Project: Black and White, Colours into Tones 2

The previous exercise explored in general terms the issues involved in converting to black and white and the creative potential of some of the tonal variations of the colour channels.

This exercise takes this a step further with some specific, targeted adjustments.

Aerial Perspective

This was the starting image, an Alpine perspective taken on a fairly clear day:

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Desaturated, it looks like this:

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In the black and white conversion, I lightened the blue considerably to increase the effect of the atmospheric haze. Lightening green also seemed to accentuate haze but only a small adjustment was given. I then reduced red to bring the tonality back down as the image was now far too bright.

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There are some points to note. The sign that reads “1a” is a light grey in the desat image, it goes black due to the darkening of the red channel, there seems to be more contrast in the fence and the sky overall is lighter.

Portrait

The starting image is this:

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and the desat one:

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To lighten the skin tone, I lightened the red channel, darkened green slightly and the blue to maintain overall tonality.

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The result is quite pleasing. As well as lightening the skin, there is an overall softening of the contrast which suits the subject quite well.

Foliage

The starting image is this one:

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and the desat one is:

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Obviously, the green channel was lightened to make the foliage lighter and this required a reduction in blue and red.

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My aim was to make the tone of the building similar to the desat image. Again there is a marked difference in the tone of the red shirt to the chap on the staircase.

Project: Black and White, Colours into Tones 1

Converting a colour image into black and white is not simply a matter of removing the colour information. It is possible to adjust the relative tone of each of the colour channels so that they are rendered lighter or darker. This is akin to using filters on the lens, except of course with the latter case, the effect is baked into the file whereas the former can be done in post-processing.

The effect of this is explored here.

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In Photoshop Elements, there is no “default” setting for the conversion so I simply desaturated the image to get the baseline.

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Elements does not have a yellow slider control, so I used red and green together to control the yellow. The next version lightens yellow and darkens blue…

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…and this one is the opposite.

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The next example is a red-green image.

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The desaturated version looks like this:

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Lightening the red and darkening the green gives this:

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and the opposite is this:

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All of these are deliberately taken to extreme to illustrate the strength of the effect.

Comparing the variations to the baseline image, one thing they all show is an increase in contrast. This is not surprising as I was selectively lightening and darkening sections of each picture. I think they also show that when converting to black and white, some thought needs to be given to the relationship between the colours and their relative tones and how they are to be maintained in the conversion.

I mentioned earlier that this is analogous to using filters. A filter I commonly used was an orange one to darken the sky. I tried to achieve the same effect with this picture:

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The desaturated one looks like this:

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Converting to black and white and darkening the sky with the blue slider looks like this (I also adjusted the red and green slightly):

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Project: Black and White, Strength of Interpretation

The course notes suggest that black and white allows more radical adjustments to the tonal range. These pictures explore how this can be applied by making some high contrast, high key and low key versions.

Hand Cart

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From this I made high contrast and high key versions in both black and white and colour:

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The colour variations only seem to accentuate the blue colour cast in the shadow. This is not so obvious in the original image.

In both high contrast images there is loss of detail in shadow and highlights but this does not seem to detract from the black and white version.

The high key colour version is dominated by the blue cast. This was shot in jpeg, not raw so the cast was difficult to remove, but it makes no difference to the monochrome one.

Horse

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From this one I made a high contrast and low key versions:

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Although the high contrast has increased the richness of the colour in the colour version, in both I felt I was able to take the processing further in the black and white versions.

Pit Head

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For this one I produced both high key and low key versions in addition to the high contrast one:

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This is a picture whose timeless quality suits black and white. Again there is a richness in the colour, especially in the blue sky in the low key one but again the limits are pushed more successfully in black and white.

This exercise would seem to suggest that there can be more creative potential with the ability to process an image to a greater degree in the tonal range with black and white than with colour. This might be true of some images and subjects but the truth is that black and white processing is another string in the bow of image processing. This exercise has shown how this can be exploited.

Project: Black and White

Ever since my darkroom gave way to a family bedroom, many, many years ago, and later when I embraced the digital technology, I have not shot in or for black and white. I have felt that to shoot in black and white, there needs to be a compelling reason. My photographic eye has been trained to see in colour and use colour as part of the composition.

This exercise required composing and exposing for black and white and suggested that I would need to consider different concerns. Because of my lack of experience with black and white, I had only an appreciation what these other concerns might be that were outlined in the course notes and no idea how to consider them. Consequently I took a number of shots to see how they would convert.

