Quick Tips for Authentic Black and White Photography

by Team Nader
Quick Tips for Authentic Black and White Photography

Black and white photography is a process I have studied and used since leaving University a while ago and as photographer for over 20 years; I do know a thing or two about the process of shooting, capturing and processing black and white photography. Having started a photographic career in the darkroom both processing and printing monochrome for a photo book and clients often for trips on, location and branded products images the digital darkroom was initially a challenge but soon learned my digital workflow.

What you will learn here in the article are some essential insider snippets from my workflow. The snippets will help you move forward ad get more confident in your monochrome image conversions. Whilst this is not the full step by step guide yet. It will set you on a more straightforward path to monochrome perfection within the digital darkroom. We will begin later this year be running some group classes on the subject via Zoom, and James Nader Education (being built right now) will have in-depth

When shooting black and white fashion photography, and converting from full-colour Raw files to monochrome is just as important as getting great shots in-camera. Black and white images were all photographers had at one time and so understanding the tonal range was necessary. Ansel Adams used the Zone System, which we will talk about in another post. The tonal range of the original capture is what depicts the mid-tones and dynamic range and the more dynamic range, the better the conversion. It will also allow a better application of film styled presets to create authentic monochrome pictures. It is also important to note that not all pictures look great as a monochrome conversion.

Briefly, the Zone System is a system by which the photographer understands and controls every level of light and dark to their best advantage. It works in digital just as it does for sheet film. Having a system allows an understanding of the shot and can be in control instead of taking whatever is seen and captured.

Why Shoot in Full Colour and in Raw?

There have been a few mishaps over the years when setting the camera to the in-camera monochrome settings and in one case on a clients shoot for whatever the reason the assistant had set the camera and Capture One to capture in monochrome, the resulting files had colour information stripped as the camera was capturing in JPG? Instead of Raw, the file data was clipped, and the result was heavy banding in the gradient of the background.

It is essential to shoot in raw and in colour, this allows the greatest of detail and in the conversion from colour to monochrome little is lost and adds o a better tonal contrast of the image in the mid-tones.

Is it Wise to Use Presets Purchased From Online?

Presets can be a wise choice at times and a better choice when an understanding of how to apply them and when. Presets are not always the best option if a photographer has no real idea of Photoshop, Lightroom, Luminar or Silver Effex Pro. The best process initially is to learn the conversion strategy with a chosen software, allowing for an understanding of the desaturation process. Once this has been learned, applying presets will be of benefit because of the greater understanding of the full process. So yes purchase presets but become better informed of how to apply them and when.

Starting With a Flat Profile Image.

Effective monochrome or black and white photography is all about the tones present in the image. A more comprehensive dynamic range offers a more successful conversion from colour to monochrome.
Starting with a program such as Photoshop or Lightroom is perfect. The conversion should render initially a flat toned image which can then have better conversion rates.

Do Not Simply Desaturate Your Image!

Most people I talk to generally when converting from colour to black and white tend to desaturate the image. Desaturation is not the best way, as some colour information can be compromised. Starting with the sliders in camera raw or Lightroom is the best foot forward, and the best way is to use the colour sliders such as saturation or the best vibrance. Experience has shown over the years this is the best way of converting the image for my creative pallet.

Using Lightroom clarity, texture, highlights and white all play an essential part in getting a perfect density black and white image with an excellent dynamic range. The same goes for Photoshop. Luminar is a little different, and then there is the opportunity to use either Tonality or SilverEffex Pro.
All of these software conversions will be added to the member’s area when we have the example video shot.

Nik Efex by DxO Interface with Black and White conversion

Using Monochrome Filters Including Red & Green

Working with the skin is slightly more delicate than working on a landscape. A models face has many similar skin tones to it, and subtle changes can distort these and throw the look of the models face off. The most effective control of the black and white seems to be in Photoshop camera raw and Lightroom, although tonality has an excellent interface. Recently we purchased Nik Effex which was owned by Google and is now owned by DxO. we are still experimenting with this software, but it seems to offer comprehensive control over the image and includes grain simulation and film types which is useful.

Photoshop and Camera Raw Monochrome / Black and White Conversion with Clarity adding clarity makes the image more punchy in comparison to Silver Efex with out clarity.

To Use The Clarity And Contrast Controls

After working on the image with all, possibilities, it is time to turn to the details. When creating a final look sometimes, it is an acceptable policy not to sharpen the image globally. Selective sharpening is acceptable here. This sharpening can be done in layers using a high pass layer which will sharpen all of the images globally, but then cutting back with the eraser tool showing areas which are best-suited to a sharpen, maybe the eyes or lips or even hair. Selective sharpening is ok but not always needed. The focus should have been already set within the camera and oversharpening creates a more digital effect whereas film had a softer profile overall and allowed for non-pin-sharp pictures.

Lightroom has a great selection of tool similar to Photoshop but I feel I get a little more control over the image in Lightroom

The black and white conversion process is not that complicated, but following a few simple rules and then interface these with your own techniques, soon being a master being a classic master monochrome shooter is possible. This type of detailed workflow can definitely take more time than simply clicking on a preset, and end up with far superior images; however, presets are a good starting point and allows the learning of how monochrome sits within a personalised workflow.

Luminar I am not that experienced with yet and will need to experiment a little more, however tonal range seemed interesting and realistic to the eye

Next Month

Next month we will have more in-depth content about Black and White and how James Nader processes his monochrome images. Stage by stage conversion and applications which have accepted by clients and brands all over. We will be giving away some sample presets and offering some small collections of monochrome presets which will be all about film emulations.

We hope to see you signed up on the Blog and register your interest on the new website in process for the James Nader Education programme.

Some interesting Books for you to read which will help for now if you need them. I have these also

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