Some people feel that we live in a color world and all photographs should be printed in color, well I beg to differ. I love a good monochrome (black & white) prints. I am not sure why that is, but maybe it has to do with when I started into photography I used to develop my own B&W film and print my own photographs in our home darkroom or it has to do with the mood/feeling a good B&W photograph conveys. A lot of times when I am out making photographs, I already have an idea in my head at the time I push the shutter button on how I want to process the photograph whether be it in color or in B&W.
To me, a good B&W photograph has a good range of tones from whites all the way through to blacks. With today’s cameras most photographers shoot in color and the file format they choose (i.e. camera RAW or JPEG) and make their B&W photographs in post-production. This is very convenient because there used to be a time when some would carry two cameras around, one would have a roll of color film loaded in it and the other would have B&W film in order to be able to capture the scene in B&W. Granted you could print your color negative on B&W paper in the darkroom. I tried it a few times and I never really like the results so I kept with keeping B&W film in my camera most of the time.
So getting back to making a B&W photograph. I shoot all my photographs in camera RAW so I can get the most data possible from the camera and I make all the decisions on how the photograph will be processed.
The first steps I take in making my B&W photograph is I do my initial processing in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). In ACR, I first enable the lens profile correction which removes distortion in the photograph cause by the lens. Next I set the white balance of the photograph. This is an essential step with the post processing of any photograph. Then I tweak the exposure, highlights, shadows, etc. Before leaving ACR and going into Photoshop I do some light sharpening and if needed noise reduction.
After ACR I take the photograph into Photoshop to turn my photograph into B&W. Yes you can turn your photograph into a B&W image in ACR by desaturating it, but I don’t do this because I feel the B&W photographs look blah. Once in Photoshop I retouch the images before going any further. For instance I might remove dust spots that might be in the sky or clean up other items in the photograph that might take away from the final image. After I am satisfied with the retouching, I convert the image for smart filters (which allows me to adjust the filter after it is applied in the next step). After that is done, I apply Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 filter to the image which gives me the tools to make the B&W photograph as I want. Granted there are other ways to make a B&W photograph in Photoshop, but I love the results with Nik’s filter.
Once I apply the filter, I spend a few minutes deciding which preset I want to start with. Then from there I make tweaks to the filter to get the photograph to the way I want it. Note Nik’s filter has some presets that mimic some of the classic B&W films that people used to use.
After I am done with my adjustments in the Nik filter I click ok which then applies the B&W filter to my image. Note that the filter is a layer within Photoshop so if I don’t like the final result I can go back into the filter (note you have to apply this as a smart filter at the onset to be able to go back into it at this point) and make more adjustments or I can delete the filter layer and start over.
Once I am satisfied with the final result, I crop and sharpen the image for final output whether it be for internet use or for printing. One thing to note, is you should save your working file before you crop the image so you always have the master file in you desire a different size later on. Then after you crop, the image be sure to save the image as separate file and don’t save over your master file. Otherwise if you need a different output size in the future you will have to start over from scratch.
Below are some of my favorite B&W images that I have made over the last few years.