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Day 11 – Black and White Conversions

The station and silos being more dynamic

Black and White is a very popular way to show your images.  When you look at other photography blogs, I don’t know how many times I see images that have been converted into black and white.  Sometimes they work as an image, sometimes they don’t.  There seems to be this general impression, convert it to black and white and you will have a great image.  Not true.

The other thing I see is many black and white images, well, they are meant to be black and white, but the truth is they are more gray than black and white.  Many photographers out there converting their images don’t comprehend the basics of what makes a good image this way, or know how to do it.  Just for fun I often copy the black and white image from someone’s blog and then edit it to make it better, always helps me.

The main rule for black and white images:

There should always be a black and there should always be a white.

When your computer converts an image it makes everything grey, or as much as possible.  It doesn’t put in the contrast for you.  You can’t just go convert to greyscale and leave it at that.

Here is a image I did that too:

I used GIMP for this image, more on that later.  I opened the image and just converted it to greyscale.  I have done nothing else to it.  Does it look alright?  Yeah, it looks ok, but to me it is washout, too grey, I would like to see more contrast.

I put in more contrast, now there are more tones, more blacks and more whites.  I think this works so much better and all I did was change the contrast.  Simple.  Took me about another minute after converting it.

Using Photoshop is a little more complicated, but you get to do a whole lot more to your images.  I now prefer it over GIMP, but GIMP is great for someone starting out who doesn’t know a lot and doesn’t have the time to learn Photoshop.  The other thing that is fantastic about GIMP is that it is free and you can download it from the website, go here and take a look.

This next image you have seen before:

A colour version is my header for this blog.  It is one of my favourite photos taken this year and will be in my exhibition next year.  The above image is a straight conversion, I opened the image in Photoshop and then pressed the layer for black and white.  This is what I got.

Again, it is an OK image, but it has lost of the appeal that was there in the colour image, the late afternoon glow.  It is a very flat image now.  It needs more work,

The clouds have more detail, you can see the glow on the station.  All I really did here was change the tonal values for each colour.  I was able to change what I wanted to get the image I was after.  I think you would have to admit that this is a far better image.  I still think it is much better in colour, but I don’t mind this too much.

So if you are converting your images into black and white ask yourself if it can be make better.  I used to have a lecturer at art school that used to say “to learn and make better artwork you have to be prepared to f*** it up”.  I think that is true, try stuff, you can always delete stuff if you have to.  Make a copy of the image you are going to play with so you never lose the original.

If you have an image that you would like to see if it can be improved, then send me an email at and I will see if I can help.

Off to the Mornington Peninsula this afternoon.  Looking forward to getting away.  Hopefully will be able to post some images while I am there.  I hope you all have a good weekend clicking away.  Let me know what you get .

  1. Hi Leanne I had not heard of Gimp but as a full member of the Photoshop club I will continue with that to do B&W.

    Your lecturer was right – there must be a desire to experiment and play, to get it wrong and learn. God knows I’ve tried.


    November 11, 2011
    • I’m with you, if you have photoshop already, then I would stick with it. It is good being able to push it with photography, the original is always still there.

      November 13, 2011
  2. Hi Leanne,
    Great post. Has given me lots to think about and will certainly make me try harder with my B&W photography. I really liked how your post was illustrated and the station shot… wow! Have a good weekend and I look forward to your next post. Mike

    November 12, 2011
    • Hey Mike, glad the post helped, hope you get some great black and white shots now. Will look out for them.

      November 13, 2011
  3. That was awesome & such a big help as you hit on some of things that I have been doing. Thanks so much for all of your help so far. Big difference when you add the contrast.

    November 12, 2011
    • Contrast can be great, just be careful not to add too much. Glad to help, like helping. Will be watching how you go.

      November 13, 2011
  4. I love Black & White photos. I use GIMP and Photoshop too!!!
    Good afternoon Leanne, bye bye.

    November 14, 2011
    • I do, though not for everything. Ha, we both use both, what do you prefer? I think Photoshop is so much better, but GIMP is fantastic for learning.

