Tuesday, July 2, 2019


I’ve been creating black and white images for over 40 years, and like photographers of my age, I started with processing my own film and hand printing B&W on a variety of the classic papers by Kodak, Ilford, and my favorite Agfa—like Portriga Rapid.

This blog is about “converting” to B&W so, of course I’m talking about the digital process since back in my film days there was NO converting. We decided in advance, based on our subject, wether we were going to use color or B&W film and then printed them on their like media. I had criteria for the use of B&W and color films. And today I have exactly the same criteria for when to use B&W in digital as I did for film.

The Best B&W images have:
  1. Directional light (that means shadows)
  2. Good Blacks and Whites
  3. Texture and/or detail
  4. A strong center of interest
So, let’s start with something old…
Monument Valley Cloud Burst
It’s a nice scene, but it was clearly beyond the dynamic range, as you can see in the color image below, of what Kodachrome 64 could record. I don’t have dramatic shadows here and some of the clouds are already overexposed. Since I don’t have a high-end film scanner I used, at the time, my best DSLR—my canon 5D Mk II with a canon 100mm, f2.8, Macro lens and photographed a bunch of my favorite slides, from 40 years ago, on a light table.  (If your interested in just how I did this I will put a link at the end of this blog to my YouTube channel with a how to video.) They turned out nice and I produced RAW files of on average 22MB and Jpgs with on average 12MB to work with in post. 

Here’s the original color image….
Kodachrome 64 Original
Post processing to a B&W conversion…
  • Used NIK’s HDR Efex single image tone mapping (deep 1) to pull out the sun rays and the cloud burst on the right hand side of the image; this also helped cloud detail.
  • Used NIK’s Silver Efex Pro-2 for B&W; used the Full dynamic harsh preset modified to my taste.
  • Used NIK’s Define 2 for noise reduction.
  • Cropped off some of the bottom and burned that in as well.
It turned out pretty well. I got the drama I wanted by pulling out the details that were barely visible in the color slide and by deepening the darks in the image it brought a three dimensional quality to the scene that did not show in the color version.

Moving on to a digital color image I think the following image illustrates how color, as eye candy, has impact, but does not always hold your interest for long….
 f11.0 @ 1/350 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 26mm
This image, after the initial impact, has little to offer; it’s really, quite literally, flat! Not only is the subject flat, but so its the lighting.. So, looking at the vertical stains on the locomotive’s sides I knew that was something I could enhance with tone mapping….
B&W with HDR Efex
Now we have texture and Lots of Detail all over the image creating the Illusion of depth where the color version had none. 

Post Processing the Image…

NIK’s HDR Efex, single image Tone Mapping, using the Deep 1 preset with tweaks, to bring out the blacks.
B&W conversion using ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) grayscale. Tweaked the yellow, orange, and red sliders to further enhance details.

These are just two of the many ways to create B&W images from your color originals. If you want more complicated methods they’re easy to find, with a search, but you won’t necessarily get better results. It depends on a lot on the quality of the color image you start with.

As promised, here is the link to my YouTube video on slide duplication with a DSLR:  

’Til next week…

Author: Jerry W Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman

1 comment:

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