Please Tell Me the “Secret” to Your B&W Conversion!
Many people ask me to tell them the “secret” of my black and white conversion. Here is the secret: great black and white images are not made in the conversion process. You can buy the most expensive plug-in’s and execute the most complicated processes to convert your images, and it will not guarantee a great image. There are no shortcuts or simple proceedures.
Okay, so what is the “secret?”
It’s that you must plan for a great black and white image starting with the selection of the scene and then all the way through the processing. I tell people that it’s 50% the shot and 50% the post-processing.
Taking the Shot:
My style relies on dark images with bright subjects. It’s this contrast that creates an image that can really jump out at you, so when I go out shooting, I’m looking for these types of scenes. While there will be many scenes that catch my eye, if it doesn’t have this potential, then I know the shot will not work for me.
When I create an image, I have a vision of what it’s going to look like, and generally the original shot doesn’t look anything like my vision of final image. That’s where the post-processing comes in; using very simple techniques I “create” the image. I do not use curves, profiles, layers, plug-ins or any sophisticated techniques. I simply adjust the brightness and contrast and then dodge and burn the image like a painter would paint a canvas.
Above is one of my latest images from England; the Old Wardour Castle. While it appears to have been shot at night, it was a 30 second daytime exposure. The key is that I knew in advance what I wanted the image to look like and this vision was realized by underexposing the image and then extensively dodging and burning it to create a night-like scene.
So while the conversion process is important, it’s not really the key to a great black and white image. What’s most important is that you visualize the image in advance and then take control by creating the image along the way.
P.S. For those of you who are still interested in my conversion process, here it is: First, I shoot in b&w mode and RAW which produces a color image that I convert using the “channel mixer” method. In Photoshop you choose Image/Adjustments/Channel Mixer. Check the “Monochrome” box and then adjust the Source Channel color sliders to see how adjusting each color changes the image (note: some prefer the “Black and White” converter over the “Channel Mixer” method as it offers slightly more control and is a bit easier to use). That’s it!