Challenges, Photography, Up for Discussion

Up for Discussion – Black and White Photography

You know how it is sometimes, it is the start of the day and you think, what am I going to post about today.  Then I had a thought.  I thought I might do a post on black and white photography, then I thought, I’m not an expert at it.  Then the light bulb went off, ting.

What if I did a post on the ways I do black and white and then open it up to everyone to discuss how they do it.  There are people out there who know a whole lot more than me on this topic.

So this is how it will work.  I am going to tell you quickly how I make a black and white image.  Then I want you to tell me how you do it.  You will leave it as a comment and I will approve it.  I am probably not going to comment on them, unless I think something is really cool, or I don’t understand.  Do you get what I am talking about?  I will explain it again at the end.

2014-03-10 08.32.24This is a shot I took yesterday on City Link. I was on my way to Williamstown with a friend, she was driving, and I got my phone out quickly and took this.  I can’t believe how well it came out.  I put it up on g+ and FB and someone asked me how long I had to wait for the blue car.  I didn’t wait at all, didn’t even realise there was a blue car there until I was looking at the image afterwards.  It was a lucky shot taken with a Samsung Galaxy S3, out the windscreen.

So I loved all the lines and wondered what it would look like in black and white.

2014-03-10 08.32.24-bw1I did this in photoshop.  I used the black and white adjustment layer.  I like the way you can play with the colours in the image and change the tones of individual ones.  It can be a great way to get a dark sky, make the blues and cyans darker.  Though you have to be careful because if your image is grainy, it will show it up more.  Then I upped the contrast a little.  Not a bad effort.  Though, I do think it looks better in colour.

2014-03-10 08.32.24-bw2The other way I do black and white is with Silver Efex from the Nik Collection.  You can’t control the individual tones, but you can choose from a range of presets and then do minor changes.  I used the low key preset for this image.  That was pretty much all I did to it.  I should probably have upped the whites a bit, it is looking a little grey.

There are two different ways that I do black and white.  I thought since we have the Black and White challenge tomorrow that it might be a good discussion to have right now.  The comment section is open, though I do moderate cooments, but I will try and approve comments as quickly as I can.

In your comments you can tell us how you do your black and white, or you can ask a question, and maybe someone will be able to answer it.  You can comment on what other people have said. The only real restriction is that it has to be polite.  Anyone saying anything mean or horrible will not be approved.

I have never done anything like this before, so I don’t know if this will work, but I know lots of people out there want to do black and white photography but aren’t sure how.

Here is a gallery of the images so you can look at them individually.

On the subject of tomorrow’s challenge, if you want to put something in, you don’t have much time left.  Remember you have to email your entry to me.

At this stage it is looking like this challenge is going to be called Monochrome Madness, something that Laura and I came up with together and we love.


  1. Really interesting cover on that roadway–I love things like that, especially in full sun so you can see all the details with lots of midranges. I always look for strong contrasts and details for a photo that will work in black and white. I have a Pentax and open the RAW file in the Pentax software, choose grayscale, then adjust each color accordingly.

  2. Like the color best, mostly because of the interplay of the blue car and blue sky.

    Of the two B&W shots I like the photoshop version better, as more faithful to the original.

  3. Trying to explain why black and white works so well is like trying to explain to someone how an orange tastes…. if they have never tasted one. You either get it or you don’t. Developing a ‘black and white photographer’s eye’ is simple something that comes to someone who appreciated B&W and wants to create in that medium.

    • Though that isn’t what I was talking about, I am curious how people actually process, the editing side of it. What makes an image good or bad in black and white is a very personal thing. I know there are many many ways of making your images black and white.

      • Good point……. got on the soap box a bit there. I started in a dark room. Someone asked me how you do digital photos in B&W……. I was very polite when I answered….. we all have to start somewhere. Forgive my pedantic comments…. I’ve had a headache for four days and my good self is nowhere to be seen.