Here they are:

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This is quite a colourful picture but the colours are all fairly even tones. Accordingly, when it is converted to black and white it comes out rather bland, in fact the carrots are completely lost. More interest might be kept by varying how the image is converted but that comes later.

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The original image is almost monochrome but the conversion to black and white shows that there is some subtle colouration in the tin. This might be due to a slight colour cast (it appeared to be a silver colour in the flesh) and this raised another question: how relevant is white balance, so important in colour photography, to black and white.

The next image explores this. The first was taken with the white balance set to tungsten, then on auto.

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These are the converted files:

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There is very little difference between the two black and white pictures.

I think this image has translated into black and white much better than the other two. The colour of the image is very subdued with its pastel shades and the image relies much more on variations in tone which lend shape to the object. This has translated very nicely into black and white, in fact removing the colour has emphasised this aspect.

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This image has much brighter colours than the previous one but the modelling of the bottles is given largely by the shape of the reflections. This retained well in the black and white version, another image that has converted nicely.

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There is something old-fashioned about a packet of Daz. I remember the adverts when I was a child and the packets do not seem to have changed much since then so it should make a good subject for a black and white conversion. The bold shape and strong colour seem to suit the monochrome approach.

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This is an image that depends on its bold colours. The blue of the punch, red of the scissors and brown of the desk all convert to the same tone in black and white so the result is another bland image.

This has proved a useful exercise in getting an understanding of how colours translate to black and white and what aspects of an image convert well and which not so.

Project: Creative Interpretation

Whereas the previous exercises were about correcting and improving an image without making any creative changes to it, this one allowed us more free rein over what we did. It was about exploiting the features of Photoshop more radically.

I chose this image of a trailer of kayaks to work with:

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First I corrected the obvious wonkiness, then set to work!

The idea behind this version was to create something that might have been done by pen and ink. Apart from the obvious conversation to monochrome, I created the high contrast using a combination of levels and contrast control. The actual settings were the result of trial and error as one adjustment affected the other.

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I quite like the result, although there is probably too much dense black to be a pen and ink drawing.

The second version was an attempt at a high key effect. This was achieved using levels. Because of the intense lightening that wouild take place, I wanted first to make sure there was a deep black so I made sure the black slider was well into clipping. I then adjusted the midtone and highlight slider to get the effect I wanted.

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I don’t think this is as successful as the previous version. This was the result of many abortive attempts and it still is not the image I was after.

The third and final version was an experiment in colour. Photoshop has a “Replace Colour” feature. You can use this to select colours in the photo with an eye-dropper tool, and then dial in a colour to replace it with. This was purely experimental as I had no particular end in mind, I just wanted to see what effect could be achieved. I concentrated mainly on the kayaks (but did play around with the foliage as well) and produced this:

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I’m not really sure how I managed it, but there is quite a pleasing sheen to the hulls of the boats.

I regularly use Photoshop to correct and enhance photos, very rarely do I push it to the extent I have here. I do not see this level of manipulation as forming part of my photographic practise, but it is useful to know the effects that can be achieved.

Project: Optimising Tone and Colour, Managing Colour

The previous exercise concentrated on optimising the ton e of the photograph. The three photographs I chose were all improved by the process. The same photographs were used for this exercise to improve them still further.

The first one of the distant buildings ended up like this:

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I felt the colour looked okay although the image was a bit bland. Using the eye dropper in Digital Photo Professional on the white gable above the upper floor windows gave a better result:

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This is a much warmer picture with more vibrant colours. The red door has been brought out.

The second picture was of the two people by the flag pole:

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The colours in this picture looked good to me so it would be interesting if they could be improved. In-camera the white balance was set to auto, in the RAW processor, I changed it to Daylight with this result:

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Another attempt was made with the eye-dropper tool on the flag:

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The difference here is much more subtle, this should not be surprising as the original had no obvious defect.

Finally, there was the hand ferry:

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This was similar to the first example, the colour could best be described as bland. The first adjustment was to change the as-shot Auto setting to cloudy:

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It has to be said that all these pictures are improved, the second one less so because, as noted there was no obvious defect. Even so, the corrected versions are both improved over the original. The fact that all these were corrected with very simple adjustments made it all the more valuable.

