Back in the 80s, Black and White was often seen as old fashioned and uninteresting. Most developing labs could not even deal with black and white film, and had to send it away to be developed. It became the domain of those with their own darkrooms (ahhhh the good old days).
Since the digital revolution black and white has started to boom again. Black and white is a bit of a misnomer, as an image consists not just of black and white pixels, but many shades of grey in between. But who am I to go against the well established convention so I'll stick to calling it black and white (B&W for short) or monotone.
By removing colour from an image, it focuses the viewer’s attention on form and composition, and helps emphasise qualities in the image such as shape and texture. Although most cameras have a mode to shoot in black and white, it is always better to shoot in colour and convert to monochrome later. You will have more control over the conversion process, and you'll retain the option to keep the colour version as your preferred option.
The skills needed to take good black and white photos are quite different from colour, as it is often the colour that attracts your eye to a particular picture, whereas with black and white, all you have are different levels of brightness. The skill that needs to be learned is to see the world in black and white.
Converting to Black and White
There are many options available to you to convert your colour image into monochrome image. These include:
- Desaturate the image
- The Channel Mixer
- Use LAB mode
- Luminosity Blending
There may be others depending on what software you use. I (Scott) haven’t had a lot of experience with LAB mode and Luminosity Blending.
Convert to Greyscale
This is the simplest way to create a black and white image from a colour photograph, it also probably produces the closest image to what the camera would have come up with if you used the black and white mode. It is often dismissed as not worth bothering with, because it is so simple. However I think that if you just starting to try monotone photography you should give it a go - you can always hit undo if you don’t like the results.
Note: This option may automatically reduce the image down to a single channel. Many image editing filters and effects require a 3 channel image to work, so you may then need to convert the image back to RGB mode (although it will remain grey as the colours have been removed).
Another simple method that will produce quite a different monotone image from that of the “Convert to Grayscale” option. Sometimes it can look better. It does have the advantage that it leaves the image as an RGB image, and therefore you can apply all the usual effects and filters.
The Channel Mixer
The channel mixer is probably one of the most used conversion methods. The chip in your camera is a colour device, with three primary colours that come from the sensor. A black and white image contains just one channel of information, there must be some element of “weighting” involved (i.e. how much of the red, the green and the blue should be used to make up the shade of grey).
Back at the dawn of photography when black and white was the only option, photographers used coloured filters (in front of the lens) to either increase or reduce the a particular colour (a red filter on a blue cloudy sky would exaggerate the contrast in this area in the black and white image). All that is happening is that the red filter is allowing red light through and blocking other colours. Colours that get blocked appear darker ; in this case blue is getting blocked, being at almost the total opposite of the spectrum to red and therefore very dark. This way you have more control over the conversion process, as the channel mixer acts a little like these filters.
Depending on your software you will see at least three sliders labelled red, green and blue. There will probably be a check box labelled monochrome which needs to be selected if you want the output to be a greyscale image. The values of the colours should add up to 100% if you want the resulting image to have the same average brightness as the original.
Setting the red value to 100% and green and blue values to 0% will show a bright area corresponding to the areas of red in the image. If you want to mimic the luminosity received by the human eye, you should set the values to about 30% (red), 59% (green) and 11% (blue)
Hue-Saturation Adjustment Layer
This is a very flexible way of converting your image to black and is it keeps the original colour image (on the background layer) in tact while allowing you to work with the black and white image. But requires a more in depth knowledge of the software you are working with. The effect can be very similar to the Desaturate option above, but using a Hue-Saturation Adjustment Layer offers you a similar level of control to the channel mixer. In fact, if you use two Hue-Saturation adjustment layers, you will have even more control.
- Create two hue-saturation adjustment layers.
- On the uppermost one, set the blending mode to 'colour' and the saturation to -100.
- You can now adjust the hue slider on the lower one to select the colour filter you want to emulate, and the saturation slider in this layer to control the amount of effect the filter has.
It is worth having a playing around with and see what effects you can get.
Use LAB mode
LAB mode is just one of many colour spaces that available in Photoshop (and other packages). LAB mode is able to represent the largest range of colours possible in an image. Like RGB, it is a 3-channel colour mode. However, whereas RGB mode uses the amount of each of three primary colours, LAB uses a lightness channel and two colour channels. Therefore if you convert your image to LAB mode, and then click on the Lightness channel in the Channels Palette, you will see the black and white image. To delete the 2 colour channels now, simply change the mode to greyscale and the colour information is removed from the image. Although LAB colour is based on the human perception of colour, black and white images created in this way often appear too light to too dark. There is a technique called luminosity blending which can correct for this.
This is one of the more complex methods of converting a colour image to black and white. It involves putting the photograph onto a layer above a plain white layer, and then changing the blend mode from 'Normal' to 'Luminosity' (called Luminance in Paint Shop Pro).
Here's a step by step approach for Photoshop users:
- Promote the background layer with your photo on to a normal layer by renaming it or double-clicking on the word 'Background' in the layers palette.
- Insert a pure white layer beneath the picture layer (any colour other than white, grey or black will add a tint to the picture)
- Set the blend mode of the picture layer to Luminosity.
A long time ago when I (Scott) first started to take photos I was convinced it was the camera that could make me a better photographer. As my passion for photography grew, I immersed myself in countless photographic magazines and books. I studied the work from photographers like William Albert Allard, Mary Ellen Mark, and Gordon Parks, looking for information for insight into what camera gear they had used. My mistake was in believing that I have to use the same equipment at what they had if I wanted to take great photos. But even with all that great gear I found myself always coming back to the same camera and lens setup (An old Minolta SLR with a handful of lenses).... Why? Because it was a set up the worked for me. Many years latter Chase Jarvis coined the phrase "the best camera is the one you have with you". So basically it isn't that important what camera you use, what is important is how you use it. That said lenses do play a very important role but that is a topic for another day.
