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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.
Now we're ready to get to what is, in my opinion, the good stuff, which is converting a color image to black and white. Shooting is fun, and you get to go places, and you get to go outside and all that, and that's great. But as far as making a black-and-white photo, this is where it happens, in the process of converting color to black and white. With what we're going to learn here, you're going to be able to take a blah color image and possibly turn it into a really interesting black and white, or you're going to be able to finally see the possibility that you saw when you were shooting realized into an actual black-and-white picture.
We can do so much manipulation in black and white, in terms of tonality, that there is just a tremendous amount of creativity that can happen in this process. Before we get to converting to black and white though, which we're going to start in the next movie, I want to talk about color. I know that sounds a little weird, but let's just look really closely at what's going on in this image in terms of color, because we're going to spending a lot of time thinking about how to turn color into a shade of gray. So I've zoomed in on this image a long way--I'm at 3200% here--so each one of these squares is an individual pixel.
I am looking at that side of that brick tower, which is why I'm seeing this repeating pattern, a wall of bricks as a repeating pattern, and we can see that each individual pixel has its own color. So this is a light shade of tan, and this is a darker shade, and so on and so forth. And the computer can represent millions and millions of colors, and any pixel can be a completely discrete, individual color. That's an important point to remember, because when we print color, we can't do that. An individual dot on a printed page can only be one of maybe eight colors, depending on how many colors you have in your printer.
Instead, your color printer works by combining little patterns of different colored dots to create the illusion of every other color. The fact that that works is actually is just kind of amazing. So anyway, I'm looking at individual pixels here, and they are each an individual color, and as we've learned, individual colors are made by mixing red and green and blue. I'm going to go over here to the Channels palette, and I see I've got RGB, and then I have Red, Green, and Blue. In Photoshop, I can look at individual color channels. So if I click on the Red channel, what I see is a map of the red information in the image.
This pixel, because it's a lighter shade, has more red in it than this pixel, which is a darker shade. In other words, lighter pixels have more of a particular color that we're looking at. So I've got a whole lot of red through here, not a lot of red through here. Similarly, I have some green in here, really not a lot of green in here, and then same for blue. The image is getting darker as I shift to these other channels, because I'm looking at that reddish brick. So that brick was a reddish, tan tone, so there is going to be a lot of red there, not a lot of blue.
Let's zoom back out to look at the whole image. I'm looking at the blue channel right now, and the sky was blue, so I'm seeing a whole a lot of white here, because there's a lot of blue information in that blue sky. Let's look at the Red channel. And it's gotten a little bit darker, because there's not a lot of red information in the sky. So, right away, you can see, well, just by clicking on a channel I've got a grayscale conversion, and that's true. This is one of the ways that you could convert to grayscale. There are lots of ways. This is not the best way. The reason I'm just showing you all this is to drive home that what our goal here is is to take this combination of red, green, and blue and mix it together to produce a shade of gray of the type that we like.
We can derive any shade of gray that we want from these three bits of color information. And there are lots of ways of doing that, and how we choose to do that is really the bulk of the creative process of black-and-white photography, and that's what we're going to start in the next movie.
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