      • All good Terry, I hope your headache clears soon.
        I know a lot of people want to do black and white and don’t know how, and I thought, with the number of people that follow me, that they could get a good idea of the different ways of doing it. I think we have already had a couple that I didn’t know about.

  4. I also like both version: colour and black&white. However, I tend slightly towards colour just because it’s a blue car. If it was red or so I’d go with b&w for sure.

    I did use PS a lot to create B&W. Since a few weeks I’m a big fan of the B&W presets that Perfect Effects 8 has to offer. Pretty lazy, I know ;) (though you can play around with quite a few sliders to customize their looks till you like it).

    • I know what you mean, the colour does have some extra because of that car.
      Thanks for sharing your process. I haven’t used Perfect Effects, but I keep hearing about it recently, I might have to go and check it out. :)

  5. Leanne, I think you undersell SilverEfex. You can change colour tones. And much for besides. I have 3 approaches, 4 if you include B&W film. I use one of PS, SilverEfex or Alien Skin 4. Each gives different results but I guess with a bit of work you could get close to the same result with each of them. SilverEfex is the easiest in my view and the presets are good as a starting point. There are lots of free presets you can import too. Your lucky image is very lucky indeed. Excellent.

  6. The color photo is terrific, and I love it when we respond to those inner nudges and just snap away, even if it seems an odd time or place. But my hands down fave is your first B&W process. I like the clear contrast between the blacks and whites. I personally use the sepia process when I want the contrasts less definite. I will try and get an example of what I mean into you for tomorrow’s contest.
    In any event, this is a great article. Thanks for thinking of it, and for the chance to read the other comments.

  7. Nice work Leanne. As you called out, some pictures are better in color and I think this is one. Of course that was not the question was it? Like you I use SilverEfex and Photoshop but I also do a lot of B&W work in Lightroom. From a process POV, my workflow looks something like starting in Lightroom (my catalog is there so it is a natural place to start), I do all my basic exposure, cropping, corrections there then move to Photoshop for more localized work and retouching if needed. I then convert to B&W in photoshop and do some more work with color corrections, burning and dodging etc., until I have something I like. If I want to just make a simple dramatic effect I will go right from Lightroom into SilverEfex like I did with this iPhone photo ( I love your work and follow your Blog. Thanks for all you contribute to the art! -Ron

    • Ron, I have been processing all my b&w in Lightroom. I like the results, but want more control. Do you think SilverEfex would provide that?

      • SilverEfex gives different control – I would not say more. Some of the presets are very powerful but it lacks the kind of tight spot control you can get with Lightroom and especially Photoshop. I think you can download a free trial.

      • You can do some spot control, it has control points that you can use for specific parts, I’ve used that many times, quite nice. I have silver efex and have used it alot, in fact my image for the challenge tomorrow was done with it. I like to use with Photoshop too, so I used both on an image. Thanks

  8. I do it the first way as well sometimes with the adjustment layer and then dodge & burn after I make the adjustments. But lately I’ve been creating three layers via Nik SEP2, one high key, one low key, and one neutral. I layer them in a document and then use the neutral as my starting point and mask to show or hide high or low tones to hopefully create a pleasing image. Then I dodge and burn if necessary.

    • I must admit, I have been too lazy, but I think I need to get into doing some stuff like this. I know how, but my back problems and sitting have been making it hard for me. Thanks for sharing Laura.

    • I don’t have a lot of luck with the dodge and burn tools – it is either not enough or way too much – so I have to work with another way to get a similar effect – glad you have the skills to work this way.

      • I have been working on the burning and dodging and slowly I am getting better at them. I know what you mean though, you have to be so careful.

  9. Rats! I wasn’t done and clicked post comment….I wanted to say that I love the composition and tones of this photo above. It really is amazing. makes me want to go to Melbourne!

    • Thank you so much, I wish Tourism Victoria knew how many times people say that to me, haha. If you come, we will have to get together so I can show you around.

