Foundations of Photography: Black and White
Illustration by Petra Stefankova



Foundations of Photography: Black and White

with Ben Long

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Video: Vignetting

A vignette is often something that you try to avoid. A vignette is a darkening in the corners, and a lot of times lenses will inherently produce a vignetting, particularly at wide angles. At other times vignetting is something that you want to encourage, or add, and so you choose a lens with a vignette, or you do what we're going to do and add a vignette in Photoshop. A darkening in the corners can help bring more attention to the center of an image, to the subject of your image, and it's very easy to apply in Photoshop. In the Exercises folder for this movie, there is a Photoshop document called vignette me.
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  1. 8m 25s
    1. Welcome
      1m 24s
    2. Why black and white?
      5m 12s
    3. Suggested prerequisites
    4. Using the exercise files
  2. 19m 43s
    1. Is it really black and white?
      1m 9s
    2. How gray corresponds to color
      4m 38s
    3. The medium of black and white
      3m 5s
    4. The vocabulary of black and white
      4m 46s
    5. The physiology of black and white
      2m 22s
    6. How a camera's image sensor captures an image
      3m 43s
  3. 32m 46s
    1. Preparing the camera
      3m 34s
    2. Light revisited
      6m 3s
    3. Seeing in black and white
      2m 21s
    4. Taking a black-and-white expedition
      1m 17s
    5. Finding and shooting a black-and-white image
      11m 14s
    6. Shooting a tone-based subject
      2m 0s
    7. Exposing for black and white
      6m 17s
  4. 1h 38m
    1. The nature of grayscale images
      3m 33s
    2. Converting to black and white using Photoshop CS4 or CS5
      6m 17s
    3. More about the Black & White dialog box
      3m 19s
    4. Converting to black and white using Black & White adjustment layers
      3m 55s
    5. Converting to black and white in Camera Raw
      4m 5s
    6. Making an advanced tonal correction
      17m 33s
    7. Doing more tonal corrections
      14m 6s
    8. Calming down highlights
      10m 4s
    9. Vignetting
      8m 58s
    10. The trestle images
      2m 39s
    11. Handling tricky skies
      2m 43s
    12. Doing a selective black-and-white conversion
      2m 23s
    13. Toning
      1m 19s
    14. Split-toning
      2m 19s
    15. High-key and low-key images
      2m 32s
    16. Diffusion
      4m 40s
    17. Using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2 plug-in
      7m 46s
  5. 24m 14s
    1. Selecting a printer
      5m 17s
    2. Preparing the image for print
      8m 30s
    3. Configuring the Print dialog
      5m 9s
    4. Evaluating a print
      5m 18s
  6. 43s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Foundations of Photography: Black and White
3h 4m Intermediate Jun 29, 2011

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Topics include:
  • Why shoot in black and white
  • How to recognize good black-and-white subject matter
  • Preparing the camera
  • Shooting a tone-based subject
  • Exposing for black and white
  • Understanding grayscale
  • Converting from color to black and white using Photoshop CS4 or CS5
  • Converting to black and white in Camera Raw
  • Vignetting
  • Toning and split-toning
  • Comparing high key versus low key images
  • Preparing a black and white image for print
Ben Long


A vignette is often something that you try to avoid. A vignette is a darkening in the corners, and a lot of times lenses will inherently produce a vignetting, particularly at wide angles. At other times vignetting is something that you want to encourage, or add, and so you choose a lens with a vignette, or you do what we're going to do and add a vignette in Photoshop. A darkening in the corners can help bring more attention to the center of an image, to the subject of your image, and it's very easy to apply in Photoshop. In the Exercises folder for this movie, there is a Photoshop document called vignette me.

Go ahead and open it up, and you'll see this massively layered Photoshop document. Rather than doing all the edits, I'm just going to quickly show you what I did. I started with this color image and then converted it to black and white. I didn't do much, as you can see here. This is pretty much the default recipe. There's not a lot of color in this image that needs to be altered. The sky, it was raining, you can see the raindrops here, so there's really no color in the sky anyway. So that's my black-and-white conversion. Next thing I did was add this Levels adjustment layer with a mask to improve the contrast on this delivery guy here.

So that brightens up his shoulders, which I did because I wanted him to stand out. There are all these people in black behind him. So to get him to stand out more, I decided to put some highlighting on his shoulders, as well as to brighten up his clothes and his hands. Next thing I did was using the Output sliders and Levels, I darkened the blacks back here, directly behind him-- again, before and after--just trying to make him stand out more. Again, our goal with everything we do through the whole process of photography is to really make sure the viewer understands what the subject of our image is.

So I'm just trying to separate him from the background as much as I can. Then I decided he really needed just more highlighting on his shoulders, so that's what that is. And the reason I can get away with that is that lighting-wise it makes sense. There's all this bright light coming from right behind him. We buy it that he could have this nice room lighting around him. Next, I darkened the street and improved the contrast. Before and after. Now when I do it this way, you can see that I did kind of a lousy job with the masking. Watch this area around his arm, and you can see that I probably could've painted that mask a little bit tighter, and maybe if I printed, if it looks like a halo around his arm, I'll go back and fix that.

But it also looks okay, because it looks like that happens to be a highlight behind his arm that's washed out the street. Again, I'll figure that out when I print, so that doesn't really bother me, but that separates him a little more, and it just adds interesting texture to the image. Next thing I did was brighten up his eyes, and there's one with a little more pop in there. Then--now this is a very, very subtle darkening in there. I don't know that that makes any difference at all. I thought maybe his shoulders would stand out a little more if this bit wasn't so bright. Depending on how your monitor is adjusted, you may or may not even be able to see that.

