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Thread: When to convert pictures to black and white?

  1. #1
    Member emlee's Avatar
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    Default When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Hi, in the good old film days, there isn't too much such worry. If you loaded colour or b&w film, that's what you get. You pretty much decide what to shoot before.

    Today, with digital, this is a real question: when does one decide if a picture is better in b&w?
    Can Clubsnappers give some advise?

    I tried on 2 pictures, please give your comments also on:
    - if these are good choices to convert
    - if the conversion was done right (too much red? too much blue?)

    1) in colour


    1) in b&w


    2) in colour


    2) in b&w


    Please don't comment on the picture composition, lighting, etc. I'm only interested in comments relating to the topic. thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Kit's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    You have to understand that a B&W conversion is more than just a few clicks of the mouse to change colours to tones. There is much like to that. B&W conversions can involve very extensive toning workflow to make the photo a success.

    Of the 2 photos, the first one is more successful because it has a wider tonal range than the second, which lacks contrast.

    You are right. Digital allows you to try out different experiment to find what's best for you. Whether to present your photos in B&W or colour depends on you entirely but there are some precedents you can follow if you'd study what others had done in the past.

    B&W is commonly used for creating a nostalgia feel, accentuate textures, etc. Up to you to explore.

  3. #3
    Member emlee's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kit View Post
    You have to understand that a B&W conversion is more than just a few clicks of the mouse to change colours to tones. There is much like to that. B&W conversions can involve very extensive toning workflow to make the photo a success.

    Of the 2 photos, the first one is more successful because it has a wider tonal range than the second, which lacks contrast.

    You are right. Digital allows you to try out different experiment to find what's best for you. Whether to present your photos in B&W or colour depends on you entirely but there are some precedents you can follow if you'd study what others had done in the past.

    B&W is commonly used for creating a nostalgia feel, accentuate textures, etc. Up to you to explore.
    Thks Kit. Please name some examples to that I may see their works.
    Not looking for technical advise here. Thanks for your advise on application. If I may re-phrase what you said, especially on textures, I learned that a good picture takes the viewers to the subject, so if colour is a distraction, that's 1 reason to do in b&w also.

    Indeed, I do not assume b&w conversion to be straight forward, hence I have not tried it yet.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Kit's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Actually, someone asked the similar question as you did some time ago and I used some of my own work to explain, so if you don't mind.....

    Think Hitchcock..... using B&W to mimic the feel of the original movie.


    Emphasising depth and texture.


    Accentuating simple geometries and lines.


    Representing an ageing subject.


    Or just making an abstract appear more abstract...

  5. #5
    Senior Member Kit's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    For more precedents, go to Page One and look at the books on sale. They are a rich source of inspiration.

  6. #6

    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by emlee View Post
    I tried on 2 pictures, please give your comments also on:
    - if these are good choices to convert
    - if the conversion was done right (too much red? too much blue?)
    i am going to be honest and say that there are too many errors in these pictures, either compositionally or technically to warrant any proper comments to be given.

    the first one, the vert distortion is understandable, but the tilt is not.

    the second one, way too cluttered, too complicated, yet with no real effort to simplify the complicated mess. you end up with too much overwhelmingness and a sense of well, messiness.

    there are usually 2 main reasons why one goes black and white in digital photography, i would think; the first is because the color is too distracting, i.e. you have a great portrait and everything works but whee, the model has a big yellow thing in the background, it is neither too bright or too dark, just that the color is giving you a hard time. you can then consider converting to black and white.. to "save" the picture.

    the second diverges into many things - it can be a certain mood, it can be a certain idea, it could be that in black and white - where there are many, many methods of conversion, somehow the subject will stand out much more than it does in color. this is optimistically realised and conceived at the moment of taking the photo.. but well, it isn't exactly always the case and there's nothing wrong with that.

    blackandwhite can be done with so many methods, i think with channel mixer and understanding of how it works this is the best way. alternatively, there are many good plugins which allow you to preview what it looks like first, and the different c hoices open to you.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by emlee View Post
    Today, with digital, this is a real question: when does one decide if a picture is better in b&w?
    Do you really mean "when", or do you mean "how"?

    In the latter case, it may be ultimately a matter of taste. But I think there are some rationales:

    Aesthetic reasons: One example is to simplify/reduce a picture. A painter adds what is needed to the picture; in photography the difficult part is leaving out what is not needed/wanted. Conversion to a monochrome picture is a very easy way to "leave out" something. E.g., in your first picture, one could focus on the graphical pattern of the building, and consider the colour of the lamps a distraction. Conversely, one could have the other extreme like a graphical pattern of colours which becomes more effective if luminance (brightness) variations are removed.

    Technical reasons: It is much easier to deal with high-contrast images if they're monochrome. The colour gamut of typical reproduction devices (screen or print) is extremely limited in the bright (and to a lesser degree the dark) regions. For non-abstracts, it simply may not be possible to get natural or at least "nice" colours with a picture that doesn't look either flat or darker than than the usual snapshot .

    Another reason may be unsatisfactory colour reproduction due to poor lighting (e.g. low-CRI fluorescent lamps), or inconsistent colours due to a varying mix of light sources across the scene (as in your second picture - daylight, filtered by possibly different types of glass panels, and fluorescent tubes that create a nasty green cast). Conversion to monochrome is an easy way around the problem.

    Snobbery: It doesn't take much to realize that monochrome photos are seen as chic and more "artistic" by some. Showing off monochrome pictures may change the perception of this audience and elevate your standing among them, especially if you use outdated or obscure processes to produce them (ideally with a pinhole camera). (A similar thing exists in colour too, where crap shots become works of art for the sole reason they were taken with Lomos or toy plastic cameras.)

