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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.
I want to take a look at one more black-and-white conversion tool, and it's a black-and-white conversion tool that is not built into Photoshop. It's a plug-in filter made by Nik Software. That's N-I-K Software. And if you go to niksoftware.com, you can download a free, I believe it's 15-day demo version of Silver Efex Pro 2, which is an exceptional way of making black- and-white conversions. This is the Silver Efex Pro 2 dialog box, and you can see, right off the bat, that I get this nice preview of my image. And the preview looks about like the normal default black-and-white conversion that I get in Photoshop with the Black and White tool. It put me in about the same place.
What I also get are all these presets over here These are predefined black- and-white conversions that I can just click on to get an edit of my image. And as you notice, they're even using the same terminology we have been: High Key, Low Key. You'll also see some traditional darkroom terminology, like Push Process. These presets are simply built up by operating these parameters over here and then saving them, so that gives you all of these and they've grouped them into categories: Classic, Vintage, Modern, Favorites. But I want you to take a look at the actual manual tools, which is where I spend most of my time.
We looked at this image earlier, and we actually worked through an edit of it in Photoshop, so we're going to redo that here in Silver Efex. What I've got are first these global adjustments, and they're clearly labeled, GLOBAL ADJUSTMENTS. I can change the brightness and contrast of the image, so I'm going to give this an overall contrast boost, just to pull the blacks back up to where they need to be in, so immediately, things are looking better. But as you recall, I did a whole lot of localized editing in Photoshop, where I was adding Levels adjustment layers and then painting masks and to control them. There is no masking in Silver Efex, because Silver Efex will simply do all the masking for you.
You don't have to do anything other than use these control points. Control point is U Point technology. It's something that Nik Software came up with, and it exists in a lot of their plug-ins. They make some excellent color-editing software called Viveza that uses this technology also, and if you're a Nikon user, you may have used Nikon CaptureNX2, which includes this control point technology. I'm going to click right here in the sky. Now, notice there's now this yellow- orangish circle, which is a control point. I clicked it on the blue sky, and Silver Efex knows that. It's looked underneath that control point and analyzed the color that I clicked on, and determined, 'oh, he clicked on blue.' I'm going to drag out an area of effect for this control point, and what I would like to do is darken that color that I clicked on.
Brightness, Contrast, Structure, these are little sliders, so I'm going to darken the Brightness slider and looky there: the sky is getting darker and nothing else in the image is. Now, the clouds are getting darker, also, a little bit. That's because they've got some blue in them. It has analyzed the underlying color and is darkening only things within that area of effect that are that color. In other words, it's automatically built a mask around all these tiny little branches, things that I could never paint around-- it's done that for me. I can move it around onto different colors and different effects start happening.
So it's analyzing that color that's underneath and automatically generating a mask. If I don't like the darkening on those clouds over there, that's okay. I can drop a control point on them, and it will build a mask that will protect them. I'm not sure what I think. I kind of was liking that darkening, but maybe it's a little too ominous. For now, I think I will leave a control point there to protect those areas, and I'm going to duplicate this control point by Option+Clicking and dragging down to this other part of the sky. And that's not having too much of an effect.
I thought that might get me a little bit more darkening, so I'll just get rid of that one. So I've got my sky taken care of. Now, I want to go back to work on the foreground here, and get the contrast up like we did in the other image. So I'm going to click on the road, and I'm going to click in an area that's not in shadow, because I want that red tone. I want to be sure it's selecting that, drag my area of effect out, and I'm going to increase the contrast, and looky there. My road is getting nice and chunky, seeing a lot of texture. I'm darkening that shadow.
I don't like the way those highlights are blowing out a little bit there, so I'm going to darken things a little bit to pull some detail back in there, and that looks pretty good. So notice what I've done here. I've done an edit masked to only the road, and I've done another edit masked to only the sky, around all these tree branches, and at no time, have I used any masking tools. I haven't had to paint anything or select anything or any of that kind of stuff. This is the power of the Nik Software control points, and it's pretty wonderful for complex edits. Still lost a little bit of highlight in here.
I'm going to go in here to Tonality Protection and slide up Highlights and see if that buys me anything in here. And I think maybe it's just I did a bad job with my RAW conversion, so at some point I may go back and do a little recovery there and try and fix it. Now what else did I do to this image? I worked on these bits back here, so I'm going to click a control point in here, define a circle, and I want more contrast. Ooh, look how that's lighting up. I really like that. I'm going to do something else. I'm going to increase Structure.
Structure is akin to Sharpening. It's a bunch of tiny little contrast adjustments that get applied to an area. Let me zoom in, so you can see this is a little better. So I'll show you where it was originally. It was back here. These are just a little soft. As I increase Structure, they really get a nice pop to them. They get really clearly defined. And now look at all this wonderful silvery stuff I've got. I've got these beautiful silver branches against all this dark black stuff, which I really, really like. So, in addition to simple toning, if I really want to finish creating the look of the black-and-white image, I might want to think about Grain, Grain and Texture, and there are some fairly kludgey ways of doing this in other programs.
Silver Efex does a wonderful job of modeling gray, and in fact, I can even just pick a type of film that I like and it will simulate it. So I could say that I want to simulate Kodak 400 TMA, and not only does it simulate the grain, it simulates the contrast response. Very contrasty film and that's what I see there. But what I'm going to do instead is just do my own custom little thing here, and I'm going to zoom in again and just dial up some grain. And what I'm actually doing is dialing down the Grain number, because I'm telling how my particles of grain I want per pixel.
What Silver Efex does is actually shatters your image into individual pixels and rebuilds those pixels up from grain. And now you look up here and you can start seeing a lot of film grain. I've got some final other toning and adjustment controls, including a full Levels adjustment. I've also got vignetting controls which are very nice, and a really fun thing, which is the ability to burn edges. So I can say over on the left I want to put in some Edge Burn, and what this lets me do is simulate negative borders, just like I would get off of an enlarger, or it let's me simulate burning edges onto an enlarger.
And it's nice because these are not just stock, pre-canned edges that they're applying to my image. They're algorithmic, meaning it's generating new edges. And that means that if I save this as a preset and apply it to multiple images, I won't see the same edge on every image, which can become conspicuous if I'm showing a bunch of images at one time. And of course, as I mentioned, I've got Vignetting and Toning. So if you're really serious about black-and-white shooting, you have to at least download the demo of Silver Efex and take a look at it. It's a very, very powerful black-and- white tool, one that's very easy to use.
It's a great thing to have in your arsenal. It's not a replacement for Photoshop. You got to have Photoshop to host it, although it can also run in Lightroom and Aperture. But it is an additional set of tools, whether you use it as your de facto go-to black-and-white converter or just for times when you've got a difficult masking job. Either way it's a really handy tool to have at your disposal.
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