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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.
For the most part, when you're shooting black and white, all of your exposure decisions and your whole exposure theory will be just like what it is when you're shooting color. As you saw in our previous shooting movies, I was doing everything that I would normally do if I were shooting color. I was thinking about depth of field and aperture control, I was thinking about where I needed to focus to get the most depth of field, all of that kind of stuff that you do even when you're shooting color. With that said, if you are shooting an image that you're pretty sure it's going to be black and white, there might be one more thing that you want to think about, which is the slight exposure adjustment that's going to help you in your post-production, and we're going to take a look at the right now.
We're looking at that in Photoshop rather than out in the field with a camera, because I really want us to be able to look at the histogram of an image. Yes, you can look at the histogram on a camera, but we're just going to get a better view here in Photoshop. If you don't know what I mean when I say histogram, or if you're not real comfortable with histograms, or if you think histogram is a kind of scary looking, I really, really encourage you to go watch two movies in chapter 9 of Foundations of Photography: Exposure. Chapter 9 is the Exposure Compensation chapter and the movies are in "The histogram," which is the fifth movie of that chapter, and "Real-world histograms," which is the sixth movie.
If you're thinking, "Oh, it's okay, I'll just pick it up as we go," the rest of the post-production in this course is pretty much all histograms all the time. We are going to live and die by the histogram, and most of what I'm going to be talking about in terms our adjustments is going to be in terms of the histogram. So again, if you're really not comfortable with it, it would be much better if you got up to speed on histograms before we continue. So with all that said, I'm going to open up the Histogram palette in Photoshop right now. I have here an image that I shot, thinking that this might be a good color image, and mostly I like the curvy form of the tree here. And I was thinking it's nicely, brightly lit here.
It's possible that I could either tonally, or through exposure changes, separate it from the background and have maybe this cool brightly lit curve in front of the background. So I shot it, and this is the histogram for this image, and it's good. It's got just what we want when we are looking at a histogram. I don't overexposed highlights. I don't see underexposed shadows. As you probably know, underexposed shadows are not necessarily critical, but overexposed highlights are definitely something you want to avoid most of the time. The bulk of my tones are down here in the shadowy areas, and that's going to be all of these tones down here, all the little bits of shadow, all the black parts of the tree.
That's fine, but when I start editing, I'm going to be wanting to probably push these midtones around a lot, and I don't have a lot of midtone data. Now, I may be wrong. I may not edit the image this way, but I'm thinking the subject of my image is pretty much just all midtones, and right now I don't have a lot of midtone data. When I shot the image, I looked at the histogram and I noticed that the bulk of my tones were shadow tones, and I figured that while the tree is midtone, I'm probably going to want to push it around a lot. I would like to have more mid one data. So I dialed in a one-stop overexposure in my exposure compensation control, figuring if it's overexposed, a lot of these tones are going to push this way.
Now, the resulting image is here, and I'm going to flip back and forth here. This is regular exposure. This is one stop over. Regular. One stop over. And you can see, I've got just slightly more midtone data. Now the critical part is I still don't have overexposure, I still don't have clipped highlights. So just that little bit of exposure compensation is just redistributing things to be a little more even so that when I get time to actually edit my image, I've got more to work with, and having more to work with means there is going to be a less chance of banding and other problems. And here's my final conversion.
I want to introduce a couple more terms that we're going to be bandying about when we get into post-production, and things that you might want to think about when you're shooting. High-key images are typically images with lots of bright in them. I tend to think of a high-key image as an image where you are not worried about overexposure. You don't worry about loss of detail. This is a high-key image. I've lost all the detail back here on this building, all the detail back here, the whites are just completely blown out--and that was intentional. And when I shot the image, I shot it with that in mind. I then did more work on it in post-production, but it was really, at the time, recognizing this was a high-key image.
The reason I recognize that is I was actually shooting this in midday. You can tell the shadows are very short. I mean this wasn't a lot of dramatic light, and I kind of had this idea of this building that look like the prow of a ship, and if I could blow the background out into a real high-key overblown white, it might look like it was coming out of fog or something like that. Here's another high-key image, and what struck me about this was simply the tonal relationship: The left side of image was all in shadow. The right side was very bright. The camera could actually expose plenty of detail in here, but I intentionally overexposed to get a high-key image.
This one I could just as easily have done in post-production just by blowing out the highlights. Either way, whether you're going to try to overexpose to create a high-key image or create a high-key image in post, knowing these terms and thinking in these terms when you're shooting can help you recognize more images. Understanding that a high-key image-- an image with blown highlights--is sometimes a good thing, opens up more possibilities of subject matter, because you're not to be so concerned about, 'oh, I can expose this without overexposing.' If you're in a situation where your highlights are really going to overexpose, maybe you just want to go towards that and work towards a high-key image.
As you might expect, there is the opposite of high key, which is low key, low key-images, where our images that are often very dark, where we don't worry about losing detail in shadows. So I've plunged these into complete darkness, and that's okay. Silhouettey images are very often low-key images, although this is not a complete silhouette--I've managed to preserve some highlight details, so that it is not just an outline of a giraffe. It's just a very low-key image. Most of the time of course, we want images with detail in the highlights and details in the shadows.
We want to preserve detail throughout an image and have really broad tonal range. But low-key images and high-key images are definitely thinks that should be in your photographic vocabulary, and you should be thinking about those when you're out shooting.
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