If you are using a modern camera, when you look through the view finder and press the shutter release button half way down your camera will make an exposure reading (as well as start to focus). In short it will look how much light is there available, this is called the EV (exposure value) and will be the basis for your photo depending on how you set your camera. The camera I use the most has 3 basic metering modes, naturally not every one uses the same Cameras as what I have so please refer to your camera hand book.
Your camera is only measuring the light that it can see, and may be fooled into measuring incorrectly in a variety of different lighting situations. The EV that the camera measures is also only a guideline based on the decisions made my an engineer in a lab somewhere, and my not be the correct value for the image you want to make.
The 3 aspects (settings) of your exposure are all in your control and changing any one will not only have effect the final image but also one or both of the other two settings e.g. I like to shoot with my cameras in A mode. I set the f/ (aperture) to the d.o.f that I want and I chose the ISO to match the lighting conditions (dependant on approximately what speed I want to shoot at) . If I adjust my f/ and leave the ISO where it was my camera will automatically compensate by adjusting the shutter speed. Remember you are taking the photo not the camera.
There are two great tools built into your camera to help you check and adjust your EV, the Histogram and the EV compensation both of which if used correctly will save you a lot of time latter when you are correcting/editing your images. Using the histogram can be overwhelming at first but is something that every photographer should understand to get the best results from their camera (and we will cover it at a later date)
While we were doing the "Studio 101" workshop the topic of different light modifiers came up a lot. So we decided to run a workshop based on that exact idea "Beauty dish vs Soft box". The concept was simple, we set up a large soft box 45degrees to the model and took a few photos. Once every one had taken a few photos we swapped the soft box for a white beauty dish, then a silver beauty dish and finally a silver beauty dish with a honey comb grid.
Caroline, A dress maker from here in the area modelled her fantastic hand made Tudor period dresses for us. Thanks for the fantastic work and amazing dresses.
After everyone had tried out all the different light formers and we had discussed the differences it was time to get down to some serious shooting. We set up the "Pseudo Light ring" again and spend the next hour or so getting some fantastic shots
As we didn't move the lights around much there isn't a lot in the way of lighting diagrams this time, due to the fact that we simply changed light modifiers so we could compare the differences.
And las but not least our behind the scenes video and a group shot.
About 12 months ago I (Scott) was chatting with Kat Bradshaw from Kat Bradshaw photography … She was talking about her smoke machine that a friend of hers wanted to borrow. As a joke I asked to borrow it, and like the wonderful person that she is she said yes, but lets be honest the postage from Nashville Tennessee to Karlsruhe Germany would be a killer.
Not that long ago we did “The walking dead” shoot , and I thought it would be a great chance to use a smoke machine in combination with a shooting. I asked m-arx organised a rental as he “Knows someone”. The machine was amazing but way to powerful for our studio, so I started to look at what eBay had to offer.
The best deal from a reputable dealer, was a NM040 - 400 Watt Smoke Machine with 5l of fog fluid.
Heating time: circa 7 minutes
Spray distance: circa 6 meters
Fluid capacity: 0.75l
Maximum spray time: 40-50 seconds
Dimensions: (WxLxH) 132 x 242 x 102 mm
Fog Capacity: 57m³/minute
Included in the delivery : 1x 400w Smoke machine, 1x 5M trigger cable, 1x 5 leter Smoke fluid
Price: €40.00 plus €6.50 postage
According to the manufacturer
The NM040 provides a cheap start into professional working with fog machines. In spite of the robust cabinet, the weight is very low. The bracket enables you to flight this device, too. Due to the analogue technology it is very easy to put the fog machine into operation. The inbuilt components were chosen because of their durability, also during heavy-duty.
At first I thought “OHHH NO what have I bought here”. It was tiny could to do the job? I set it up in the studio and tested it a but, and was sceptical (at this point all I was thinking is where the receipt so I can send it back). Before I send it back I did want to give it a real test run (so I had something to blog about). And I’m glad I did….
I contacted Sandra J.K and asked if she would model as a “Rocker Girl” so I can test the “Fog Machine” in a real shooting environment. I tested it with different spray times, and at different heights in the studio. After a few attempts I found what worked for me. I placed the NM040 on a 2.5m light stand and placed it up high right next to a 400w Bowens Gemini monoblock (fitted with a set of barn doors and a blue gel filter). I was using a red background and the resulting colour contrast was fantastic. At this point I really go into the shoot and had a fantastic time.
For the price it’s a great accessory for the studio but you have to know how to use it and its limitation. It needs to be placed high so the smoke can fall into the photo. Using colour gels that contrast to your background will defiantly add that wow affect.
Smoke machine basics
The most common type of smoke machine takes a glycol based fluid that is pumped into a heated chamber. The normal components used are a solenoid pump to push the liquid in, and a fibreglass lagged heater block based on a sandwich of aluminium plates, a heating element and a long piece of copper capillary tubing snaked around between the heater plates. In some units the heater is tubular with the capillary tubing wound round it, but the effect is the same.
At switch on the unit will not pump liquid until the heating block has come up to the correct temperature, whereupon the pump can run and squirt the fluid into the block. When it does, the fluid evaporates very quickly and the resultant increase in pressure not only causes it to form a dense superheated vapour, but forces it out of the front of the machine via the exit port, which can be as simple as the end of the capillary tubing being poked out, or in some cases a small pinhole orifice to make sure that the internal pressure is kept high.
The resultant dense vapour exits the front of the machine and upon contact with the cool air it forms a dense cloud that is a very close relation to real fog.