More On Black & White: Choices!

Don, and I, have been posting a fair number of Black & White images on our Facebook page lately (  The reason for this?  It’s simple we both appreciate what a B&W image has to offer and we both like B&W.

I spent some time yesterday morning around Rockport Harbor and for a cloudy overcast day I got some great images (that’s another story….).  The color image here is a new angle for me as I’ve never taken photographs like this before at the harbor.  First of all, what’s neat is how the pier in front of me hides the little harbor but you can see the houses along the street behind it.  Almost looks like they’re on the pier.  Anyway, when I took this photo I knew it was meant to be a B&W image.  Think about it for a moment. Check out the colors along the edge of that pier.  Kind of ‘yucky’ if you ask me.  This is a great example where B&W can come in and hide those not so pleaseant colors.  I think it works well in this image.  Let me know what you think.  You may or may not agree with me!

So, the B&W image was processed in Nik’s Silver Efx Pro (plug-in) out of Lightroom (ver 3).  I could have easily used Lightroom (LR3) to simply make the conversion over to B&W but I enjoy using the Silver Efx pro as the presets are great to work with and I can create my own presets as well.    Oh, this shot was taken with a 50mm Makro Zeiss lens on my full frame camera.  Not because it’s a macro lens but since I was only using a ‘normal’ focal length lens for a while and zooming with my feet!  The B&W image here:

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Photography as a usable process goes back to the 1820s with the development of chemical photography.  Louis Daguerre took the first ever photo of a person in 1838 when, while taking a daguerreotype of a Paris street, a pedestrian stopped for a shoe shine, long enough to be captured by the long exposure (several minutes).  The first glass negative was made in late 1839.  George Eastman developed the technology of film to replace photographic plates in 1884. All of this in Black and white (B&W).  Color images were not to ‘arrive’ until 1861.

So, why do I like to think in Black & White?  Well, there are a few reasons.  One of them is that Black & White images remind me of the history of photography and where it all started.  But there are many more as well.  Let’s explore this further.

So, for some simple reasons as to why one should ‘think in black & white’ might be:

  • B&W  works with Portraits, scenics, studio, urban landscapes, street photography & architecture….just about any subject
  • B&W  avoids the distractions that can arise from a color image
  • B&W can help an image that may have exposure ‘problems’
  • B&W can tell a different ‘story’ about your image (this may be the most important reason!)


The image of the old boats in a field in black & white tell a far different ‘story’ than the one in color. Wouldn’t you agree?!

So, what tools are available to turn a color image into B&W?

  • RAW file to Adobe Camera Raw to Photoshop, or Elements
  • Photoshop  or Elements – B&W Adjustment Tool
  • Lightroom (all versions)

I suggest leaving your software in auto mode for converting to B&W.  I don’t think I’ve ever had an image where auto was the answer but at least it gives you a starting point!

Plug Ins like:

  • Nik Software’s Silver Efx Pro
    • OnOne’s software suite
    • Topaz’ software suite
    • And many more….

What kind of images work best? Examples might include:
• Image with a lot of detail or complex subjects
• Image with a good/broad tonal range
• Image with an odd color that overshadows the rest of the image
• HDR can help create a great B&W by…
i. Providing detail in the shadows
ii. Avoiding burned out highlight/white areas to capture that big tonal range

The Lighthouse image is a toss up for me.  I think I prefer it in color as opposed to B&W.  Again, one’s preference.

The following two images illustrate lots of detail with a broad tonal range.  HDR techniques were used here.  If an image requires the use of HDR techniques and the resultant color image looks too unrealistic then that image is a perfect candidate to be converted to Black & White.

The orange color in the next image of the dinghy is not the most appealing color so >> to Black & White it goes!

This scene from Essex, MA is nice in color but note the clouds in the black & white version. They get more ‘depth’. The old home also adds to the ‘story’ in B&W.

So, Black & White photography is best achieved by doing a few things when you’re out looking for subjects.
• Think about Black & White photography
• When you’re reviewing your images try converting some to B&W to see how they look
• Study books and articles on Black & White photography. Some images easily lend themselves to B&W whereas others simply don’t.


Finally, I would suggest that you might want to challenge yourself to create images in Black & White.

Black & White photography can be a very rewarding aspect to your photography. Think about it!

Robert Ring

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New England Photo Workshops (NEPW) is the vision of local photographers Bob Ring and Don Toothaker.  Life long residents of Massachusetts, they are committed to exploring, photographing, and sharing the distinct beauty of New England with photographers of every level. Each workshop is designed to provide attendees with a variety of subjects and create a diverse experience for growth in learning.  Using hands on instruction and classroom discussion they work tirelessly guiding clients in the use of cameras, lenses, image processing, and personal vision.

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