Black&white landscapes – sooow many options to convert a color pic :)

Travelling De Biesbosch and De Loonse en Drunense Duinen in the Netherlands a few days ago, I came upon a few subjects where I actually would have loved to carry a black&white camera with me. It is so easy to take color landscape shots and then indulge in the colors but … well I probably don’t need to tell anyone about the special character and fascination of black&white landscape shots!

But there is a catch: I struggle to create work in black&white. Always did my whole life (I got my first camera at the age of 6…). Both in paid work and private photography, I basically never produced anything to write home about in black&white. So for a start, these are the black&white images from my recent trip to the Netherlands that I actually am pleased with. Below these shots, I will also show you how I got there.

De Loonse en Druinense Duinen.

De Loonse en Druinense Duinen.

De Loonse en Druinense Duinen.

De Loonse en Druinense Duinen.

My favorite spot at De Biesbosch.

My favorite spot at De Biesbosch.

Anyone familiar with black&white photography will probably instantly recognise that all these conversions were made by applying a red color filter. Of the three photos above, the last one actually is one that I actually envisioned in black&white already when I took it. And I am, after all, happy with the outcome, thankfully. :)

Black&white conversion

I am not a fan of in-camera JPG file processing so I always shoot RAW pictures. And this is how the picture looked – in full color – after my personal treatment in Lightroom:

The route to the Biesbosch museum.

The route to the Biesbosch museum.

Below I show what happens if you take the pic above and just click on “black&white” in Lightroom, with no special color filtering or anything applied. As you can see I did some adjustments to contrast and vibrance:

Neutral conversion.

Neutral conversion.

Applying a red or orange color filter means that you are blocking the other colors, especially blue, and thus get a darker and more dramatic picture of the skies and more structure in clouds. That’s what I wanted and as you can see below, you can fine adjust the filtering of all colors with Lightroom. For fun, I did it until I thought the image is looking “as I wanted”, and then the next day I started all over again. Thus I came up with two different results. I think it’s interesting how different these results are, and these differences basically just depend on my own current taste & mood:

Red filter conversion #1.

Red filter conversion #1.

Red filter conversion #2.

Red filter conversion #2.

I showed these pictures to a friend and he suggested I try Silver Efex Pro as well. This is a dedicated black&white conversion plugin that probably every serious photographer already has used, apart from me :) So I downloaded the plugin – it is available free of charge.

There is a downside to this program as it is not fully integrated into Lightroom – basically you can click on “process image with Silver Efex Pro” in Lightroom but what happens next is that a full-size TIF file is created, then opened in Silver Efex Pro, then you do all the adjustments there, save that TIF file and only then you can go back to Lightroom and add, if necessary, any finishing touches or export in whatever file format or size is needed.

Once the Silver Efex Pro editing window has opened, the rest was basically a one-click affair. There are 38 different presets for black&white pictures, I just browsed through them and selected the one I liked most, and to the right of the editing window there is a small choice of color filters, where I opted for “red” again. That was it:

Silver Efex Pro conversion.

Silver Efex Pro conversion.

Overall, I do prefer the outcome of this file to those that I came up with my own Lightroom editing, so in effect I discarded my Lightroom efforts and went the easy way :) which means that all three pictures you see at the beginning of this blog post were created with Silver Efex Pro. (I tried my luck in Lightroom with every one of the three pictures but in every case preferred the Silver Efex Pro conversion in the end.) The magic that Silver Efex Pro does is that the clouds in the sky appear just a bit more dramatic while the trees and vegetation are a little bit tuned down, so that despite my selection of a rather dramatic coversion preset, the overall look is a bit less “processed” and more “original black&white image” to my eyes.

But, this might be a very personal judgement. I am basically showing all these different conversions here to make the point that you have endless possibilities, and that there just is no definite “better” or “worse”. The nice thing is that if you took a RAW picture in the first place, you always can start all over again if you should at some point dislike the outcome of any black&white conversion.

Cheers,
Thomas

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