Black and white photography may well be the ultimate classical expression of the art form, after all it is how photography started. It's still a continually popular aesthetic, even now well into the digital age. However, black and white images, in my opinion, should be simply more than the removal of color. Thankfully many thousands of photographers and designers agree with that, and the usage of black and white conversion methods and approaches is prevalent in the post production world.
If up until this moment your only method of creating a monochromatic image was to yank the saturation all the way down in Photoshop, Lightroom, or Capture One, then you've been missing out on a bevy of artistic possibilities when making your image black and white.
But wait, stop!
Let me digress a bit by saying that your shooting and lighting approaches should, ideally, start with a monochrome vision in mind if you want to achieve premium results in your black and white work. Even wardrobe styling, makeup and set design / location scouting all contribute to the impact your final monochrome image will have. Yes, we've all been guilty of converting an image to black and white because we didn't know what else to do with it, or our color work wasn't cooperating that day, or whatever other excuse we told ourselves. But when you intentionally set out to shoot for monochrome, you start thinking in value and shadows and contrast, and (generally) craft a far more deliberate looking black and white work in the end.
Let's continue black & white conversion discussion.
Recently on a trip to Albuquerque NM, I worked with model Taylor Hayes in some properly scenic outdoor settings. After I worked with my usual array of light control methods such as scrims, reflectors and dish-on-a-strobe goodness, I opted to shoot a black and white set. I decided open sun would work well because it would afford me some added contrast and some possible specularity in the highlights. All this should yield me a decent black and white conversion possibility, I thought.
If I opted to simply pull all the saturation from the above image, then I get this:
So what do I prefer to do?
I invite you to watch my tutorial video posted up top to see how I prefer to go about converting to black and white when I'm in Photoshop, and then check out this sequence of images below to see how radically different your monochrome images can look when you take a little extra time to find the exact look and vibe that you want. Each image, each series, can vary. So should your black and white images.
I'm hardly the first to explore how to tweak my black and white images, and I won't be the last. But after I developed a conversion approach that I liked and use fairly consistently, I opted to create the setup for it as an Action (download for free here). To this end, I took the next leap and recorded a video tutorial on how I often use the approach. Have a look and happy converting!
How do you prefer to convert your images to black and white?