      • I would love that but unfortunately with my physical limitations I can’t fly that far. :(. It’s fun to think about though!

      • It is a long way, a lot of people go for stopovers so they don’t have to fly for too long, we did that coming back from Scandinavia, spent a day in Singapore. I will have to keep posting photos for you.

  10. Leanne, I just do the easy thing and push the b+w button in Photoscape after I’ve made the picture look the way I want in color. Then I adjust contrast and sometimes change the color temperature to about 5000K, which can make the “white” slightly less so and a bit more like vellum. I continue to dislike complicated software :)

  11. johnholding says

    Hi Leanne, Changing from colour to BW changes the emphasis of this photograph, more of the bridge structure and less on the car. Which BTW I like.

    Depending on what I want to do in BW means using one of several techniques. I will often just process to BW in ACR and adjust colours there as the colour palette is greater than PS. However sometimes I will use PS to convert using the BW tool and sometime because it changes the contrast I will use the gradient tool, it produces slightly crisper blacks.

    • Changing it from colour to B&W does change the focus of the image, which is really interesting.

      What is ACR? I feel I should know it, but can’t work it out. I always forget about the gradient tool, I must try using that more. Thanks John.

  12. all i can say is, WOW!
    picture perfect :) so, this is where Microsoft took also the shots for their one of the wallpapers in Windows 7.
    personally, i like the pattern, the composition and the colors.

    thanks for sharing this.


  13. Great idea for the post! I make basic adjustments in Lightroom and then export to Silver Efex, sometimes I start with a preset other times I start from scratch. It is worth spending time with Silver Efex as once you get deeper into the menus it really is very versatile. I guess it is what you are used to working in though. I also really like the toning finish options in which you have control over not only what colour you use but the silver toning, the balance of the tone, intensity etc. Great image – I’ve often looked at that structure but not had a camera – never thought of the phone, doh :)

    • Thank you Lisa, I think I need to spend more time in Silver efex. I’ve tried photographing it before and not had much luck, but I think yesterday luck was definitely on my side.

  14. I have n’t done that much B&W until fairly recently (plenty of time for processing now I’m retired though!) so I am still experimenting and learning. My favourite method so far is using topaz B&W effects as a lightroom plug-in, lots of presets that can be fine tuned to preference.
    I think your colour original looks best, but if cropped to portrait format on the left, without the car, B&W would look nice.

  15. Well, as someone who started off as a b/w photographer and is now a b/w painter, lol!, I think the blue sky works best with the blue car. A stunning image, congratulations, Leanne!

    • That is interesting, starting as a photographer first. Thank you, I think the colour works better.

  16. Well, as someone who started as a b/w photographer and is now a b/w painter, lol!, I like the blue sky with blue car version best. A stunning image, congratulations, Leanne!

  17. I’m still so new at taking pictures and editing them that I haven’t tried black-and-white yet, but I sure love the one you have on City Link. Interesting pattern and it looks great in black and white.

    • Thank you, it is great thing to drive through, was so happy with the image, especially since it was with my phone. I am sure you will get to doing black and white one day, I think we all do eventually.

  18. Hi Leanne! I have done a few black and white conversions lately using an adjustment layer in Photoshop CS6. For each, I first processed the image as a color image in camera raw doing a little sharpening and tone curve adjusting as needed. Then I sent the image to PS for conversion to black and white. After the conversion, I might have tweaked the contrast, if needed, or I may have done some minor dodging or burning here or there.

    • Sounds like what I do basically, I should get onto the dodging and burning though, perhaps for tomorrows image. Thank you Pam.

  19. Lisa…excellent post and discussion. I like the contrast in the Silver Efex rendition. I will often use a different black and white process depending on the picture. Sometimes just adjusting the individual tones in LR5 or Photoshop is all that is needed.

