Our fourth entry in our series on digital toning will center on the most popular of toning which you probably know as “black & white.”  As we’ve previously discussed, digital toning presets are a popular feature set in Lightroom and most imaging software.  We’ll be exploring the genesis of the most common toning presets and how they apply to our photography.  Check out the first in the series about Cyanotypes , the second on Sepia, and the third on Antique Toning.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 90mm F2.8 TSE @F8 15 secs ISO 200

Our fourth entry in our series on digital toning will center on the most popular of toning which you probably know as “black & white.”  As we’ve previously discussed, digital toning presets are a popular feature set in Lightroom and most imaging software.  We’ll be exploring the genesis of the most common toning presets and how they apply to our photography.  Check out the first in the series about Cyanotypes , the second on Sepia, and the third on Antique Toning.

Black and white photography has been with us since the beginning and unlike the other toning types, black and white goes well with almost anything.  Some people prefer to shoot nothing but black and white finding colors distracting to their compositions.  There is a bit of a misnomer out there that black and white is simple to master. It’s not.  It’s at least as complex and difficult to master as color.  There are simple ways to achieve a black and white image, but these are usually employed by beginners who haven’t yet learned to look for light, tones, grays, and how these interact among different subjects in the composition to achieve a final composition. “How” you convert an image, is just as important as the composition itself.  It needs to fit and look right.

The image above is one of my favorites from Cambodia.  A 15 second capture after dark where you couldn’t see anything with the naked eye.  The variety of tones, the depth of the blacks, and the extended tonal range throughout make this image work.

 

This is the same image straight out of the camera. It’s really not attractive at all, but if you gain experience with black and whites you’ll notice all the tone ranges across the water and in the sky and you’ll know it will make a good black and white image, if properly toned.

Canon 1ds Mark II, 90mm F2.8 TSE @F8 15 secs ISO 200

This is the same image straight out of the camera. It’s really not attractive at all, but if you gain experience with black and whites you’ll notice all the tone ranges across the water and in the sky and you’ll know it will make a good black and white image, if properly toned.

 

Another long exposure of 30 seconds.  I loved this view and knew when I looked through my viewfinder that I’d process it in black and white.  Why?  I wanted to show the length of the corridor, the detail of the rocks, the reflections on the floor, and the ghost of Angkor photographers.  I wanted the viewer to concentrate on these important points and not be distracted by color or mixed tones.

Canon 1ds Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 @F8 30 secs 13mm ISO 100

Another long exposure of 30 seconds.  I loved this view and knew when I looked through my viewfinder that I’d process it in black and white.  Why?  I wanted to show the length of the corridor, the detail of the rocks, the reflections on the floor, and the ghost of Angkor photographers.  I wanted the viewer to concentrate on these important points and not be distracted by color or mixed tones.

 

Can you see the difference?  The same detail and view is there, but it doesn’t seem like it because your eyes are being distracted.

Canon 1ds Mark II, Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 @F8 30 secs 13mm ISO 100

Can you see the difference?  The same detail and view is there, but it doesn’t seem like it because your eyes are being distracted.

Black and white is appropriate for most everything, but unless you’re really good at it you might want to limit it to series of photographs where you want to include a certain mood or feeling.  Making an effective/attractive black and white image is much more than just sliding the saturation slider to the left.  It’s about ‘feeling’ the image and getting the very most from it, trying different levels, different looks, much like we’d do in the darkroom long ago.