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Black and White Photography (Part IV)


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Black and White Photography (Part IV)

31 Dec 2019 9:57PM   Views : 367 Unique : 224

In this final part I'll look at producing a black and white image from a colour original.

You've identified a subject that will look effective in black and white. You've carefully composed the image and considered line, from, pattern and so on. But there are still important processes to consider before you can share your masterpiece with the photo community. That's true with film as well as digital. I'll keep to digital here, but will make reference to film photography as the decisions taken towards creating the final result have some parallels.

Image Processing (Conversion)
When using film you have to decide what you are shooting for and if mono or colour is more appropriate. You could if you so wished have one camera loaded with black and white negative film and another with colour. Feel like lugging that extra gear around? It was possible to get mono images from colour film by copying or printing but the end results were inferior.

Today, if you see a scene that would look good in mono, just take it. You may not necessarily think about mono until you go through the day's captures later that evening. You thought the scene was good. It may have been the case that you subconciously saw the 'mono attributes'.


When digitally processing a colour image into black and white we're actually mimicking the effect of those colour filters mentioned last time. They're also referred to as Contrast Filters as they alter the tonal contrast in a scene. The most common nare yellow, orange and red which have a progressively stronger effect.

In software there are controls for each colour channel, so you can boost or reduce the contribution from each colour. I find the yellow, red and blue sliders (often in that order) have the greatest effect. They allow much finer control than conventional filters ever could and you can see the changes happen right infront of you. You can play with the sliders until you see something you like, and it's a good way to learn. Knowing what's in the image, colourwise, and how you want to change the tones means you'll get the results you're after and be able to repeat such changes where necessary in future images.

It's best to start your mono image from a fully corrected colour original. By 'corrected' I mean Levels, Curves, Colour Balance and so on. Perhaps 'adjusted' is a more meaningful term.


A straight conversion, no differentiation between tones

The reason is the information in the image and how it's represented in the digital domain. The more information there is available, the more you can process an image without losing detail or tones.
For example having as much highlight and shadow detail in your original will mean a smoother and finer looking conversion. You can process more strongly before image breakup occurs. Unless that's what you want, of course. Further contrast tweaks as well as lightening and darkening specific areas all take their toll. The better the start image (in terms of information available for processing) the better the end result. The following seasonal examples show different conversions from the same starting image, and one example of the settings used.


Conversion 1


Conversion 2


Conversion 2 settings

Sometimes, the image after conversion looks fine. That may not be quite enough. Often a small tweak in contrast is required. This is a decision film photographers have to make too. A negative may look good but the resulting print may not be what was ultimately envisaged. The analogue photographer has a choice of what are known as Soft and Hard printing papers. These refer to low and high contrast and have different grades from 0 (low contrast) to 5 (high contrast).

My personal preference is to use the Curves dialog in editing software as it gives much finer control. You can push tonal relationships and contrast much further in mono if you made the same changes in colour the image can look garish and unreal.

Toning originated as a way to increase the stability and lifetime of a silver halide print. By that I mean the silver salts were converted to more chemically stable compounds that would't decompose so readily over time, being more resistant to environmental attack. Think of selenium and gold toning.

But it became a creative tool too. As well as sepia, there was copper toning and production of cyanotypes. The chemicals used were noxiuos and would need careful handling in a lab. To think of them being sloshed around with carefree abandon in a confined darkroom and disposing of the waste down the sink is horrific.

Those processes took time, and if you were heavy handed, a waste of materials too, not to mention expense with something like gold toning!
In Affinity Photo, once you have your mono image you can use the Recolour dialog to mix your own colour tone and it's saturation. Using the Lightnress control adds further variations. In Photoshop the Hue and Saturation tool does the same job.

Nik SilverEfex is a plugin that works in Affinity Photo and Photoshop. As well as offering many conversion settings it has a comprehensive toning section where you can choose the type and strength of the tone applied and control the 'silver' tone and paper tone.

Split toning is where different tones can be present in the shadows and highlights and is something I'll be experimenting more with.

There are hours of fun to be had here, so much so that toning generally is a topic I'll return to in more detail at a future date.

Dedicated Inks
Printing monochrome images for display was very disappointing in the early digital years.The biggest issue was neutrality. Inkjet printing resulted in green or magenta casts, sometimes both on the same print, albeit small they were noticeable. Sending files to a lab producing laser prints onto photographic paper resulted in the same issue where colour paper was used.

You could print using only the black ink. While this did give a neutral result it lacked smoothness and subtelty of tone. Alternatively, you could apply a colour tone, ever so slightly sepia to mimic the old warmtone papers. But that means you didn't get a true black and white print.

Canon and Epson offer printers with light and dark grey inks in addition to black in order to give smooth grey tones. I enjoy the quality of results from my Canon Pro-100S. It's true to say that commercial prints are much better these days too.

All that remains is to wish everyone who's been following this year's blogs a Happy New Year. More in 2020.

All text and images Keith Rowley 2019


pink Plus
16 6.2k 7 United Kingdom
3 Jan 2020 4:19PM
Very interesting series Keith, thanks for your efforts.
I suspect the pre-set filters in Nik Silver efex apply these colour tones in differing manners, I will certainly have a go using your method as it appears to be more subtle than some of the plug-ins we are used to.
Once again thank you and I look forward to your toning series.
All the best for 2020

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dark_lord Plus
15 2.4k 609 England
3 Jan 2020 7:30PM
Thamk you Ian.
saltireblue Plus
9 10.1k 45 Norway
4 Jan 2020 7:02PM

Quote:I suspect the pre-set filters in Nik Silver efex apply these colour tones in differing manners,

Exactly. I personally use the pre-sets as a starting point and very rarely leave an imaged not tweaked after choosing a suitable pre-set. The possibilities and nuances achievable are almost unlimited...

Keith, many thanks for a fine, instructive series.

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