    Equipment limitations: if you have access to good monochrome reproduction equipment, but not colour equipment, your chances of producing a good picture may be higher if you stay with monochrome.

    Intended usage: If you're taking photos to be printed in a b/w only newspaper, colour doesn't make much sense.

    Non-standard visual perception: If you're sense of vision doesn't conform to the common tri-stimulus model (e.g. genetic variations such as tetrachromats), you may not be able to create colour images that satisfy you with normal equipment.

    Others: ... I'm sure there are many more.
    Last edited by LittleWolf; 25th August 2008 at 12:19 AM.

  8. #8

    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    This is a good topic, and I'm so looking fwd to more replies...
    Already abused my D40 and D80 for my flickr

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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    v good topic....hope it spurs many responses from the experienced cs'ers....will be watching this closely.

    i have had the same questions myself many times....when is it ideal to go b&w...also still trying to figure out the best technique to do so....(currently am lazy...so doing the shortcut PS route.... )

  10. #10
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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    I had a brief discussion on B&W photography recently. You can find the thread here:

    http://www.clubsnap.com/forums/showthread.php?t=391446

  11. #11

    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    For eg: I've changed from colour to BnW for this picture


    which I believed had created the feel of it, effectively, and


    ...cos his skin colour and the sofa was similar, as mentioned "Another reason may be unsatisfactory colour reproduction due to poor lighting (e.g. low-CRI fluorescent lamps), or inconsistent colours due to a varying mix of light sources across the scene".

    But I feel that some photographers anyhow suka2 change to BnW... that got me confused to when is it ok, when its not?
    Already abused my D40 and D80 for my flickr

  12. #12

    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    CalebK - you replied sooner than me - thanks for the link.
    Already abused my D40 and D80 for my flickr

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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by cheguthamrin View Post
    CalebK - you replied sooner than me - thanks for the link.
    Haha you are most welcome. I enjoy monochrome photography very much, though tight finances do not permit me to delve into B&W film just yet, so the next best thing is a digital image with a proper conversion.

    I think Kit and LittleWolf have pretty much summed up most of why people work in B&W.

    I think I might as well share some of my better works:






  14. #14

    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by cheguthamrin View Post
    F
    But I feel that some photographers anyhow suka2 change to BnW... that got me confused to when is it ok, when its not?
    the answer to this is simple.

    it is ok when there is an achievement of the purpose you set out to do during conversion. there doesn't necessarily have to be an aesthetic improvement, note.

    it is not ok when you don't achieve the purpose you aim to achieve. worse still, when you fail and make the photo uglier than it used to be. and even worse still, when you don't even have a purpose, you just want to make it black and white and go through the motions just because someone told you that black and white photographs have more soul, or any funny reason like that.

  15. #15

    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Twist the question;
    When NOT to convert?
    Already abused my D40 and D80 for my flickr

  16. #16

    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by cheguthamrin View Post
    Twist the question;
    When NOT to convert?


    you very funny leh..

    read last post lor.. "when not ok" part.

  17. #17

    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by night86mare View Post


    you very funny leh..

    read last post lor.. "when not ok" part.
    Haha... past 2am already ma... caffeine not working liao... hehe
    Better goto sleep already... good night guys~
    Last edited by cheguthamrin; 25th August 2008 at 02:23 AM.
    Already abused my D40 and D80 for my flickr

  18. #18
    Member emlee's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kit View Post
    Actually, someone asked the similar question as you did some time ago and I used some of my own work to explain, so if you don't mind.....

    Think Hitchcock..... using B&W to mimic the feel of the original movie.

    Emphasising depth and texture.

    Accentuating simple geometries and lines.

    Representing an ageing subject.

    Or just making an abstract appear more abstract...
    Quote Originally Posted by Kit View Post
    For more precedents, go to Page One and look at the books on sale. They are a rich source of inspiration.

    Thanks Kit. A picture DOES say a thousand words! GReat processing skills here too. Shall go read up more and practise practise practise!!!

  19. #19
    Member emlee's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by night86mare View Post
    i am going to be honest and say that there are too many errors in these pictures, either compositionally or technically to warrant any proper comments to be given.

    the first one, the vert distortion is understandable, but the tilt is not.

    the second one, way too cluttered, too complicated, yet with no real effort to simplify the complicated mess. you end up with too much overwhelmingness and a sense of well, messiness.

    there are usually 2 main reasons why one goes black and white in digital photography, i would think; the first is because the color is too distracting, i.e. you have a great portrait and everything works but whee, the model has a big yellow thing in the background, it is neither too bright or too dark, just that the color is giving you a hard time. you can then consider converting to black and white.. to "save" the picture.

    the second diverges into many things - it can be a certain mood, it can be a certain idea, it could be that in black and white - where there are many, many methods of conversion, somehow the subject will stand out much more than it does in color. this is optimistically realised and conceived at the moment of taking the photo.. but well, it isn't exactly always the case and there's nothing wrong with that.

    blackandwhite can be done with so many methods, i think with channel mixer and understanding of how it works this is the best way. alternatively, there are many good plugins which allow you to preview what it looks like first, and the different c hoices open to you.
    Thanks night86mare. Indeed, I am really bad at indoor architecture (but due to the recent rainy days...), these are definitely not good shots hence I ask to ignore the composition (so to speak). Technique wise, first time using channel mixer. Lots to learn. But found great inspiration here. thanks for your feedback.

  20. #20
    Member emlee's Avatar
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    Default Re: When to convert pictures to black and white?

    Quote Originally Posted by LittleWolf View Post
    Do you really mean "when", or do you mean "how"?

    ...
    Others: ... I'm sure there are many more.
    thanks for your many comments. in fact, thanks for all the replies.
    i think i found my answer. shall now start to explore more on techniques. thanks to caleb for the headstart in that URL.

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