  20. Hi Leanne,

    Thanks for kicking off this discussion. I don’t think there is a single best way to do this. I suppose it comes down to what you have to hand and whatever limitations that has. At present I have several workflows for doing monochrome. The quickest is an app called Stopbath that is very basic and pretty much produces the same effect as putting a colour filter on your lens did back when I used film. You could achieve the same effect working with RGB channels in photoshop or Lightroom. I also use an app called Intensify to some basic black and white conversions. Finally I do some HDR in Photomatix and often use the presets.

    I do wonder if there is a difference in approach for people that have used film as well as digital. I know I’m thinking about what I’m looking at subjects in terms of contrast, tone or pattern, to evaluate their potential as a black and white image and when I do that I refer back to years of using film and filters to emphasise certain qualities of the image. I don’t know how my approach would differ if I had not had that experience and I would be interested in hearing from people in that situation.


    Diced Imagery Project

  21. I just use Lightroom. I begin by making exposure and contrast adjustments with the histogram and the curves. I prefer realistic contrast, one that conveys what the image really looked like, so I focus a lot on that. My goal is to set the midtone contrast first, then fine tune the highlights and shadows, either by tweeking the histogram or curves, or by using the shadow and black sliders. If there specific color regions that I want to lighten or darken, then I use the b&w mix control. Last step is to use the built in layer and brush tools to tweak exposure and contrast in specific regions of the photograph. I want to get really good at PS, but don’t have the time to climb the learning curve, and I want to get NIK and experiment with that. Someday.

  22. Great image! I think it works equally well in colour and b/w, where I like the photoshop version. Since a few months I bring a diminutive analogue camera loaded with b/w film for the times when I believe something will turn out better in b/w. It’s an experiment to see if it helps me to get a better feel for use of b/w.

  23. I love black and white photography, a suggestion if I may?

    Have you tried putting the car in colour? I don’t have a clue about photo shop but have seen it dine and it has an amazing effect :)

  24. I always shoot in colour and then use Lightroom to change. I am not a big fan of the pre-sets, they don’t get things right for me. On your photo I also like the colour one best but it would only work this way with a blue car – I too thought you had had to wait for such a car to come along……MM 🍀

    • Thanks MM for telling us how you do your images. I agree about mine, if that car was another colour it wouldn’t have worked as well.

  25. I run PS CS – I usually convert using ‘Channel Mixer’ after checking out the result of converts against each of the colours in ‘Channels’. I sometimes use de-saturation. I also take black and white photographs using film, scanning the results for ‘adjustment’ in PS.
    A major benefit of using black and white is it’s ability to neutralise colour. In you colour version, the dominant is blue and the grid of the ‘tunnel’ is secondary – the blue car is supported by the colour of the sky. Sky and car are neutralised in the black and white version – and because the ‘tunnel’ is white (against the dark grey) it becomes the dominant feature.
    (I hope you were the passenger! – I did once set my camera on a tripod wedged in the passenger seat pointing forward with a remote control to fire it off when I thought it was right – but the whole thing was a bit dodgy – and you should have seen the looks I got!)

    • I like your observations Stephen, I think you are right about the differences between the colour and B&W. I have to admit when I first saw what I got, my first thought was, what a shame that car is there.
      I was the passenger, I tried once too, it is too hard and I never tried again. So were the shots good, ;) I would love to see them.
      Thank you.

      • I don’t think I got what I wanted, which was some motion blur shots travelling the UKs longest suspension bridge – the whole business of crossing the bridge, getting to the turn round junction and returning and going back and checking what I had was all a bit too much faffing about for me. Where the pictures are I’m not sure, they’re secreted onto a cd/dvd somewhere, they’re definitely not on my hard drive system.
        I’ll look them up to see if they are worth posting…. sometime. ;)

      • ” sometimes things are just too hard.” – I know what you mean, but at the end of the day if we have the conviction behind an idea we can succeed no matter what – in this case, my idea was more of a ‘that seems a good idea’ rather than “I must do that” – but of course this trying of ideas is where we get a major part of our leaning and experience.

