172 Digital Darkroom
Black and White
Black and White
The history of photography is largely the history of
black and white. Color came into the picture only rela-
ively recently. There are still those who feel that the
only truly artistic photo is a black and white photo.
If you fancy your photos as black and white imagery,
it’s good news that thanks to the digital darkroom col-
r photos can easily be transformed. I’ve written trans-
ther than converted because you don’t want
to do just a conversion that simply drops the color data
from the digital file.
It’s easy to convert the mode of any color image to
grayscale in Photoshop, and this does have the effect of
simply dropping the data about color to produce a ba-
black and white version. Unfortunately, at the same
time you lose exposure subtleties and the full range of
contrast. This information is only included in the com
lete set of data that includes all the color channels.
Fortunately, there are a number of effective ways of
going about converting from color to black and white
that do retain the color information necessary for a
rich translation (see the example on pages 174–175 for
some specifics). Once an image has been converted to
monochrome, it’s possible to add many interesting ef
ects, such as selective softening, simulated film grain,
and simulated palladium or platinum toning (photo,
It’s worth sitting back and thinking about what kinds
of photos work well in black and white, because many
photos work better in color. It’s simply a fact of life that
many of today’s digital photographers don’t shoot with
black and white conversion in mind.
If you do have a hankering to make great black and white
photos, look for situations with stark, high contrast light.
Try to expose the photo for midtones so the darkest ar-
as are truly black and the bright areas don’t blow out.
For the most part, compositions that work well in
black and white photos are simple and dramatic. In any
event, color can’t play a crucial role in the photo com-
osition. I think if you start converting your images to
black and white that there may be fewer suitable candi-
ates than you initially expect; however, you’ll quickly
learn which images work, and which ones don’t.
I photographed the cliffs of Church Towers beyond the forest of the Yosemite Valley
floor in a winter snowstorm. To me, the world looked stark, and was composed of
blacks, whites, and grays.
Top, page 173: The original RAW capture looked almost black and white to start with.
Middle, page 173: I added color and a sense of depth in the RAW conversion process.
Bottom, page 173: I used blending modes and selective effects to enhance the image in
Above: Coming full circle, I converted the enhanced image to black and white, taking
care that the subtle color tones were delicately rendered in this version.
For a “toned” version of this black and white image, see pages 150–151.
All: 18–200mm VR zoom lens at 18mm, 1/200 of a second at f/10 and ISO 200, hand-held.
174 Digital Darkroom
This is a photo of an ancient Bristlecone Pine, one of
the oldest living things, found in the mountains on
the California–Nevada border.
Here’s my color version following the RAW conver
sion process. I thought this photo, with its dramatic
shapes and rather harsh contrast, would work well
for a black and white conversion.
I created this version of the Bristlecone Pine by mak-
ing a new all-black layer and using color blending
mode (see page 164) to blend it with the image
The conversion method works a little bit better than
simply dropping the color data by converting the
image to grayscale mode, but doesn’t lead to a very
dramatic black and white photo.
This version of the Bristlecone Pine shows simulated
film grain added to make the photo look more like a
“real” black and white print.