Triumph Over The Color Cast

B&W Saves The Day • Composition And Content • Assembling Gigascapes • Keeping Track
This Article Features Photo Zoom

A four-capture panorama of the Cascades of Central Oregon photographed by George Lepp from a small airplane. The images were sharp through the Plexiglas® window, but the color was skewed to cyan. The generally monochromatic image worked better converted to black-and-white.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF 24-105mm at 1⁄1000 sec. and ƒ/11, ISO 400, converted to black-and-white in Photoshop CS6

B&W Saves The Day
I recently spent a few hours photographing from a small plane, flying along the eastern escarpment of the Cascades in Central Oregon. The weather was gorgeous, and the volcanic peaks were covered with fresh snow. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible in this plane to remove the doors or open the Plexiglas® windows. When I reviewed the captures later in the day, I was very disappointed by their distinctly cyan cast, even though they were otherwise of good quality in terms of sharpness, tone and content. While seeking solutions to this problem, I became aware that the image, with the exception of the dark blue sky, was fairly monochromatic in reality; that is, color wasn’t an important factor in the scene. It wasn’t a difficult decision to convert these captures to black-and-white, but it did require care to retain detail in the white snow, black lava outcroppings and massive forest areas while keeping the tone of the dark blue sky.

Composition and Content

Q I shoot exclusively digital color files. How do I determine which images would make good black-and-white conversions? Is there a way I should be photographing that would facilitate black-and-white images?
P. Forgues

A What’s the essence of a good black-and-white image? Composition and content. These are important factors in color images, also, but with color you have…well, color, to carry the day if the other elements of the composition are weak. With black-and-white, it’s all about the tones that point the viewer to the story.

A promising black-and-white subject stands on its own merits; color can’t be the reason for being. If the subject is defined mostly by its color, it’s probably not going to be a strong black-and-white image. An obvious example would be a bright red blossom. If the structure of the flower is very interesting, with a range of lights and darks, shadows and highlights, you might emphasize these qualities with a black-and-white conversion—thus bringing the viewer’s attention to elements of the blossom that may have been obscured by bright color.

A sense of movement, such as a curving road through a landscape or a strong repetitive design, can be very effective in black-and-white renditions. As a final note, tones set a mood, and if the mood lends itself to a low-contrast capture, then the grays will work for you in the black-and-white conversion.

Another example I like to use when talking about color vs. black-and-white interpretations is the Palouse area of eastern Washington State. Here, the rolling hills for many miles are dedicated to grain crops, mostly wheat, that in early spring and late fall offer amazing green or gold striped patterns that swirl and move with and across the contours of the land. If the gold is there, the image is about fall and the harvest; if the green is there, the image is about spring planting. But in black-and-white, a photograph of the Palouse fields is about the sky and the land and the farmer who made the patterns with her tractor. The image becomes more basic, reduced to elements of design. One of my favorite photographers of the Palouse area is Darrell Gulin, who has a gallery of Palouse images at his website,

Color or not, you’re always looking for a properly exposed, sharp image. The file may lend itself to black-and-white if there’s a strong tonal range, with good separation of those tones, meaning that you’ll probably have solid whites as well as blacks within the image after it’s converted. The viewer’s eye will be drawn to lighter elements of the image, so be aware of distracting highlights and get the light on your subject. A sense of movement, such as a curving road through a landscape or a strong repetitive design, can be very effective in black-and-white renditions. As a final note, tones set a mood, and if the mood lends itself to a low-contrast capture, then the grays will work for you in the black-and-white conversion.

Assembling Gigascapes

Q I’ve been working with the GigaPan system to create large, high-resolution landscape panoramas from a grid of captures. It’s a struggle to composite the separate images and work with the resulting massive multiple-gigabyte files. How do you deal with this problem?
J. Reilly
Seattle, Washington

A Working with big images means big files; there’s no getting around it. But there are a couple of options you can apply to control file size, depending upon how particular you are about the final quality of your panorama. My preferred method is to photograph all of the segments in RAW format, then bring them into Lightroom, optimize one representative capture and sync the rest to match. From Lightroom, I save the individual files into a single folder as 8-bit TIFF files. Optimizing the captured files in their original 16-bit format gives me more control and higher quality; reducing their size to 8-bit TIFFs makes them easier to composite in the GigaPan software, Autopano Giga 3.0 or Autopano Pro 3.0 (from Once assembled, they then can be finalized within the 4 GB size limitation of the TIFF format in Photoshop.

You could save the files in JPEG format after optimization, but I find the JPEG size limitation to be far too restrictive for my panoramas. And you could, of course, make your original captures in JPEG format, but recognize that the high-resolution result you seek will be compromised by the initial JPEG capture, which won’t contain the same amount of information as a RAW capture.

Keeping Track
An occupational hazard of photography, photo safaris and camera club outings is the possible loss of equipment. I’ve used a number of labeling systems to keep track of mine, from expensive “permanent” custom labels to Dymo labels to simple designs from my own computer and printer. I recently encountered a new system, FinderCodes, that allows you to label your equipment (or your pet) with a QR code that can be scanned from smartphones or entered on the FinderCodes website ( The company offers several types of labels, ranging from plastic tags to small stick-ons that can be adhered to camera bodies, lenses and tripods. The good person who finds your stuff scans the label with a smartphone, receives your message, contact information, reward offering or other instructions, and you receive a message with approximate location anytime the QR code is scanned.

Follow George Lepp‘s exploits, see his latest photographs and be part of the discussion on his Facebook page: Lepp is part of the OP Blog at

One of North America’s best-known contemporary outdoor and nature photographers and a leader in the field of digital imaging and photographic education, Lepp is the author of many books and the field editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine. One of Canon’s original Explorers of Light, Lepp finds inspiration in advancing technology that fuels creative innovation and expression of his life-long fascination with the natural world.