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In this Foundations of Photography, Ben Long shows photographers how to develop a black and white vocabulary and explains the considerations to take into account when shooting for this medium. The course follows Ben as he goes on location and explains what makes good black and white subject matter and how to visualize the scene in terms of tonal values and contrast rather than color. Along the way, he demonstrates some exposure strategies for getting the best images. Back at the computer, Ben demonstrates techniques for converting the resulting photos into black and white using Photoshop and other imaging tools, and offers tips on printing and output.
In the Exercises folder, you'll find a Photoshop document that is basically the state of this image where we left off in the last lesson. If you don't have one of your own, just to review, we had a color image here that we converted to black and white and did a bunch of toning to. Here is our original color image. We did a black-and-white conversion, added an adjustment layer to punch up the wood, added another to increase the contrast over here to try and make him stand out against the black shadow, and then another to play up these highlights on him.
What's messing up the image right now is this stuff is just so bright, and I would really like to column that down, and I can do that-- you guessed it--with a Levels adjustment layer. As I said, I use a very small tool set. But again, I really think the thing with black-and-white conversion is about knowing how to play tone and light and shadow in a particular way to get the effect you want. So the normal controls that we use in the Levels adjustment layer are the input controls. These are black, midpoint, and gray, and they allow me to define what in my image is black, what is white, and what is middle gray. And as I make these adjustments the overall tone relationships are preserved, so I can make white brighter, black stays black, and the midpoint and all intervening tones are just accordingly.
What I want to do though, is to calm down the white, to make white darker. Well, if dragging the white point this way makes white whiter, I can't drag it in the direction that maybe would make it darker. So I could see about dragging the black point, but that makes the shadows darker. I could see about dragging the midpoint, but that lightens and darkens the middle tones, not this white. So what can I do about that? Darkening white is a little bit tricky. First of all, fortunately, this is not completely white. There is some detail in there, which is good.
White is basically empty space. There is no value. In a print, white is the area of the paper where no ink has gone, and so the computer thinks of it the same way-- it thinks of it an empty value. So, very often, darkening white is not possible because there is simply nothing to darken. The white space is empty. What I can do instead is redefine what is white. It's almost like a philosophical leap of some kind, and I can do that with the output sliders. These sliders down here define what is black and what is white, and the main reason for these has to do with printing, particular offset printing.
A lot of times you prepare an image with nice dark blacks in it and when you maybe take it to an offset press to run them in the newspaper or print it in the book or something, the print guy will say, "Well, I am sorry you have got blacks that are 100% black. Our press cannot hold darker than 85%," at which point you would say, "Oh okay, then I will make black in my image about right here." And now you look at the image, and it looks a little more washed out because we have killed the black, but once it's printed, those tones will darken up back to true black.
We can do the same thing on the other end of the output slider. We can redefine white. Right now, white is white. This gray ramp here shows us that my white point pointer is pointed at pure white. If I drag it to the left, I can make white a shade of gray. As I do that, keep your eyes on this. I am going to put my output slider back to where it was. Here it's white, and look at this white bucket. It's completely overblown. And as I drag it back in, those areas darken. Now, the rest of the image is darkening too, but by now I am sure you are aware that we will be painting a mask for that.
So I am not quite sure where to put it because I need to see it in the context to the rest of the image. So before I can get this set properly, I got to have my mask in place. So, click to select my mask, Select > All, or Command+A. I am sure that black is my background color. Edit > Fill, and I am going to tell it to use the Background Color. You could also leave it on Black. That would be fine. That fills my mask with black. I am going to deselect so that I don't have those margin lines all over the place. I have white in my foreground color. Take a brush, and now wherever I paint, white will get darker.
Now this is possibly a little bit tricky in so far as how to paint this mask. What am I going to do is rough it in here and then try to figure out how to fix it later. I'm, as best as I can, painting around some things. One reason that you can very often cheat these masks is that there are just natural boundaries and areas of the image that if they get darker, for example, on this bucket, I can be real rough rather, because if that black back there gets any darker, I don't care. So I am just letting it spill over in some places into other areas.
