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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.
If you've spent much time watching old movies then you're probably used to seeing actresses shot with this diffuse hazy glow around their faces, so they would sit perfectly still on a particular pool of light and have this wonderful softness about them. And that's because very often they insisted that the cinematographer shoot them through some gauze, or a pair of pantyhose, or smear Vaseline on the lens, or something to ensure that they had this soft glow that made their skin look much better. That type of diffusion is an effective technique to apply to any type of photo, but it's very often particularly effective on black-and-white images.
Black and white, as we discussed, is already an abstraction. Adding diffusion can make the image even more abstract which can often create atmosphere and draw the viewer more in, emotionally. So we're going to do that to this image. I've got this horse ears here that were shot in this nice bright light, and it's already kind of a really soft, hazy luminous image. I would like to increase that sense by adding some diffusion. I'm going to start by lowering the contrast in the image. I'm doing that because the process that we're going to use to add the diffusion is going to increase the blacks, so I'd like to buy myself a little more latitude for that by lowering the contrast.
So I'm just dragging the Contrast slider to the left. And a diffuse image inherently doesn't have much contrast. That's why an actress's skin looks better. You don't see as much texture on the skin because texture is simply contrast. Wherever there is an edge or something like that, you are seeing a line of contrast. So by reducing contrast, we're inherently making the image softer and more diffuse. With contrast lowered, I'm going to open the image in Photoshop and begin my black-and-white process. Now there's not much that I need to do in the way of black-and-white conversion, because this image is mostly white.
But I'm going to throw a Black and White adjustment layer on there, and that's looking pretty good. Now, there are a lot of different ways that I can do this. I'm going to do this in the way that will yield me the most non-destructiveness that I can get; in other words, I want to be able to go back and alter any of these steps at any time. So I'm going to go in the Layers palette here and create a new group. I'll leave that there, and I'm going to put this layer in it, and I'm going to double-click on the Background layer to turn it into a floating layer and add that to the group. So now my image has not changed at all.
I have my original layer with a black- and-white layer on top of it, but they're all held in this little folder here. So now what I'm going to do is take this folder and duplicate it. Let me get the Layers palette out, here so you can see the whole thing. Now I have two copies of the same thing sitting right on top of each other. I have a color image with a black-and- white layer in this folder, and sitting on top of that a duplicate of the exact same thing in its own folder. I'm going to now go to my upper image layer and go to the Filter menu > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
And I really want to blur this a lot-- maybe not quite that much, but we'll see. I'll back it off to about there. So I'm creating a blurry, or diffuse, version, if you will, of the image. So I'll save that, and now what I've got is a blurry black-and-white photo. That is really not what I was going for. I want this whole group to change its Blending mode. The Blending mode pop-up simply controls how one pixel merges, or replaces, the pixels that are sitting below it in the layer stack, and I want to set this to Soft Light.
And as soon as I do that, my blurry image is now composited with my original image, and you may think, "Well, it doesn't look that much different." So let me hide this group, and you see there's the original, there's the copy, and it is more diffuse. It is getting some halos and things around it, just not getting it enough. I think I need to blur my image some more, so I'm going to go back up to here and maybe I'll just hit it with the same amount of blur. And well, that's kind of working, but not much. I think what needs to happen next is my upper layer needs to be brighter. So I'm going to go ahead and add a Levels adjustment layer here, and I did that to the upper set, and I'm going to brighten this up.
Now we're starting to get a nice glow around things. There's before, there's after. I've softened up a lot of his hair. There is kind of a white halo around this, and because I've done these as adjustment layers, all of these steps are editable later. So I can create this nice hazy, diffuse look. It's very subtle, but again, for skin tones and things like that, it's going to just smooth things out very nicely without eliminating too much detail. I still see hair in here, so it's not obvious that this image has been diffused. It doesn't look like there's a big blur sitting on top of it, but it is just a tiny bit dreamier and more luminous than the original image that I started with.
This is a very easy way to achieve that effect.
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