones in your desired image. A great black and white photo has a full range of tones from light to dark, without clipping either end of the spectrum. You do not want to "blow out" the highlights of an image, which is when the lightest parts of an image have lost all detail. (Highlight values over 255 are considered completely blown - you can check this with the eyedropper.) This is especially tricky when shooting digital. Below is an example of a blown out image...see how the light parts of the image are way too bright and detail is missing?
The same goes for blocking the shadows (where detail is lost in the blacks). And don't forget about the midtones! Here is an example of the same photo that is missing a nice midtone range...even though the whites and blacks are where they should be, the midtones leave the photo with a lack of tonal depth.
The final mistake that I'll touch on is one that I see a lot of photographers make - simply converting a photo to grayscale with any further adjustments, which leaves a photo flat and muddy. Grayscale is quick and easy for snapshots, but the image below would not be acceptable as a professional shot!
As you can probably tell by looking through my portfolio, I adore black and white images. And I am quite picky (obsessed, maybe?!) about how they are processed! Here is my final processing on the image...after using various curves, levels, contrast, and channel mixer layers and adjustments.
There are about as many recipes for black and white photos as there are chocolate chip cookes (my other obsession!), thank goodness. And now you know a few pointers on how to make sure that yours have the correct technical starting points so that the photos on your walls are as pleasing to the eye as the loved ones in them. Good luck!