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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Making Your Best B&W

Conversions in the computer have become easier, allowing you to get better results than ever before

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Today, the choice to make a color or a black-and-white image is far different from the era of film. With film, the decision would be made when you loaded your film. If you were shooting a large-format camera, you might have some color and some black-and-white holders ready to give you flexibility, but if you were shooting medium format or 35mm, it was unlikely that you’d be eager to switch back and forth between color and black-and-white on a whim because you’d probably be losing the bulk of a roll of expensive film with every switch. Of course, this is one of the many areas where digital holds an intrinsic advantage over film. You can shoot everything in color and experiment with black-and-white or any other look in the computer. Let’s look at how you can get your best results.

Go With Color
Do you want a color image or a black-and-white image? Don’t give it a second thought. I suggest that you always shoot color and decide afterward whether you want to see the color or convert to monochrome. The choice will be yours, and if you make pictures with your camera’s RAW file, you’ll retain the versatility of changing back and forth from the original color to monochrome to color values through the benefit of nondestructive editing.

Cameras give you the choice of shooting RAW, and with that advantage, you can experiment throughout the process. For example, I use Nikon cameras and can shoot for color in the camera or switch to monochrome in-camera using the Picture Control System; later, using Nikon Capture NX 2 software, I can make changes in-software through Picture Control to switch back. I can do this from monochrome to color or color to monochrome. It gives me incredible versatility.

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Making the best black-and-white conversion used to be a complex affair involving sophisticated use of tools like the Channel Mixer in Photoshop. In the past year or so, some very easy-to-use but powerful software has become available to make it a simple process with better results. Richard Lopinto’s photograph of the Tetons gives you an idea of the possibilities.

An available RAW file format (each camera company has its own version) plus popular JPEG and TIFF formats provide the opportunity for creative variety through available software. I like to experiment, and here, I used Photoshop CS4, Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex plug-ins for Photoshop, onOne Software’s Plug-In Suite 4.5’s PhotoTools for Photoshop, Nikon Capture NX 2 and Nik Software’s Color Efex plug-in for Capture NX 2. Together with the technique that I call “file jumping”—switching back and forth between TIFF, JPEG and NEF—I can take advantage of the benefits from nondestructive editing at steps determined during the process, as well as the versatility of color-monochrome-color choice.


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