Although digital technology replaced film and wet darkroom magic, the black & white – or Monochrome – photograph is still popular today. Black & white is one way of moving away from reality, to infuse your work with beauty – dare we say Art?
I don’t miss the old wet darkroom, with its toxic, smelly chemicals and laborious processes, and now instead labour in front of a computer monitor to progress towards a creative vision. For image editing, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are fine software packages, with other programs available with less of a following and maybe a cheaper price.
For creation of black & white images, start with a good colour picture, ideally a RAW image. It is a known trick among photographers that if you cannot achieve good results with a colour image then convert to monochrome instead. I would not recommend this approach. Instead, have in mind at the picture taking stage that a black & white image is required. If you take RAW (not jpeg) images then many cameras can be configured to show a black and white image on the rear-view screen for you to inspect immediately after taking the picture. This will help you visualise the monochrome effect and the RAW image will retain the colour information we need later.
There are several ways of converting colour images to monochrome in Lightroom or Photoshop, but some are not ideal for best results. Keep in mind you may want to go back and make changes to your edit later.
When you have uploaded the RAW images from the camera, and after making your initial basic adjustments (exposure, black/white points), we would advise selecting Black & White treatment, then B&W mix in Lightroom; or a Black & White adjustment layer in Photoshop.
Back in black & white film days, coloured filters were fitted over the lens to affect the tones created by blue sky, green grass etc. The Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments above perform a similar move, and you can adjust to suit. That done: you can add further adjustments toward your vision.
The same hidebound composition ‘rules’ apply in monochrome as in colour images, but you can ignore colour theory here. Monochrome pictures are more tolerant of editing adjustments than colour (especially before the digital darkroom), so more radical changes to tones can be made without rejection by the viewer.
Just like the wet darkroom, dodge and burn technique can be used to manipulate the tones in the picture – but now, instead of waving pieces of card under the enlarger, a more versatile method may be used where we use a brush tool to ‘paint with light’.
There is plenty of scope. How far you go with editing depends if you wish to cross the line away from reality, or simply guide the viewers eyes; it’s not simply black & white.
In December our club holds a Monochrome print competition when members can present their pictures to the judge for critique and maybe even a prize.