Dramatic Sky over Hawthorn #1Threatening sky over a wind bent Hawthorn tree with Ingleborough beyond. Twisleton Scar, near Ingleton, Yorkshire Dales. I have always liked black and white since I took up photography in my early teens. Perhaps it was the ability to control the process between capture to print that I liked, something which at that time, was so much more difficult with colour. Of course I'm taking about the days of film and a darkroom with an enlarger, and trays of chemicals.
I used to spend hours in my little darkroom at the back of the garage trying to get the best out of my images, getting the final product to look something near to what I had imagined. Speaking photographically, somethings don't change, just the process. Hours that used to be spent in the dark room are now spent in front of the computer trying to get my photos looking right. The main difference is that processing colour is now much simpler than it used to be; or is it?
Colour is a subjective thing. We all see colour slightly differently. Those who are unfortunate to be colour blind miss seeing some colours at altogether. The colours we perceive are the product of our eye-brain combination, our memory and experience, hence why we don't need to "white balance" our eyes when we go from from one lighting source to another, we know what the colour should be despite the changing light conditions, so the "correct colour" is what we see.
No matter how sophisticated the camera, it cannot come close to performing as well as the human eye-brain combination. As soon as the image is loaded onto the computer it only gets more complicated.
Getting the colour right from capture to print, well that's a story for another day when I finally get to grips with it, if I ever do! It is something that even photographers with far greater skills and experience than my own have difficulty understanding. It is a complex process. Frequently I am unhappy with the look of the photographs I take. The colours don't look like I remember them, too warm, too cool, wrong tint. I frequently calibrate my screens and camera, take a grey card with me to check the white balance out in the field and still feel dissatisfied with the outcome. Perhaps that's just me, or my eyes, or my computer, or my screen, or...............................
Rather than wrestle with the colour of an image, one solution is to convert it to black and white. Suddenly, the distraction of colour is gone. All that is left is a range of tones from black to white with all the shades of grey in between. It is easy to do in Lightroom or Photoshop, just a click of a button, but it doesn't always give you the best results. Fortunately there's software that allows you to recreate something akin to using traditional black and white film. The ones I have at my disposal are Silver Efex Pro, and OnOne Perfect Black & White. Both will run from within Lightroom or Photoshop, and both will run as stand alone applications. Each comes with a variety of presets and my favourite is being able to emulate a specific type of black and white film.
It may sound strange but black and white films see colour. The visible wavelengths of light react with the emulsion of the film to record the image, but different films respond or react differently to different wavelengths of light. Hence one black and white film may be more sensitive to red, versus another which may have greater sensitivity to say green, or blue. The result is the resulting black and white image would look different dependant on the type of film used.
Both Perfect B&W and Silver Efex can emulate this, including the grain structure. The user can then tweak the setting still further if desired. You can even add a digital coloured filter. Using a coloured filter with film modifies the light reaching the black and white film. They alter how the film records the scene, here it is all carried out digitally.
For example, a favourite filter in a black and white landscape photographers camera bag would be a red filter. This predominately blocks blue light but allowing reds and yellows and greens to pass through. The result, blue skies look darker, more contrasty. I like the red filter, I like dark skies and white clouds. Dramatic skies can really make a photograph, I think so anyway. The nice thing is you can try it, adjust it, change it, or remove it as you like, such is the power of digital image processing.
Earlier this week I was up on top of Twisleton Scar looking across towards Ingleborough. Showers were forecast and the clouds were building as the day warmed up. After a bit of wandering and pondering I settled on taking several exposures around a wind bent hawthorn tree surrounded by limestone pavement and rocks. I imagined the pictures in black and white, and that how these examples were processed back home on the computer. They are the results of using either Silver Efex or OnOne Perfect BW. Each piece of software has strengths and weaknesses, it comes down to personal preference in the end.
The two black and white images demonstrate different film and filter combinations. The result is a greater contrast between the limestone rocks and the grass in each photo.
I hope you like the results, including the colour one to start. If you have a preference as to black & white or colour, or any other questions regarding the software or processing techniques used, drop me a line or leave a comment and I'll get back to you.
Links to the software used are below.