Now, this whole area looks really gray now, so I need to break that up somehow. I am going to choose gray for my brush and go down real small, so that now I am not painting in the full effect. I am going to paint on one side of that bottle so that it looks little more three dimensional. I will do the same thing here on this bucket. I'll just paint in some highlight here so that things just look a little more three dimensional. Same thing up here. I am trying to think like a painter here. I am trying to think about form and what areas should be highlighted and what shouldn't.
Put back in. So that's looking a little better. I think I might brighten that one up even little more, which means going to a darker brush to block the mask even more. If you are not following that about which color brush to use to block or reveal it, that's fine--just experiment. You can always repaint over areas. So, let's look at it before and after. This is before. That area is really hot and little distracting. Now, it's more of a background element. So I think that works pretty well. I am wondering about these bits. They are awfully bright. My mask is still selected. That's not darkening enough.
I need to go to a lighter brush. That's working. I can darken this stuff up, maybe take some of those highlights down, some of that down. This thing is bugging me. It looks too bright, so I will darken that up, and I think I want to darken that up all the way, so I am going to full white in my mask, so I get the full effect of the darkening. Same thing there. Maybe take those out, trying to get focus on him. That's looking pretty good. The last thing that's worrying me is, would the wood stand out more if this stuff back here was darker? So I want to go to Levels, and here, I am not sure how to do this edit.
I don't know if I need to again adjust my output levels to darken that up-- and that does work. I am watching just this area right here, and it is darker. That's before, that's after. But I do like having contrast down there I think, so I am not sure that a better way to darken it isn't like this, which also gives me the interesting thing of having this dark tone against that light tone. I think I am going to try that first, and by try, I mean I don't really don't know what that's going to look like until my mask is in place. I am sure that's getting little tedious hearing me talking about always wondering about my masks, but that's just how this works.
So you should be pretty comfortable with this technique by now, and now I can paint this dark. Again, I don't have to worry about really carefully painting perfectly around these boards because if the boards are little dark, no one who looks at this image doesn't know that that board just wasn't a little dark. So, I am liking that better. Before, after. I wonder if I can even darker. Back in here. I don't want the ground to end up the same tone as him, though.
I can take it to there, and I like how dark it is, but now he and the ground are just one solid blob of gray. So I am going to back off on that and say that that needs to go to right about there. Now, a lot of these times, I am guessing that, because I won't know for sure about this image until I print. And we will talk about printing, but if your ultimate goal is paper, there is degree to which you can't really know if your tones are right until you see it on paper, and suddenly, I am not liking that. That's too bright. So I've already got an adjustment layer that darkens light tones. I can simply go and mask that adjustment layer to include this.
Problem is I can't remember which layer it was. If I want, I can go in and label these. Double-click on them, and I know that this darkens ground. I am pretty sure it was this one, but just to be sure, all I have to do is change the visibility. Oh, sure enough, okay this is the one that darkens whites. So with that mask selected, I am going to take white into my paintbrush and just paint over those bits to calm them down. Why do I care if those things are too bright? Because white points attract focus, and I am really trying to keep the focus controlled.
It is the essence of composition to control the viewer's eye, and sometimes you alter your composition through your image edits. The viewer really needs to know what the subject of this picture is. In this particular case, this is a busy image. It's going to take him a while to completely figure it out, but that doesn't bother me too much. I am going to see what happens if I just darken this fence up a little bit to again get further separation between the background and the wood. Now if you're hearing that it sounds like I'm just stumbling my way through this image wondering what to do, it only sounds like that because I'm just stumbling my way through this image wondering what to do, and I promise you, that's normal.
It's perfectly okay to find the image amongst all this data and to feel your way through the edits and figure out what works and what doesn't and experiment with things and try things--that's how this works. How it worked in the darkroom. It's how it works here. It's how it works when you are shooting. Just as we work a shot when we are shooting, we work it when we are editing to find the thing that works best. And I am liking that better. That makes that stand out a little bit more. I do think it's also important not to get too hung up on every tiny little detail. I am going to step up back for a minute now and go, what do I think of this? Is this working? Yes, it is, and I am sure you can hear the impending 'but' that I'm about to say, so I will just say it. But, I think there's one more thing we can do, and that's possibly to add a vignette to the image to pull attention more to the center, and that's what we'll look at in the next lesson.
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