Secret Tools and Techniques for Great Black and White Images
Have you heard about the many tools designed to give you great black and white images? There are special b&w conversion programs, plugins to make your images look like an Ansel Adams, monochrome ink sets, custom print profiles, hi-tech monitor calibrators and more.
Are all of these necessary to produce a great print? I don’t know, I don’t use them. My philosophy is “keep it simple” and for me, these tools are just expensive distractions that might make a 2% difference in the look of my image, but it takes the focus off of the 98%, the things that really matter.
Here are the secret tools and techniques that I use to create a great b&w image:
1. Start with the right shot. Certain images tend to lend themselves to b&w more than others and I look for subjects with great blacks and contrast opportunities.
2. Shoot in RAW and B&W mode. This will allow you to see the image on the camera display in b&w (making visualization and exposure easier) but the RAW image will still be in color, allowing you to convert it how you like.
3. Convert to b&w in Photoshop using either the Channel Mixer or B&W Conversion tool. Play with the color sliders to see how each will change the image and produce better contrasts, they can make a dramatic difference.
4. Don’t overuse the Photoshop global controls. I don’t use auto adjustments, I don’t use levels and curves and I really avoid global controls because they apply the changes to the entire image.
5. Work slowly. I initially tweek the brightness and contrast a very small amount and then work with the dodge and burn tool to affect brightness and contrast in each area, as it needs it. I generally set my dodge and burn to 3% and build the effect slowly.
6. Use a decent printer. I love the Epson series with their wonderful K3 inks, and their included b&w print mode gives fantastic results.
7. Use a good paper. This is an area that really does deserve some of your time and attention, but be careful not to get caught up in the search for the “perfect paper.” I have friends who have been searching for years and the truth is that there are many wonderful papers out there that will server you well. I personally use Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 308 and Epson Exhibition Fiber.
Let me oversimplify and summarize it this way; I produce my prints with a copy of Photoshop and an Epson printer, and that’s about it. You don’t need complicated or expensive extras to create stunning black and white prints.
Now I’m not saying those extras cannot improve your prints, I’m just suggesting that the time to experiment with the extras is after you’ve produced the best print you can with the basic tools and can go no further. Until then, that 2% extra improvement will just be an expensive distraction.
This is just my opinion of course, and there are many who could disagree with this advice. But I’ll put my money where my mouth is and offer you a free sample print so you can see how printing with the basics can look. I have a number of small samples left over from a previous promotion and I’ll send those out until they are all used up.
Just email me your name and address, and when you receive the print please let me know what you think.
P.S. While it’s not a requirement for the free print, if you’d like to sign up for my newsletter I’d love to send it to you. Just go to my website at www.ColeThompsonPhotography.com and click on the newsletter link to view past newsletters or to sign up.