In the digital age, getting really stunning black & white images is often a struggle for many people. Like anything involving either digital photography or various software applications, the field of possibilities is endless. I suppose first you must decide what, exactly, constitutes a good black & white ‘print’.
I take a rather old school approach, referring back to the acknowledged master himself, Ansel Adams. He came up with the zone system. It’s all rather detailed and complex, but the gist of it is this; a really great black & white image encompasses the entire tonal range, from brilliant highlights to velvety shadows, with detail present at both ends of the spectrum. Highlights are not blown nor are shadows blocked. With that said, to each his own. I love a well lit, beautifully exposed and perfectly printed image. I also love creative license. I’ll repeat what I wrote in my very first blog post (High Key Lighting Tutorial – Studio Lighting for Small Spaces.) Learn the rules first and then break them with impunity later.
Let’s start with an image I post processed with Adobe Photoshop CS3, prior to learning to use and fully appreciate Adobe Lightroom for the image editing program it is. Here is the original image, straight out of the camera.
I liked the spooky quality of all those vines and wanted to really get them to ‘pop’. I started by selectively dodging them. I decided to use separate layers so I could easily undo sections if I didn’t like the overall effect. I also did a levels adjustment and sharpened the image slightly.
Well, that was nice, but it still wasn’t what I saw in my ‘mind’s’ eye. So I decided to take it a step further and desaturate it. Now we’re getting somewhere.
I was still intrigued to see if I could achieve a heightened sense of ‘gothic’ drama. I dipped into my tool box of ‘actions’ and selected Super Old Skool HQ from Doug Boutwell’s Totally Rad Actions Photoshop actions. I love playing around with Photoshop effects just as much as the next person, but freely admit I don’t mind strolling down a pre-paved path either. Ah….now we’re getting really close to the feeling I wanted this image to convey.
The Super Old Skool HQ does a vignette and blur, among other things, and that gives this image the feelings of being an old daguerreotype, like the one below by Louis Daguerre himself. If you’re interested and want to know more about this process, click the image below.
Back to my image. I still felt like it needed that little something extra, so I went in search of the perfect border. Here’s what I came up with. Click the image and see the ‘final’ product in my Etsy gallery.
I was inspired by this video by Jon Armstrong over at blurbomat.com. I did the black & white conversion in Lightroom, basically following Jon’s suggestions. I then exported it to Photoshop and touched up all the scratches in the metal. It was AMAZING how many ‘irregularities’ there were in the surface of this magnificent piece. I LOVE the ‘liquid’ quality of the metal in the final editing. Click the image to see it large.
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