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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.
The ability to tone skies lighter or darker is one of the easiest ways to get more drama, or more contrast, into a black- and-white image, but there is something you need to be very, very careful about. This is a RAW file that you saw earlier. It's in your Assets folder, and I am going to go in here and darken the sky up here. And immediately, the feel of the image starts changing. Again, nice contrast with this tree. It's a great way of bringing out foreground elements, but I am going to zoom in here. Look what's happening around this tree here, and look how much worse it gets as I continue to tone the sky darker. I'm getting this weird halo around some of these branches, and it's only on this one tree, and sure enough, this tree is a different color than that tree.
Let's zoom in real close and see what we get here. There are these fringy tones around this tree, and so they're not getting hit by the adjustment that I'm making with the Black and White layer. I've targeted blues, and those tones in there aren't blue and so they're not getting darkened like everything else, and it's making this ugly fringe, and it kind of makes it look like an electric tree of some kind. And that's definitely going to show up in print, and that is not an uncommon thing to experience when you're trying to darken skies this way around foliage. Now, first of all, you could argue that this adjustment is possibly a little too far because of the vignetting that's happening, but there are going be times where you will want to darken a sky this far, particularly if I was going to crop the center out, or take pains to limit that vignetting.
So to deal with this, what I am going to do instead is back off this adjustment until that halo is not visible. Now, it looks pretty good there. There is still a little bit of white stuff, could be highlights or just the occasional odd leaf in there. That's about as far as I can push that adjustment. If I want the sky darker still, then I now need to go in and add a Levels adjustment layer and do my darkening that way. And I am going to want to do it with the midpoint slider, not the black point slider, and that's going to target the middle values that are going to darken the sky, and as you can see--let me just do it extreme adjustment--and you can see I don't ever pick up that fringe because I'm darkening the fringe along with the tree.
So this is the way around that. Now I do need to be careful. As I start pushing this, I'm starting to see some banding in here, and that's even on a 16-bit image. Whether it shows up in print or not, I don't know. The only way to find out is to do a test print it, where it will might, or it might be hidden. So the most important thing to know is that you've got to keep an eye on the edges of your skies, particularly around foliage, when you're darkening them with a black-and-white adjustment. If you are, take the black-and-white adjustment just as far as you can before you see the fringe and either give up on the idea of darkening it any further or use a Levels adjustment with the midpoint slider to get the rest of the darkening that you want.
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