(Updated March 2017) I’ve always like the look of black and white images, but was never very “sure” if they were worth it. Recently I had someone buy a group of my images posted on Flickr, and surprise, they were all black and white! Surprise, because that sale told me someone else liked the black and white images enough to pay for them. I’ve therefore started to pay more attention to black and white.
I started by gathering most of my black and whites and posted them into a single Flickr gallery. Looking at them as a single gallery, I do like what I see. Black and White has a very different impact on the viewer. Not all of these images are worth bragging about, but as a collection, they are interested. Recently (March 2017), because of a local arts festival our Photoclub is participating in, I printed a number of images. Again, I was struck with the look of the black and whites. Printed on a “metallic” paper these images are beautiful. The blacks are rich, and white areas look almost like chrome. They are again, my favorites.
My technique for B&W entails quite a bit of processing. I’ll usually start by trying to extend the dynamic range of the original, using HDR if that does what I want, and increase the detail using something like Nik Color Effects. This ensures that the black and white takes on the dynamic range of the old silver halide films. I then convert to B&W, using either Nik Silver Effects, or Photoshop B&W conversion . I’ve also found that using the gradient mask adjustment in Photoshop can also create good black and whites. I do not use Lightroom for this step. Noise reduction comes into play as a final touch, since my harsh processing will usually result in an unacceptable level of noise. I have learned, especially by looking at printed results, that black and whites look best when you have areas of real pure black, and real pure white. That contrast and range make the images pop, as opposed to images that are primarily gray tones. I’ll occasionally give the black and whites a sepia tone, but printed, they look better and are more striking as black and white. Finally on some images I’ll overlay the black and white version on top of the colored version (layers in Photoshop) and slightly increase the transparency of the black and white layer to bring a very slight shade of color back to the image. Especially on old “grungy” shots, like old cars, or buildings, this looks great.