Digital black and white




I came late to black & white photography, but now probably half my prints are b&w. I am busily converting old photos as well, that never made it as far as a print in color, but where I can now see the b&w potential. So what has changed and what is generating this enthusiam ? Here are the main reasons.

1 - I am finding that photos of people have more impact in b&w

2 - I have started using the Photoshop channel mixer creatively for landscapes

3 - I have acquired an Epson R2400 which can produce neutral prints with good reproduction of tones.

The shot below was taken a couple of years ago in central London. In its original form it had vivid colors, particularly the fairground equipment which was a fruity green. The trouble is that the strongest color elements of the image were not the important elements. It's the five faces that I am interested in ( one is in the lower right ) - and the image only works for me when they are the focus of attention, not the green dragon.

Regent's Street 2003


I am also finding that some architectural shots work better in b&w. Old buildings get a bit lost in print alongside brightly colored road signs, cars, and people's clothes. I'm sure they would have photographed better when they were built. But we can take out the color elements and bring the architecture to the fore. The shot below actually works well in color too, but I prefer the b&w. For the final print I subtracted blue in the Photoshop channel mixer, making the stone of the cathedral shine against an almost black sky. This technique really tests the quality of the original file, and nasty looking noise can appear. This image is a composite of two frames from a 20D at ISO100 and it stands up well to this aggressive mixing.

        Salisbury Cathedral, Canon 20D and Tamron 28-75mm lens

Even so the processing for this image was a bit tricky. The setting that worked for the cathedral and sky ( 100% red and green, -100% blue ) looked ghastly on the grass in the foreground. So I made a separate selection of the grass and applied a different mix. The selection had to be feathered to avoid an obvious line across the image, and in the feathered area some colors showed though again and had to be removed by a final desaturate.

Before getting the Epson R2400 I was having difficulty getting neutral b&w prints. I wasted a lot of ink of that. ( I have read that custom profiles can remove color casts but I never tried this route with my old printers ). The R2400 has eight inks including black, grey and light-grey which are the only ones used for b&w printing. Thus at last we are guaranteed neutrality !

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