B+W, tone, and seeing
Originally uploaded by Douglas Remington - Ethereal Light™
I get a quite a few emails asking how I do black and white. Here's some tips mostly for the color shooters. Not sure if advanced B+W shooters will get anything from this however.
All great photographers understand tone. If you are a beginning photographer and mostly enjoy color work, I recommend you give color up for a while; say maybe a month to 6 months and work hard with B+W as much as possible. As the saying goes, "you must first learn to walk before you can run."
By doing away with color, you will be less distracted by that element and the better you will start to understand tone - which will later show in your color work. A blind person can hear things better than someone who can see. A deaf person learns to see better than the non deaf... you get the idea. Even highly successful color photographers will learn to see better by putting themselves through a self-assignment such as I suggest here. One thing you will discover is that the hours in the day you can shoot go beyond the 'magic hour.'
When I was a late teenager, a friend taught me how to develop b+w prints in my bathroom. Ever since then, I have been captivated by monochrome imaging and have shared a photographic passion for both color and B+W. Like many of us here, in today's digital world, we have had to learn to adapt our chemical processes to that of digital.
My prior 23 years experience in shooting B+W has helped me to know that when I squeeze the shutter whether I will process the digital file as a B+W or a color photograph 99% of the time. To this day, I have not used any B+W programs such as silver effex-pro and what have you, I just do traditional darkroom techniques such as dodging, burning, and local contrast control, but with digital tools. For those just starting out, using the channels in light room are a good first step for B+W conversion. These are global settings and are easy to do, and once you get the hang of that, then you can start playing with local settings and dogging and burning, and then on to masking. Always work in 16 bit raw, tiff, or psd files, never 8 bit.
Rarely do I apply a global adjustment to any of my work, especially with my B+W's; it's all localized manual work, and in a fair number of cases it takes many hours. Most of my images are a single exposure, in the rare case that I need a wider dynamic range, I will manually blend parts of an image that needs it, however I never use an hdr program (I detest them). In many cases, I am throwing away information and narrowing the dynamic range for drama and contrast. Such as in this photo I made in the Elkhorn mountains of Oregon. I am throwing away some information in what was once a blue sky, but holding on to and modifying the information in the trees and foliage. In a nut's shell, that's how I do black and white.
I hope my work inspires some of you who never shoot B+W to give up color for at least 30 days if not 6 months. If you try it please let me know if it has helped you in some way, I am convinced it will.