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Black and White Images from Color Originals

May 18, 2008

Fourth of July Fireworks in D.C.

Fourth of July Fireworks over the Lincoln Memorial
Washington, D.C.

When most people, at least here in the US, think of fireworks, I beleive they think of the colors red, white and blue, not only of the flag themed decorations for our Independence Day celebration, but also for the reds, white and blues of the exploding fireworks against the dark night sky. In this image I try to focus not on the pretty colors of the fireworks but on the patterns their explosions make against that dark night sky. Would you see the pattern if the firey trails were golden white?

The original '; } else { echo "original "; } ?> is also a nice picture that was almost monochromatic in its original state, and I believe the original also shows more than just a pretty scene, but I feel that making the black and white version really helped me to convey more of the essence of the moment in the image. Since many people also think of fireworks in brilliant colors, I also hope that the black and white image gets the viewer involved as they wonder about the colors.

Like many photographers, I started to make the transistion from taking pictures to being a photographer in the high school darkroom doing black and white film processing and printing. Color film and printing was too costly and difficult in those days, and it wasn't possible to be as hands on and learn how different films or papers reacted with different deveopers or other factors that allow the photographer to control how the final image is rendered.

Like many photographers, I made the transition to almost exclusively shooting color to satisfy clients and for my own tastes. I gave up developing film for the most part, but still got my hands wet doing Cibachrome prints. I still love the wonderfully saturated color of films like Fuji Velvia for the nature work that makes up the majority of my portfolio, and today's inkjet printers and new papers allow me to produce prints that I feel are better than many of the Cibachromes I printed in the old days.

Adobe's Lightroom application, which is now my primary tool for adjusting images (see Is It Real for more on how I adjust images) makes it easy to convert an image from color to grayscale (Black and White). The questions are, which images do I convert, and how do I want them to look? In the following paragraphs I will attempt to answer those questions with some examples.

Dogwoods & Clouds on a Spring Morning Dogwoods & Clouds on a Spring Morning
Dogwoods and Clouds on a Spring Morning (B&W)
Albemarle County, Virginia
Dogwoods and Clouds on a Spring Morning (color)
Albemarle County, Virginia

Here is a picture I took last month down at the farm on a cloudy morning. In color, the pink dogwood flowers draw the viewer's eye toward the right side of the frame while I want the viewer to take in both the dogwoods in the foreground and middle of the image as well as the clouds and mountains in the background. In grayscale, the white and pink dogwood flowers connect with each other as similar tones and brightness levels, and both connect with the clouds clinging to the mountains in the background. I also believe the grayscale version offers a more timeless quality. This is a photograph I shot with the intent of making a grayscale image. I am pleased with how well the image works both ways.

Winter Morning on the C&O Canal Winter Morning on the C&O Canal
Winter Morning on the C&O Canal (B&W)
Winter Morning on the C&O Canal (color)

The original image is close to a monochromatic image, and I like how the cool blue of the snow covered towpath andopposite bank contrast with the pale pinks on the clouds and in the reflection as the early morning sunlight filters through a break in the clouds. In converting this image to black and white, I wanted to emphasize the texture in the clouds and the starkness of the bare trees. I also wanted to emphasize the conection with the past by applying a sepia like overall tone to the finished image.

Please check out my gallery of images that I've converted from color to Black and White.