      November 14, 2011
      • I agree with you, Photoshop is so much better. I used GIMP for learning but sometimes I keep using it. =) =)

        November 14, 2011
      • I have GIMP on my desktop because I don’t use windows, but on my laptop I have windows and have Photoshop on that. I use GIMP for quick easy fixes, but when I really want to do some serious work on my images I always do it on Photoshop now. Still think GIMP is great for people learning though, mainly because it is free.

        November 15, 2011
  5. Very important and helpful tips! Thanks for sharing.

    November 14, 2011
    • I am glad to pass on knowledge, hoping over the time I have this that I can share the knowledge I have, and share the experiences I have when learning new stuff.

      November 15, 2011
  6. A great B & W conversion program is Silver Efex Pro 2 by NIK software.

    September 15, 2012
    • I have heard that, I haven’t got it, but I have read reviews that say it is quite good.

      September 17, 2012
  7. What tools to you use in Photoshop after you turn the photo b&w? Do you only use the color sliders that pop up after conversion, or do you use curves or something else? I love my b&w photos and would love to make them look better!

    October 10, 2012
    • No I don’t Anne, I don’t really like the sliders, to be honest, I love the contrast tool, and use that a lot. I like to put in my own and I use curves and levels as well. I was told a long time ago when I was printing in the darkroom that all B&W images should have blacks and they should have whites. Perhaps I should look at doing a tutorial in it, would you like that?

      October 11, 2012
      • annesimagery #

        That would be amazing!!!! Thanks!! :)

        October 11, 2012
      • annesimagery #

        Also, I have trouble getting the areas I want white to be really white… look at my above post from today. I really wanted that tree white, but to maintain the detail at the same time. Am I making sense?

        October 12, 2012
      • Have you used the sliders to make black and white in curves? Do you know what I am talking about. There doesn’t seem enough black either. There are whites there, but I don’t quite know which bit you want to be white. Making black and white images can be a trial and error thing. I probably haven’t helped at all. Sorry

        October 13, 2012
  8. Continuing reading took me here. I’ve used Picasa, but is not quite happy. I think photoshop will be to expensive for my use, so I might try out Gimp.

    Are you still looking for other peoples photos to fix?

    You could try mine, it’s not entirely black/white/gray, because I thought it looked good with some color. But I’m not pleased with the sharpness, I think some parts of it should have more contrast. Would you take a minute to comment?

    October 24, 2012
    • GIMP is also great because it is free.
      No, I don’t tend to do other peoples photos, well unless they pay me. haha. I don’t have time right now, but if I get a chance I will take a look.

      October 24, 2012
      • Thanks! After asking, I read your post about getting so much questions about doing other peoples photos. I quite understand. Out of curiosity – are there many that pay you, for critisizing their photos?

        October 27, 2012
      • I do do it for a hourly fee, there is details at the top of the page,

        October 29, 2012
  9. vgibbons #

    Hi, great post! Love it. I’ve just very recently got into photography and editing and have a very basic question about what kind of pictures that will look best when they’re in B&W. I know there isn’t probably general rule in art etc but I’m just wondering what ‘effects’ can we expect from converting a picture to B&W. I hope my question makes sense lol. Look forward to seeing more of your work!

    December 31, 2012
  10. I’m so happy you have some tutorials involving Gimp… I haven’t had time to learn it yet, and most classes locally are geared toward Photoshop. I like what I’ve seen of your work so far and I’ll be back!

    January 7, 2013
  11. It’s great to see the before and after. I’m sometimes concerned about losing some of the nuances if I up the contrast but these demonstrate how that is more than compensated for by the extra vim.

    February 28, 2014
    • I think you have to be careful with contrast, but it can be your friend and can really make an image pop, the contrast helps to make sure you have a black and a white. Thanks.

      February 28, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Black and White in GIMP – My Way « Leanne Cole's Photography Field Trips
  2. It isn’t Always Black and White | Leanne Cole PHOTOGRAPHY

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