Project: Optimising Tone and Colour, Managing Tone

I have previously noted my fluency with manipulating jpeg images in Photoshop and the operations described in the course notes are part of my normal work process. I chose therefore to use this exercise to increase my understanding of working with RAW files. I chose to use Canon’s Digital Photo Professional as the software platform. The camera for these pictures was set to RAW + jpeg. The first of each picture shown is the jpeg out of the camera. This is compared with the worked up RAW files, saved after manipulation as a jpeg.

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The highlights here were slightly clipped so the overall image was reduced using “Brightness” until the clipping was just eliminated. The shadows were then adjusted using the Histogram until the clipping point. The result is a much more satisfying and punchy shot, particularly the distant buildings.

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As in the previous picture the highlights were slightly clipped so a similar strategy was adopted. Then I wanted to lighten the faces so I created a point on the tone curve and adjusted it by eye. Care was needed here as the adjustment tended to re-introduce highlight clipping in the clouds.

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The sky then was a little light, so I created another tone curve point to darken it.

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I used the same strategy again here, the clipped highlights were reduced using “Brightness”, shadows restored to the clipping point. The midtones were adjusted so that the overall image looked “right” using two points on the tone curve.

This was a useful exercise in getting to know RAW processing better and I feel more fluent with it now. I still have some way to go before I am as confident as I am with jpegs, but then I have probably put over 1000 images through that particular mincer.

All of these pictures require some colour correction as well so they will be further enhanced in the next exercise.

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Project: The Value of Raw

RAW confers two main advantages in digital image processing: it enables the photographer to take advantage of the camera’s higher bit depth than the 8 bits allowed by a jpeg file but more importantly it allows the camera’s settings from the point of exposure to be adjusted in post processing.

The purpose of this exercise was to explore these advantages and at the same time, to put them in perspective. I chose these three images of Chepstow castle, taken during late afternoon sun, to explore this.

I used Photoshop to work up the jpeg, generally just adjusting the black and white points in the histogram. Then the RAW image was adjusted firstly in Photoshop’s RAW editor, then in Canon’s own software, Digital Photo Professional. The results are:

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Original Image

Photoshopped

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RAW Processed in PS

RAW Processed in DPP

Camera settings – f4.5, 1/1000 sec, ISO200, auto white balance, evaluative metering, aperture priority

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Original Image

Photoshopped

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RAW Processed in PS

RAW Processed in DPP

Camera settings – f4.0, 1/750 sec, ISO200, auto white balance, evaluative metering, aperture priority

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Original Image

Photoshopped

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RAW Processed in PS

RAW Processed in DPP

Camera settings – f3.5, 1/750 sec, ISO200, auto white balance, evaluative metering, aperture priority

In all of these, the most noticeable difference is the colour. The camera’s auto white balance failed to capture the warm tinge of the evening sun. I did not even attempt to correct this in the jpeg; it would have been possible but cumbersome involving adjustments of the three colour channels. With both RAW editors, it was a simple matter of dispensing with the camera’s setting and adjusting the colour temperature using a slider until it looked right. In the second picture I wanted to restore some detail in the foreground tree. In Photoshop I would have had to select it and lighten it, separated from the rest of the image. Both RAW editors gave me tools to do this much more easily.

The final image below was taken indoors and deliberately underexposed by 2 stops to give a more manageable shutter speed in the low light conditions:

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Original Image

Photoshopped

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RAW Processed in PS

RAW Processed in DPP

Again, the Photoshopped image was adjusted simply using the white point slider on the histogram. For the DPP processed image all I did was to restore the 2 stop underexposure. Comparing this with the one above it shows that not only is it a better exposure but there is more detail apparent in the dark areas around the dog’s eyes and nose. Trying to do the same with Photoshop’s RAW editor did not restore this detail and I had to use many more adjustments (colour temperature, black point, restore). The result is not as effective.

Doing this exercise has shown the advantage of using RAW. Well exposed images will not benefit as much, but ones taken in a more challenging environment will give more flexibility during post processing. There are differences in the software available and the ease with which they enable corrections to be made. Generally speaking I found Photoshop to be more usable and versatile but as the last picture showed, this isn’t necessarily so.

I am familiar and comfortable with using Photoshop to work on jpeg images and have developed a way of working which suits my style and gives me the results I want. With RAW I am at the bottom of the learning curve; I don’t really know what I am doing or feel comfortable that I am using the best methods or getting the best results. More practise and experimentation is required to develop the same level of fluency that I enjoy using Photoshop.