Black and White Photography Workshop

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy conducting photography workshops.  Its also a great way for the Photo Club to fulfill what I believe its mission to be.  Now granted, I wrote that mission statement, so it might be somewhat biased.  I’ve been President of the club for the past 3 1/2 years.  This being my last year.  That mission statement might be re-written by the next person in this position, but for now it works.  Onwards to workshops.

ive come to believe that if you want to anything better, teach it to someone else.  Since becoming president of this club I have conducted more than a dozen workshops and loved every one.  Some of the topics I scheduled myself to teach I knew next to nothing about.  A little pressure to jump into hyper-learning mode.  They worked out fine.  While I try to convince others in the club to try this approach I secretly worry that if too many get into the workshop teaching mode, I’ll lose my chance to conduct as many as I like…it’s a weird quandary.  On the other hand I’d like to continue honoring our commitment to our fine public library, but can’t conduct workshops every month myself.  I know one thing for certain, even when I’m no longer club president I intend to keep teaching workshops as often as I can  

I just complete a  workshop on Black and White Photography, which I absolutely have come to love this past year.  I really fell in love with Black and White when I had several printed.  Seeing the actual prints, and hanging them up, made all the difference.

my Flickr gallery of black and whites.

Workshop Materials

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My Photo Editing Workflow

Since I’ve taught numerous workshops on photo editing, and touch on the topic of Workflow, without being able to get deeply into it, I thought I’d do it here to be able to share it in the future with workshop attendees. My personal workflow is not something I dreamed up overnight, nor is it something I consciously or logically designed.  It evolved over a long period of time from a combination of learning from others (Kelby, Kloskowski…others), and my own experience developing the look I personally like in my pictures. I’m absolutely positive that some of the greats out there could give me a thousand reasons why my workflow isn’t the best way.  That’s fine.  It is the best way for me, and gets the results I want.

This post isn’t intended to explain how to use Lightroom, or suggest how you should use each control.  It merely covers the way I progress through the editing process, step by step.

First I edit virtually every “keeper” picture I take.  I shoot in camera raw all the time.  Never in jpg.  I also am pretty brutal about selecting out the pictures I want and deleting the rejects.  Since I shoot raw files…THEY MUST BE EDITED, and cannot be used as is out of the camera. I tell my workshop attendees they have two choices when editing.  Either let the camera edit your pictures, in which case, shoot jpg files, and edit them before they are taken by carefully manipulating your camera controls.  The second choice is to shoot raw files, and edit them yourself using software after you download them from the camera.  Either way you are editing your pictures.  Since I shoot raw files, I’ve made the choice to use software, where I have more control and can exercise more creativity.  The post-processing of images is part of the workflow, which begins before you take the picture.

Before beginning, this workflow is for the software I use, which always starts in Adobe’s Lightroom, then for some pictures goes to Photoshop, then back and forth between Photoshop and either Nik, or On1 installed as plug-ins to Photoshop.  On1 can easily be used as a standalone and will handle everything from file organization to full-blown editing. 

Planning the shot

Once you get a good understanding of what your editing software can do you will find yourself shooting with post-processing in mind.  You’ll do this automatically for almost every shot.  Is the foreground too dark? Sky blown out? Will the detail in that rock wall pop with the right editing? You’ll then expose for those possibilities…maybe take several shots to blend later.

Importing 

After you’ve editing enough images you’ll find yourself doing pretty much the same basic things on many of them.  This is especially true for types of images; landscape, architectural, etc.  Those basics may include your preferred settings for 

controls in the Basic, HSL, Lens Correction, and Camera Calibration panels.  Whatever those settings are, create a “preset” that you can apply to all your pictures upon import.  This saves you a lot of editing later, that you would probably do anyway to each picture individually.  For my Landscape images, for example I almost always have these starting points in the import preset:

Camera Calibration Panel: I select the camera profile (LR picks this up from my camera, so yours may differ), for Landscapes.  This gives the image a good starting point.

Lens Correction Panel: I apply a lens Correction to every picture, so why not do it on import? I’ll also select remove chromatic aberration. 

Basic Panel: I always slide down highlights, and open shadows on every landscape image…to some degree.  My preset includes those adjustments, in addition to auto White Balance. 

HSL Panel: another adjustment I find myself doing on most landscapes is darkening the blue in the sky.  I will therefore adjust luminance downward a bit for the sky-blues. 

These basic edits are then applied to all my Landscape imports as a starting point.  They obviously need to be adjusted for each image, but work amazingly well for most.

