Thursday, August 16, 2007
In this first in a series of columns about digital black-and-white, we explore some of the fundamentals
Prior to the 21st century, black-and-white photographers developed a heightened sensitivity to the direction and intensity of light, a given relationship between highlights and shadows, largely discounting the appearance of hue and saturation unless able and willing to use color filtration during exposure. These perceptual skills are all very important for 21st century digital black-and-white photographers. But, today, because you can make any hue light or dark, globally or locally, and you can make more dramatic changes to more saturated hues, hue and saturation need to be factored in rather than factored out. This dramatically extends the variability of an image's tonal structure. Some things remain the same: near-black-and-white areas, including near-neutral highlights and shadows, will remain relatively light and dark.
Once you've worked with digital black-and-white conversions, you'll begin to develop an eye for how variable the tonal structure of an image can be. You'll find that subjects that contain a variety of saturated colors offer the widest range of possibilities, while those that don't, offer fewer possibilities. The transformations can be so dramatic and varied that you'll find it extremely challenging to compare all of the possibilities in your head.
Luckily, along with these new possibilities comes flexibility. Before, these relationships were fixed at the moment of exposure. Today, they're not. You can modify the conversion of a color original indefinitely. Keep your options open. (For this reason, always preserve your original color data. Avoid in-camera conversions; don't replace your original color data with converted data; keep archive layered files.) Practice previsualizing the possibilities. Explore your options in Photoshop.
One image contains unlimited possibilities. Before you commit to a single solution, explore your options. To establish a unifying palette for a body of work, first, do this with a singular image. Next, test the solution to see if the palette can be successfully applied to other images within the body of work. Once you find the best solution that can be shared by a few, the rest will fall into place more quickly and successfully.
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