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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 thought you would want to see the finished images that we shot on the railroad trestle, so I am going to very quickly walk you through those. Of all of those images that was shot, the one keeper image was one of the ones right from the rail, and I was lucky-- that was the one that I thought probably didn't work and it did. It was the only one that really had the drama of the scene that I wanted. So I started with a black-and-white conversion. There wasn't much to do with the sky because the sun is right there. It's pretty washed out. Then I brightened up the tracks on either side, giving me some nice texture in there, and of course the centerpiece here is this big rail.
Next, I brightened up the whole thing just because it was all a little dim, and I knew that when I printed it, it would go a little rough. I'm a little concerned about this banding in here. This is posterizing, or tone breaks, and I don't know if it's going to show up in print. If I go into actual size, I can see that it's not so bad. So it could just be that it's at this particular magnification level. It's very visible. So I'll print that and see what it's like. If it's too bad, I will back off on this adjustment, or I'll mask that area.
And then a more controlled brightening of the stuff around here, just because when I looked at the histogram, it seemed to me like that stuff was going to go a little bit muddy when I printed. So I like this image like this. I've got another idea about it that we might look at. Here is the tonal image. This is the one, as you'll recall, that when I looked at it, it was in complete shadow, so no good light on it at all, but I thought maybe there was still an image to be saved because we've got some interesting tonal relationships here. So I did a black-and-white conversion and right off the bat, what I had been visualizing at the scene is happening: dark grass intersected with this nice light line.
So that bit is working well, and I got that simply by dragging my Greens slider over. Next, I calmed down the sky a little bit and then brightened up these foreground elements. At this point, I'm simply painting light in wherever I want it. So I've brightened the bits up just to give some variation and some texture to the whole thing. Brightened that up a little more. I think it's a nice counterpoint to these dark areas. I fiddled darkening those up a little bit to create more of a sense of depth. So the light area is receding over the dark areas, and then the whole thing needed a little bit of contrast punch.
So those are the only two keepers out of all of those images that I shot on the railroad trestle. And I've got to tell you, that's pretty normal. Two images out of 60 is a pretty good shooting ratio for an hour's worth of work, but as you can see, one of the great things about black and white is I can take this otherwise pretty blah, no- contrast, no-good-light image and turn it into something much more interesting.
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