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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.
We talked earlier about high-key and low-key images: low-key images being ones whose shadows are really crushed down to total black and lacking in detail, high key being the opposite--highlights that are blown out to complete detail. These are very easy things to create in Photoshop, and there are a lot different ways of doing them. Probably the easiest, based on the tools we've look at so far, is simply a Levels adjustment. Take your black point and just start punching your blacks down. If you want a little more control over that, you can do it with the midpoint slider. Or, we haven't worked with curves yet in this course, but you can use curves to define a curve to really precisely control exactly what you wanted to darken and what you wanted to brighten.
There's really not anything more tricky about it than that. Let's look at one other way, which can be interesting partly because it can be little random and partly because it can keep you from having to do any masking. I am going to up a flattened version of our trestle image here. Let's say I do like this detail in here, but also this rail is awfully compelling. What if this was a really low- key image where all of this fell out to black? Now, I could build adjustment layers to plunge all of that into black. I could build a Levels layer here and do that, except I'm losing stuff on the rail, and it's not losing all of that.
It takes some masking work to get that to work. Instead, I am going to do something different. I am going to duplicate my Background layer, just like we were doing before when we were creating a vignette. I'm going to change its Blending mode up here to Soft Light. That's starting to look more like a low-key image. The highlights are coming through. The shadows have really gone down to just black. So there you can see the difference. If I want to further refine this, I can throw a Levels adjustment layer on top of the whole stock and fiddle with my midpoint to decide exactly where I want this to be, and I am finding I really like this.
This is pretty interesting, this rail just kind of coming out of nowhere and vanishing into this lightness. We get a nice good, strong silhouette of this, and we are still preserving some detail in here. So I am not sure that I don't actually prefer this really low-key version to the original image that had more detail. And that's that important thing to remember in any type of shooting you are doing, but particularly with black and white: just because there is detail in an area doesn't mean you need to keep it. Your vocabulary is light and shadow, not detail and really fine, super-sharp filigree in every part of the image.
There is just as much power in having a black area of your image, or silhouette, as there is in having a perfectly rendered detail here on the railroad track. So this is a very, very easy way of quickly knocking out a low-key image.
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