Next, I darkened the sky a little bit because it was just a little too much. Now that I look at that, I'm not sure that I want that darkening in there. Again, I'm going to do a print of that and see what I think. What I was thinking was I darkened this, but I didn't darken this, thinking that it made a nice kind of halo right behind his head. I'm not sure about that edit. I'll see how it goes, and that, again, is just a Levels output trick that you learned earlier. And finally, another additional brightening of his face. I could have gone back and just adjusted the first adjustment layer, but honestly, I'd forgotten that I had already put one on there, so I just added another, and sometimes that's how it goes.

So now what I would like to do to further bring focus to him is to throw a vignette on the image. The easiest way to do that in Photoshop is with a filter called Lens Correction, not highlighted right now because I don't have a layer selected. But Lens Correction is a destructive edit, and I don't want to do this destructively because I don't know if I'm going to like the vignette or not. You apply Lens Correction to an image layer, like the Background layer here, so I'm going to duplicate the image layer. So I just dragged that down to here to the New layer button. It makes a copy. Now I'm going to add my vignette to here.

If I don't like it, I can just trash the layer. Filter > Lens Correction, and then it has to think for a bit. Here's my Lens Correction dialog box. By default, Lens Correction is going to try to identify the type of lens you were using and make some corrections to it. This is in CS5. If you're using an earlier version of Photoshop, you won't have this Auto Correction thing. I'm going to turn that off. And you can see what it's doing. It's trying to correct some pincushion distortion, and I don't actually mind the distortion. I don't even notice it. So I'm going to turn off these Auto features and go over here to Custom.

And here I have Vignette, and I can darken or lighten. If I lighten, it will lighten the corners--what's called burning in. I'm going to just darken those up. And you can see now up here the corners are darker. Basically, the vignette is an oval shape. Midpoint allows me to define the center point of that oval. I don't actually know how much vignette to dial in here because as you can see in our preview, I'm not seeing the effect of any of my adjustment layers. I'm going to assume that I've probably applied an adjustment layer that's going to darken this vignette up more than I wanted, so I'm going to back off on it a little bit.

This is another reason that I'm doing this on a duplicate layer because I really can't know for sure what my vignette is like until I hit OK and see it in place. It actually looks pretty good. That's before. That's after. Vignettes can be overdone. You can make them too dark. You can make them too obvious. A good vignette is not something someone will notice. When it works, it's astoundingly effective, and I think this is the case where it works pretty well. That's before. That's after. These just look like shadows, this I don't even notice that much, and now really the whole center of the image is just kind of lit up, and I didn't have to do anything but darken the corner.

Sometimes you achieve a lightening of part of your object by putting some darkening around it. So I like that vignette. I'm going to keep that. Again, I need to print this image to find out for sure if this is what I like. Vignetting is something that I mentioned earlier that we need to do to this image. Sometimes you don't want a vignette all the corners, and that may sound a little strange, but I think this is a case of that. A vignette would be a great way of toning down this corner, which is distracting me a little bit from him, but I don't want to darken this corner, because this shape is so important to me, this whole big pile of wood. So, I'm going to do just what we did before. I'm going to duplicate my Background layer, and I'm going to go in here, Filter > Lens Correction.

If I just pick this Lens Correction up here, it will apply the exact same vignette settings that I last used. I don't know if those are correct, so I'm going to go up here. I'm going to darken that up to about there. Why am I thinking there? I like that this has gone darker. Even if I have a Levels adjustment that pushes that down a little bit lower, I think that'll be okay. Hit OK. That looks pretty good. There's before, after. Watch this area right in here. Watch what happens. That's before. That's after.

Your focus just goes a little bit more to him, which is great. Let's check out this corner. Before, after. I don't mind the ground getting darker there. Now let's watch this side of the image. Before, after. Hmm! I'm not sure that bothers me or not. It's nice having this bright stuff in here; on the other hand, this kind of leads me in. Let's see what happens if we take out just this side of the vignette, which I can do with the same technique that I used for Levels adjustments. I can build a mask that will protect this part of the image, and I'm going to do that by selecting the layer and going up to the Layer menu and saying Layer Mask > Reveal All.

In other words, I'm going to get a mask that's white because I want to reveal the entire image. Now I take a paintbrush and black paint and a nice big brush, and if I paint black in, I will be plugging up that part of the mask to reveal the image that's underneath. This is a case where I'm using a vignette not to really create a vignetted look, but to get kind of just some auto shadows painted in there.

I think I liked this better. That's before, that's after-- before the vignette, not before that last edit that I made. So I've still got my pile of wood all nicely lit up, and these bits are darkened, and what this is kind of serving to do is give some depth to the image in a way. The pile of wood is plainly in the foreground, all lit up. The background now looks more like it's back in the background in shadow, and that's giving my image some nice depth. So I think I'm going to keep that vignette. Don't forget about the vignetting. It's something that you maybe don't think about when you're doing your image edits. Just think sometimes about well, maybe what I need is more focus on the center of my image.

Vignette doesn't do you any good if your subject is off over on the side, and we got lucky here that my subject kind of, even though the guy is here, I've got this over here. It all balances together. My subject kind of takes up the whole entirety of the middle of the image, so the vignetting trick still kind of works. So anyway, don't forget about vignettes, and Lens Correction is a great way to do it. If you're using an image editor that doesn't have a vignette filter, you can try and paint one by hand. Pretty tricky to be that smooth with your brush, but that's another way to get a vignette effect.

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