  26. I love the structure and there is great potential for a B&W image here – however, of your three versions I think the colour works best, basically due to the blue car complimenting the sky. Had the car been red (for example) it wouldn’t have been anything like as effective.

    I’d be tempted to process this in a more high key fashion so the blues become really pale. This would emphasise the structure through the contrast provided by its shadows which are more defined in the distance to their ‘disappearing point’ than the pale tones. This effect is more visible in your first conversion. It would have the added benefit of making the car paler – as it is it gets a bit lost in the dark tones around it.

    I usually use Nikon’s Capture NX for all my processing, including mono conversions, as I have full control and can ‘develop’ the image as I visualised it. I also use Nik Silver Efex on occasions for a ‘quick fix’.

    • I didn’t explain myself particularly well here! What I was trying to say was that, unless you use quick pre-sets, it’s not so much how you process B&W images as how you visualise them. The software then is simply a tool to create your vision and I used your picture as an example of how a different visualisation would result in a completely different image.
      I’m still not sure I’m getting there so I’ll stop! :D

    • I think I am starting to understand that perhaps if I want to do black and white photography then I might have to try harder. Thanks Noeline.

  27. Pingback: Tokyo at Night in Black/White, Japan | Billy's Travel Album

  28. I am still new at photography and until a few weeks ago B/W photo meant putting the camera on B/W and shooting. Now I am one stage further, I shoot in JPEG color and then process it with a software.
    Right I am in the process of picking up which software I will buy. For the moment I am using the Demo version of Corel Paintshop and when I am done I will need to also try the Demo version of Lightroom and Photoshop. I am not shooting in RAW for the moment, I want to master my camera and all its option 1st, I am also doing test with my cam, I want to know my cam better then in a few months I will start shooting in RAW since they do give more flexibility in the post-process.

  29. For my normal camera – I shoot in Raw and do the majority of tone and color adjustments on the RGB image (Levels and Hue/Sat). Then I use a Photoshop B&W adjustment layer and do some final tone work – mostly using Curves. As I like to have some warmth to my “prints” – so I typically use a sepia Photo Filter layer at about 15% – then image is flattened, saved as a TIFF and then SmartSharpen is the last thing I do to it. Nothing too fancy, but it works for me. Thanks Leanne.

  30. Great shot Leanne, I love the color and lines, What a stroke of luck getting the Blue car in frame and keeping the thirds rile :-) For me the color image works best,even though I am a huge fan of mono these days.
    I normally use a quick Levels layer followed by the B/W adjustment layer. Sometimes I will play with the sliders a little but that’s generally it. On the rare occasion were I get an image exactly the way I want, I will just desaturate on an adjustment layer and its done.
    I have seen some stunning images run through Silver Efex, but I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet, so for now its CS all the way :-)


    • I think it was a very lucky shot all round Eddie.
      Thanks for tellings us how you process your black and white images.

  31. martin says

    Hi Leanne, I’m pretty close to what you do – either an adjustment layer in PS (normally flipping through the filters, then choosing the best and adjust the individual components as I “need” to get what I want) or I use Alien Skin 5. Which I sometimes use also for color shots, especially when people are in the picture.

    • I have never used Alien Skin, I have heard of it, but decided that maybe I didn’t need that plugin when I had the Nik Collection, they all offer the same sorts of things. I think. Thank you, it has been great hearing how people do their images, I have picked up some tips myself.

