EXERCISE: Strength of Interpretation

The removal of the element of colour, and with it the implication of reproducing reality, has a useful and interesting effect on processing.  Basically, 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.  To demonstrate this, take, or choose from images 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-curve 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 produced 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 and line and shape.  A specialist part of this was to recognise how each colour would appear – whether light or mid-tome or dark.  Note the results in your learning log.

Reading through the requirements of this exercise (which I admit to finding a little confusing), the object of this exercise is to create dramatic black and white images from images originally conceived with a colour pallet in mind.  The notes suggest that although certain alterations can be made to colour photos, conversion to black and white allows for more interpretation through the tonal range, thus allowing aggressive changes to be made in post-processing.

Image one: Strong Contrast

Shutter Speed 1/500; Aperture F3.8; Focal Length 34mm; ISO 160; Spot Metering; AWB - Polarising Filter applied

Shutter Speed 1/500; Aperture F3.8; Focal Length 34mm; ISO 160; Spot Metering; AWB – Polarising Filter applied

I took this image during a recent trip to London.  Taken at lunchtime on a partially cloudy day, I have used a polarising filter to assist in bringing detail to the sky and to bring more control to any highlights caused by the sun.

The first process undertaken was to create an aggressive S-Curve, so that clipping became apparent in both the lowlights and highlights.

S-Curve Applied

S-Curve Applied

This process has really brought out the detail of the brickwork in the bridge and given the clouds a much bluer, almost stormy feel to them.  The lowlight clipping is present in the dark areas under the bridge as well as in those area not touched by the sun.  The highlights are present in the sky and the boat to the left of the frame.  The reflections on the river also border on being blown out.

The S-Curve applied here is quiet server, especially to the right or brighter elements of the histogram.

S-Curve Used

S-Curve Used

It took more manipulation to achieve the highlights than it did to produce the lowlights, which is evident in the graph.

The final point of processing for this image was to conduct a straight conversion to black and white.

Black and White Conversion

Black and White Conversion

This image does prove that there is a greater tonal range available within black and white images, probably because the lack of colour brings out the detail more, but I feel that this conversion is a little too harsh as the lowlights are completely black, with no detail present, especially underneath the bridge.  The sky is also far too blown, which is probably highlighted due to its expanse within the frame, although, I do like the amount of detail contained in the towers and turrets (not present in the colour image), which are further highlighted against the white expanse of the blown out highlights in the sky.

Image two: High Key

Taken early in the summer this original image is already quiet delicate but a good range of tones are available across the histogram.

Shutter Speed 1/320; Aperture F5.6; Focal Length 135mm; ISO 100; Spot Metering; White Balance Sunny

Shutter Speed 1/320; Aperture F5.6; Focal Length 135mm; ISO 100; Spot Metering; White Balance Sunny

First, I went to the Levels application and pushed the histogram so that clipping became present in the highlights.

Levels Applied

Levels Applied

Here we can see that the image has taken on a brighter hue and that the tips of the petals are clipped, with quiet a bit of detail lost giving the bloom a halo effect.

The final post processing procedure was to apply a straight black and white conversion to the image.

Black and White conversion

Black and White conversion

Of the two images used in this exercise, I prefer the black and white conversion of the dandelion over that of tower bridge.  Here I feel that the lack of colour and inclusion of tones actually enhances the image and show far more detail than it’s coloured counterpart.  The tones from black to white are softer making an already nice shot into a classier reproduction.

Conclusion:

Considering I did not really understand the expectation of this exercise, I have found this quiet an interesting task to complete, as it has given me yet more insight into not only black and white photography, but also how mono changes to images can be achieved in Photoshop.

Whilst conducting the procedures, it became more obvious with the results that it is easier to manipulate for black and white imagery than for colour, as the tones in black and white are more forgiving than they are in colour photography.

It has also shown, or even confirmed, that not everything is suitable for conversion and there are some instances where conversion can be taken too far, such as in the procedures used in the image of Tower Bridge.

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