It’s not too often that we touch base on design or photography related topics. It is, however, something that plenty of people are working with every single day even in the visual effects industry. So many new and exciting things are happening day in and day out concerning 3D software and new updates for video editing systems. It’s hard to remember that sometimes still imagery and design can often times be equally important as a video sequence. With that being said I wanted to dive into some quick tips for photography and photo editing; in this case we’ll look at black and white photography which has stood the test of time. To aid us we’re going to be using Adobe Lightroom 5.
Digital cameras and their accessibility have made it very easy for the average consumer to take some great photographs. Often times, with beginners, its by chance. One thing that can easily ruin these potentially great photos is poor editing. Some photographers believe that no editing should be required at all, which is admirable. However, there are plenty of us out there, myself included, that enjoy the ability to utilize technology and alter or enhance their photographs. And of course there are naturally going to be instances when you just didn’t focus properly, you over or underexposed something, or the photograph just turned out a little bit more blurry than expected. The point is, you will come across photographs that you take and even if they have a minor flaw that doesn’t mean that you need to can the photo all together.
One thing that I run into from time to time is ending up with a photograph where no matter what I do I just can’t seem to find myself satisfied with the image’s colors. Often times, in this case, I will see how the photo looks in black and white. I’d like to say that “black and white photography just looks good,” but it really isn’t the case. With black and white photography contrast and tones are much more noticeable than in color photography. If the image is too flat, the viewer’s brain picks up on it immediately. One thing I often notice in black and white photography is that people tend to neglect the ability to manipulate the saturation and hue of all of the elements in the original photograph. I think when people desaturate a photo they tend to leave it at that and start trying to adjust the photo through shadow and highlight adjustments, which are great but sometimes don’t deliver the desired affect on their own. What I think happens is that people often desaturate a photo in Adobe Lightroom, and when they do so with a preset, for instance, it makes it appear as if the ability to adjust colors is lost (as can be seen below).
You can see how the “vibrance” and “saturation” adjustment bars aren’t selectable now. I know the first time I used a black and white preset I was thrown off by this. This, pretty much, has no importance though if you are going to be editing a black and white photo. Whether or not you are using a preset or just manually dropping the vibrance and saturation what you will want to do is scroll down to the “Camera Calibration” panel. If you don’t see the Camera Calibration panel then right click (ctrl+click) and make sure that the option is selected.
Here is why using this tool can make or break your black and white photography. First I am going to show you a relatively vivid color photograph that I will be working with. There is a good range of very bright colors that work well amongst each other when viewed in color. However, when you drop the saturation from the image your lose a bit of that distinction that was previously there. To note: I have never played with this photograph in black and white so all of the adjustments I make will be purely natural and how I would normally go about things.
Alright… lets get rid of the color.
All I did so far was pull the saturation bar down to a value of “zero” and its pretty dull. Right off the bat a few things I would like to stand out a bit more are things like the definition between the blue sky and the clouds, for the foliage on the ground pop out a bit more as it did when it was green, for skin tones to blend into the background and clothing less; just to name a few! After making my primary adjustments in the Camera Calibration panel I will do a couple finishing touches with highlight and shadow adjustments. First lets get some more definition in the sky. I’d like more contrast so what I will do is boost some of the saturation in my blues and maybe cool it down a bit more by shifting the hue to something deeper.
I pumped the hue up a bit as well as the saturation. Once I found an area I liked as far as contrast goes I pulled it down a bit and here is why. One thing to keep in mind is that when you go and adjust these colors they all interact with one another a little bit. For instance, I am going to go in and adjust my reds next and it will alter the changes I just made to the sky above. So in order to compensate for the changes that I know will be coming when I adjust the reds, I toned down some of the adjustments I made to the blues. Reds and blues interact with each other much more than when adjusting your green primaries. You have a bit more freedom when adjusting your greens. In this case that will be great because I really want the green area below to pop and create contrast between the edge of the skatepark’s coping and the skater’s board. Alright, lets get into the reds. These adjustments will primarily be for dialing in his t-shirt and skin tone to have a bit more definition and distinction from their surroundings.
Above is an example of what I am trying to avoid. In the original image the difference between the color in his t-shirt and pants is night and day. I want to create that same effect in the black and white version as well. I boosted both the red saturation and the red hue but I didn’t get quite the desired affect I wanted, it also made the blue sky a bit darker than I prefer, it looks unnatural. So in this situation I am going to keep the saturation a bit higher because I don’t want the shirt to look white. However instead of boosting the hue upwards I am going to roll it back into a deeper tone because thats going to give me the contrast I am looking for.
Now, as you can see I have the definition and contrast between the shirt and the pants that I was looking for. Much more so than before. Not only that but I now have the sky a bit closer to where I wanted it in the first place. Aside from that I also went in and shifted the greens to get a bit more pop without going too overboard. One thing I’d like to say, however, is don’t be afraid to adjust those bars quite a bit. As you can see I am going back and forth relatively heavy on all of the separate options. You aren’t going to end up with the effect you’re looking for if you are afraid to push the boundaries. Overall I have the tones where I would like them to be right now. It’s time for a couple finishing touches to get this photograph looking how I envision it. As it stands its a bit dark through the whole image. I don’t want to lose a lot of the contrast I have set in place so I will be making some minor adjustments in the blacks, whites, highlights, and shadows.
What I ended up doing was taking the highlights up just a tiny amount and pushing the whites up a little bit so that the grey areas didn’t look as dull. If I would have pushed the highlights up more I would have really made the already pure white areas look completely overexposed. I pumped the blacks up quite a bit because I wanted to get a bit more definition in some of the darker areas throughout the image. In doing so however I ended up losing some of the contrast I had worked to develop. To remedy this all you have to do is take the shadows down a little bit so that the really dark areas still help their lighter surroundings stand out. You can see more of this effect in the foliage towards the bottom of the image, as well as in the underside of the bridge to the subject’s right.
Comparatively side by side you can see some of the differences right away. Overall the final product is lighter and by simply making some adjustments in the Camera Calibration feature that Adobe Lightroom has to offer, we were able to create more distinction between all of the separate elements of the photograph. We see the world in color and its easy for us to distinguish between everything around us with the human eye. This is why I think one of the biggest challenges with black and white photography is making your photographs look natural. Luckily, for those of us who don’t take a perfect photo every time we press down on the shutter button there are many options and routes we can take to correct our mistakes! These options are really only the beginning when dealing with photography and design. Today there are unlimited options and solutions when you are faced with a problem (Click here to view a few). Of course the actions you take will be different depending on each individual photograph but these basic steps, that are often overlooked, can help you out a great deal and save you tons of stress.
Most importantly just don’t give up one your projects. There is always a solution and the best way to learn is to keep trying!