  32. That’s pretty much all I do Leanne. Nice post and fabulous picture. I’d be back there with my D800.. I think I’d tackle a night shot.. A good long, long exposure with the light trails disappearing into the distance. How much movement in the bridge I wonder.. that could affect how long an exposure you could get away with and still have a sharp image. might have to be a dusk not so long exposure. It’s a smashing bridge. :)

    • Great to hear Chillbrook, thank you. I would love to do that too, but it is part of the freeway and unless you are driving in a car, there is no access. It is a real pain that they build things that are great to photograph, but don’t give photographers anywhere to photograph them. :(

  33. Wow. What a location! I believe I could spend several days here between details and sky changes. Of course it might get dangerous, right? I suppose one could hire a car with a sun-roof and just ride back and forth… :) Nice work, Leanne. I don’t think I have much to add as far as technique. I open in Lightroom and then play with B&W conversion, sometimes in LR but mostly in PS. As I have mentioned before, I turn almost everything into B&W just to take a look. Sometimes it highlights an aspect that I then tweak in the color version, or sometimes it stays B&W. Often it allows me to see if the image is enhanced or taken away from by the colors.

    • I was thinking about the sunroof myself, I used to have a car with one. Thank you for giving us some information on how you work.

  34. I shoot raw, sometimes i use Lightroom to convert the image or I use Silver efex. When using silver efex i pick a present that looks good and the tune it for the image. What ever happens I always dodge and burn in lightroom with adjustment brushes.

  35. I’m like you… I love the color, but I’m always attracted to Black and White pictures as well. I believe I would really like to check out the Silver Efex program as I do like that particular Black and white best. :D

  36. Hi Leanne, To me it’s stunning in color because of the happenstance blue car and the amazing sky. The bridge would be awesome without the cars, but that accidental burst of matching color is the shot that no one else gets! The black and white doesn’t do the same thing for me. I would make mine exactly the same, though because you taught me! hehehe! :)

  37. Nice shot! And it is better in color.

    My workflow is pretty simple. Image it’s loaded in Lightroom for standard adjustments. I click on BW to see if it works. Then I load into silverfx directly or thru photoshop. I have standard presets I like. To finish, I may work it a little in PS, save back into Lightroom. Save a JPEG and print

  38. This was a great idea! I haven’t done any B&W since I used film and this discussion is breaking me out of my “B&W is for film only!” viewpoint.

    • That is great to hear Ann, maybe you can play with some images and then send one in for Monochrome Madness? Thanks.

  39. I like both the colour and the B&W. They create different moods. B&W often makes images cold, but I find its major benefit is in simplifying images especially geometric ones.
    I started out as a B&W printmaker 45 years ago – I always shot B&W except on holidays. For a while I tried carrying two cameras, one with colour film in it, and one loaded with B&W. But I found it was almost impossible to work in both media simultaneously. Eve Arnold said she found working in both media a ‘schizoid experience’. I know exactly what she meant.

    • I am starting to see that two, someone said you concentrate on different things depending on the image. I did a similar thing with two cameras, but I think you are either going to take colour or black and white. I didn’t end up doing much black and white film because I would never get around to processing it, so there wasn’t much point. I love the options we have available to day. Thank you.

  40. I like the B+W ones. It allows me to focus on other things like the lines and curves. Great photos. :)

  41. The color image wins in my humble opinion. The blue sky/blue car match is one reason, but not the most important one: even without the car this image would still have been great since the car is not really the main point of interest…

    For me, the contrast between the white metal roof and the blue sky does it. It gives the image a feeling of space. This is much less prominent in the B+W images.

    In my – modest – experience, color works best when color adds to the composition of the image. In this case it really does.

    Thank you for sharing this. It makes me think about it and so I learn things myself.

    • It is an interesting image, I am so proud of it because of how I got it. I like what you are saying about the contrast between the sky and roof. I like the way the blue helps to highlight the metal.
      No thanks needed, thank you.

  42. i prefer the black and white, as the architecural work lends itself brilliantly to these tones, and prefer the 1st b&w as the contrast of the reflected light adds greater depth to the image.

    • Thank you, it is great hearing what people think, I agree with which black and white image works best.

  43. After seen Christe Strömholm’s work … I must agree what B&W can talk loud and strongl, still my world needs more color than B&W. It’s a fantastic challenge you two has started. I love it too.

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