In order to create the preset I simply take a sample image, adjust the above settings to taste, then save them as a preset.  I don’t include all the settings, because some like “transform” and “effects”, differ so much from image to image.  Also “Detail” is an adjustment I like to do at the very end of my workflow.  I don’t use Split Toning, or Tone Curve at all.

Editing Workflow

I begin my workflow in the Camera Calibration panel.  My import preset should have already set the profile I want, but I could change it here if I wanted.  I don’t touch anything else in this panel.  NOTE: if you shoot jpg files you won’t have any options here. 

My next step is to set lens correction if my import didn’t already do that. I’ll almost always also check the “remove chromatic aberration” box.

The next step is to straighten the image.  This will not have been done on import. Make sure horizons are horizontal and verticals are vertical.  StRt by trying Auto. If that doesn’t do what you want try the guided approach. 

If the transformation results in too much potential cropping, I won’t use the Constrain Crop box, but instead export the image to Photoshop and fill the blank crop areas using content aware tools, such as fill, or patch.  This doesn’t always work, but is worth trying.

If you have a hazy picture, before using the basic panel, jump down to the Effects panel and try using the dehaze slider, the. Come back to the basic panel

Now it’s finally time to move to the top panel, the basic panel.  The first thing I’ll adjust is color by adjusting white balance.  While I apply auto White Balance on import, it isn’t a very satisfying adjustment. I’ll frequently change that to daylight, or back to as-shot. NOTE: If you shoot jpg files, you won’t have any options here, and will have to make you color adjustments using the temp and tint sliders.  

Staying in the basic panel, after I just White Balance I’ll adjust highlights and shadows, and whites and blacks.  I won’t touch exposure and contrast unless I can’t get what I want with the highlights/shadows/blacks/whites sliders.  As I adjust these sliders I keep my eye on the histogram to make sure I’m not overdoing the changes.  

Finally in the basics panel I’ll finish off with some boost in vibrance…almost all my pictures get that, and some clarity.  Both these can make your image look very unreal.  Be careful.   I never touch the Saturation slider
All the above adjustments effect the entire image.  I now make a few target adjustments.

Hue, Saturation, Luminance (HSL) is my next stop, especially for images with partially cloudy skies.  I’ll typically use the targeted adjustment tool in the HSL panel to lower the luminance of the blue in the skies.

More targeted adjustments can then be done using the spot remover tool (dust spots), the spotlight tool (circle) and the gradient tool and brush.  While these can be done in Lightroom, I will do most of my dodging and burning and removal unwanted elements in Photoshop. The cloning, healing brushes in Photoshop are more accurate and powerful. 

At this point, depending on the image I switch to Photoshop.  In Photoshop I do things like removing unwanted elements (people, wires, garbage cans, branches), dodging and burning, and blending in skies from different exposures or different images. While in Photoshop I may take the image into the Nik plug in for some special effects.  Coming out of Photoshop I save the image back into Lightroom as an uncompressed file…usually in psd format (smaller than tiff).  Finishing touches are done in Lightroom.

Final touches include sharpening and noise reduction, and for many pictures a subtle vignette.  

Exporting Workflow

After all that editing you’d think the workflow ended.  It doesn’t. When you export your image there still might be some thing you want to do.  During the export process you need to think about how your exported image is to be seen.  Will it be on the web? Will you be sending it to print?  Answers to these questions determine how much sharpening to apply at export, and which color space you select. 

For print you’ll typically want the Adobe RGB color space, and additional sharpening, since printing softens the picture.  For print you’ll also want your resolution to exceed 250dpi. For web use export the file at lower resolution 75-100 dpi, and use the sRGB color space.  Here’s a good article on using available color spaces.  

Infrared with a Nikon D810

I’ve done some infrared photography using a filter (not a dedicated camera), with my old Nikon D70.  Its an excellent camera for this kind of infrared, but its old and unreliable.  Its giving me all sorts of error messages.  It also doesn’t produce the biggest bestest files, like my Nikon D810.  So, while I’ve read that the 810 isn’t recommended using the infrared filter, I tried it yesterday anyways in preparation for a shoot this next week where I’d like to do some infrared. I found it can produce interesting results.  While not as distinctive as the D70, because you don’t get the super white leaves and black skies, it still does do something that enhances a normal black and white of the same scene.  This image of my backyard is a good case in point.  The original unprocessed IR image is shown, as is the final processed version.  Click to enlarge images.

Processed File

The processing was done as follows.  Better results would probably have happened with a raw file, but since this was just an experiment I used a jpg file.

All processing was done in Photoshop and Camera Raw, and followed what I normally would do with my D70 images.

