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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.
Once your print's out of the printer, it's time to take a look at it and evaluate and see how you did. As I mentioned earlier, one of the nice things about black-and-white printing is we don't have to worry about color management. Nevertheless, your print is not going to look exactly the same as your monitor, so it's important to take a look at it and see if it needs any adjustments or tweaks or little finesses here and there. So what do you look for when you're evaluating a print? For a black-and-white print, start by checking your blacks. Make sure your blacks are nice and dark, and that you've got the detail in them that you were expecting.
You don't want fine highlights and things that might be hidden away in the blacks that were kind of critical to your composition to fall into complete black, so you want to look for those. In the highlights, you want to make sure that you haven't overexposed highlights, so that they've completely lost detail that's essential. And then you want to check your midtones. These are the same types of adjustments that you would look for in evaluating a color image, but we want to make sure we've got the midtone detail where it needs to be. Obviously, we want to check just sharpness and detail in general, and make sure there our image is not oversharpened, meaning it doesn't have those garish halos around it.
We went to look for an overall colorcast, to make sure our print is neutral. But with black and white, there's something extra we're looking for. We're looking for that extra bit of black-and-white silvery goodness, and you're going to find that in midtone highlight details--make sure that those areas look nice. If you find your image lacking, if you find that it doesn't have the contrast that you want, if you think maybe your blacks are off, it's time to go back into Photoshop and reassess the adjustments that you made earlier and maybe tweak them and try another print. That said, it may very often be that your black levels, and therefore your contrast, are off not because of an adjustment that you have made or not made or not made correctly, but because of your paper choice.
A lot of the time the way to get better black and better contrast out of your printer for your black and white, or your color, prints is to go to a higher grade of paper, and that means more expensive. Here is an example. This is a cheapo paper. It's very, very affordable, which is great if you need to knock out a bunch of prints and you're not going to be real stickler about quality, but it's got a couple of problems. One, it's a very cool paper, so the image looks kind of blue, maybe even bluish-green. It also doesn't have great blacks. They're pretty good, actually, for a paper that isn't inexpensive, but it's affecting our contrast ratio all the way around.
This is a more expensive paper. It's a warmer paper, which is giving me a nicer overall tone. I've also got better blacks and better contrast throughout the image because of those better blacks. The maximum black that a paper can hold is referred to as its dMax value, and on some papers, you will see a dMax rating, and so you want a higher dMax to get better black and white. Paper choice is also going to affect the texture of the paper. This higher-quality paper is a little more textured. Some papers are even more textured still.
At that point, you're getting into a purely aesthetic question: how much texture do you like on your image? If you're planning on hanging it on a wall, you want to be very careful about a very, very textured paper, because as light hits it at an oblique angle, it's going to cast shadows on itself and that might look a little strange. So considering paper texture is something you want to think about. Archive-ability is another thing. While this printer is rated as being very archival, thanks to its pigment inks, how archival it is varies depending on the paper that you use. Typically, a paper that allows the ink to stay more on the surface of the paper rather than sinking into the paper is going to be more archival.
The way you find out about this is, check the printer vendor's web site, paper manufacturer's web site, or Wilhelm Imaging is really the one source that pretty much everyone agrees on, paper and printer vendors, as being the best source that we have right now for assessing archivability of printer-ink-paper combinations. A lot people when they think, "Well, I want blacker blacks I'll run out and get a nice glossy paper," that's really not the best choice. You're always going to get blacker blacks with better detail off of a nice matte paper than off of a glossy paper.
On a glossy paper, the blacker black comes mostly from the gloss, and a lot of times you'll really suffer a detail loss. And if you look at it next to a nice matte paper, you'll also see that it just doesn't actually look as black, partly because the gloss is also reflecting a lot of glare, and that cuts some contrast and some black. And that's going to, again, be true with your color images also. Finally, you might want to consider a canvas. What's nice about canvas, if your ultimate goal is to hang a picture on the wall, is that with canvas, you don't put glass in front of the image.
You just put it in a frame and you hang it there just like you would a painting. And because it doesn't have glass in front of it--glass typically cuts contrast and saturation if you are dealing with a color image-- because it doesn't have glass in front of it, your image will just leap across the room a lot times off of the canvas. Canvas is very, very textured though, so again, you want to think about how it's going to be lit. So these are all things to consider and play with. Again, if you're not satisfied with your contrast in your image, don't think that you ought to go back to Photoshop and crank up your black levels. If you're using a less expensive paper or a paper that doesn't have a great dMax, consider going to a better paper.
If you have set up your document, as we discussed earlier, with a lot of adjustment levels, you're going to be able to very easily go and tweak your image to bring out the different things that we've talked about. Again, we're looking at black levels, white levels, overall midtones, and trying to get those extra little bits of highlight that are going to give you a very silvery image.
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