The removal of the element of colour, and with it the implication of reproducing reality, has a useful and interesting effect on processing. Much more can be done in interpreting the tonal range. You can make much more aggressive changes to the overall brightness and to the contrast than would be reasonable with colour.
In order to demonstrate this, take or choose from image that you already have, two photographs that you think would best suit the following adjustments:
- A strong increase in contrast that will include clipping (Loss of detail) in at least the shadow areas. A pronounced S-cure is the standard method.
- Low key or high key treatment, in which the entire brightness range is shifted down or up the scale. Curves or levels are equally useful in creating this effect.
Create these effects, one for each image, but in two versions – In colour and in black and white. You should find that the effects can be produces more strongly for the black and white images, than for the colour.
The traditional shooting skills included the ability to ‘See’ in the mind’s eye, how a scene full of colour could translate into an image dominated by tone, line and shape. A specialist part of this was to recognise how each colour would appear. Whether light or mid-tone or dark. Note the results.
I kept the train theme for this exercise. My first image was taken whilst I was on holiday, of the Bernina Express Train journey through the Swiss Alps.
Strong Increase in Contrast;
Using Lightroom, I opened a copy of this image.
High Contrast (S curve), Colour:
As requested above, I produced a pronounced S curve. The S curve resulted in an image that had patches of loss of information and detail, especially in the pure white and dark black areas.
With the image above, I converted it to black and white, but kept the same values and the same S curve.
High Contrast (S curve), Black and White:
As with the colour version, the black and white image also resulted in patches of loss of information and data, in the pure white and dark black areas.
The colour image looks better than the black and white, however, I think that the black and white version would look better with some adjustments.
With this part of the exercise, the results are exactly how I expected them. I expected loss of detail in the bright and dark areas, with loss of detail. Using strong S curves, do produce very interesting image, and I think that with some adjustment, they could make very striking images.
Low Key, High Key;
For the second set of adjustments, I used an image of two trains that I took whilst on a steam train journey near my home.
I began by using a copy of the image above, and created the Low Key Images.
For this image, I slid the entire brightness range down the scale, towards the ‘Black/Shadow’ area of the histogram. I found that if you slid it all towards the shadows, your image would be completely black and you would be able to see anything. In order to keep the image viewable, and to still keep some details, I had to adjust the contrast, highlights, shadows etc.
With the colour image, there is loss of detail in the dark, shadow areas. However, I do like the colour of the sky and the contrast between the red train and the sky. I think that this image would work well, if I lightened the shadow areas. I think it would be interesting.
I then converted the image to black and white.
There is still loss of detail in the dark shadow areas.
Comparing the two versions, I definitely prefer the black and white. You are able manipulate the tones and contrast easier with the black and white, than with the colour. However, the colour version has kept a lot more of the details such as the clouds in the sky and the leaves on the trees.
I used another copy of the original image, and used it to make two high key images.
With this image, the blue sky is pale, there is an overall ‘Washes Out’ effect to the image. There is a small amount of noise in the image, with a small amount of detail loss around the window frame areas. The overall detail in the image however, is sharper and clearer than the low key images.
I converted this image to black and white.
With this image, the noise is more prominent. The details in the pylon is less sharp than the colour version.
Comparing the image, I definitely prefer the colour version to the black and white. The black and white looses my attention, because the image is very washed out, however, the colour in the colour image, is what pulls my attention to it.
This exercise has clearly shown that black and white images are capable of a lot more tonal adjustments than colour images. With the black and white images, you rely more on the shapes, tones and details. This is what creates an interesting image, whereas with the colour image, you do rely on the colour and the strength / saturation of the colour. I think this is why I chose the preference for the colour high key image to the high key black and white image. If the black and white image had the correct tonal adjustments, I would have most likely have chosen that as my favourite, however, because it was too ‘Grey’ and pale, I chose the colour, because I found it more interesting.