  1. in Photoshop, used Image/autotone
  2. In Camara raw I set auto white balance, then using the HSL sliders, desaturated the purples and magentas, and increased saturation in the reds
  3. Back in Photoshop I swapped the blue and red channels in the channel mixer.  That didn’t do what I wanted or normally get with the D70 images so I used the B&W IR preset, which seemed to do the trick.
  4. I then when to Nik Color Effects and added a slight tonal contrast filter, and then glamour glow.  IR images frequently have a nice glow to them, so I thought this did approximate that.
  5. Finally back in photoshop I did some selective dodging and burning.

 

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Turning on the Lights

Heres and interesting way to “turn on the lights” in the city when its still too early for them to come on.  Take two photos.  The first image you capture earlier as the sun sets to get the pretty color in the sky.  When you do this it is very likely that the city lights haven’t all come on yet, so you get a nice sky and visible foreground, but no lights.  Leave your camera alone on the tripod for 20-30 minutes and allow the scene to get darker and the lights in the city to come on, then take another picture of those lights.  Now you have a great shot of the lights, but you’ve lost the color in the sky.  Now bring both pictures into Photoshop as layers.  It doesn’t really matter which picture is the top layer, either the darker of lighter one.  Change the “Blend mode” of the top picture to “Lighten”…Bang!  The lights come on in the city.  Now you have a nice sky AND city lights, and everything is right with the world again. 

(click the images to enlarge)

Picture #1:Sunset with no city lights
Picture #2: After dark with city lights, but no sky color
The two images blended so the lights come on in the city

 

 

 

 

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Multiple Exposures

I tried something new (for me) on this shot.  I set my Nikon D810 to  a two second delay (tripod), to then to multiple exposure mode…10 exposures.  The idea was to simulate what I’d get by using an ND filter to blur the water.  I thought the effect was interesting.  I didn’t get the same sort of blur I’d get with an ND filter, but rather more texture in the water…almost “bumpy”.  The image was processed with NIK software to improve contrast (Pro Contrast filter), and add a Sunlight filter effect.  Buy the way, the river really was yellow against the white snow due to minerals in the water.  Click to enlarge.

Story Telling

What is that special quality in an image that makes the viewer look more than once? Why is it that some images demand more attention, while others don’t.  Both may be beautiful, visually.  Both may have an interesting subject, but the image that stands out goes beyond all that; it makes you feel something.  It tells you a story about the subject.  That story may or may not be exactly as intended by the photographer, but it’s there.  

Whether we know it or not, if we work at our craft long enough, and take it seriously, we usually end up developing a certain “style” and set of favorite subjects. Certain subjects capture our  imagination.  We frame them in a certain way, and we process them in certain ways.  What drives us is that inner need to tell the subject’s story, and tell our own story though that capture. We want to convey that feeling that drew us to take the image.  When we get back home and begin processing the image we recrop, lighten and darken, and do our best to bring out that story. 

Excellence in photography comes from being self-aware enough to understand this process of story telling.  Think about your best images.  What do they say? When you stop to capture an image, what is it about that subject that made you look? How can you capture that aspect of the image? When you process the image, what can you do to help the viewer see and feel what you saw and felt? To  do less than that is to take “snapshots”; brainless, thoughtless, images with no feeling…no story.

Try this exercise.  When you post and share your images, give them a name; not a name describing the subject, a name describing the story.  Instead of naming a scene “Yosemite Valley”, name it something like “Where the earth meets the sky”.  I know for myself, I love landscapes and have great awe and respect for nature’s majesty and power.  I strive to have my images convey this quality.  Give it a try…name your images. 

I Wish I’d Remember to Take More Street Scenes

I like Black and White images, especially street scenes with people.  Too often when I travel I, like a lot of tourists, get so caught up in the beauty and novelty of what I am seeing that I forget to just take some regular street scenes that capture the essence of the place. These types of images make great black and white conversions for some reason (in my opinion, at least).  These came from by recent trip to Europe.

The way I like to process most of my B&W images is to 1) Make them as good as I can in Lightroom, 2) bring them into Photoshop and run them through the Nik Color Effects Filter, applying either Detail Extractor, or Tonal Contrast…at this point the image doesn’t look real good in color, but I think the next step brings it back…3) Then I will Use Image/Adjustments/B&W in Photoshop.  This gives me great control of the image because of the color sliders.  Sometimes I’ll use Nik’s Silver Effect.  4) finally I will (sometimes) slightly reduce the opacity of the B&W layer to bring just a hint of the original color back into play. The heavy processing will frequently produce a noisy image  in B&W that doesn’t hurt as badly as in color, but for noise reduction I like Nik Define

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