“I am sure the next step will be the electronic image, and I hope I shall live to see it. I trust that the creative eye will continue to function, whatever technological innovations may develop.” - Ansel Adams - 1983
“If you’re photographing in color you show the color of their clothes – if you use black and white, you will show the color of their soul.” - Anonymous
After resisting for several years, I finally made the leap to black and white photography in the digital realm. Now that I’ve made the transition, I’m a bit overwhelmed with this whole new world and the endless possibilities at hand. What’s more, it turns out that I can readily convert many of my earlier digital images to black and white. Generally an “early adapter,” why did I wait so long to make this move?
Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley, NIKON D300,f/20 @ 24 mm, 1/25, ISO 200
Having worked with medium format negatives in a traditional darkroom, I was generally doubtful about the prospect of capturing and processing quality black and white digital images. Candidly, I was held back by “purist” concerns over image resolution, size and a strong connection to film. After all, I figured, film is integral to serious black and white photography, especially so for fine art photography. In my conventional thinking, great emphasis was placed on film choices, paper selection, darkroom techniques and the physical nature of the printing process as whole.
Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley, NIKON D300,f/22 @ 200 mm, 1/15, ISO 200
Beyond technical considerations like image resolution and tonal range, it was especially hard to comprehend how color digital photos could be instantly converted to credible black and white images. The idea that a digital photographer could have both options after a shoot somehow seemed so easy – just too good to be true.
My “conversion” came about mostly through a nagging sense of curiosity, my recent upgrade to a full frame DSLR and a fortuitous look at Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. This remarkable Photoshop plug-in came bundled with some other Nik digital color filters and sharpening software, both which I use regularly in color post processing.
Laguna Beach, California, NIKON D300,f/22 @ 200 mm, 1/15, ISO 200
Silver Efex Pro has several presets for black and white conversion, grouped in general categories: classic, vintage, modern and favorites. Once the preset is selected, the software allows for subtle adjustments in structure, brightness and contrast. Tonality protection is also provided via slider controls for shadows and highlights. Standard black and white filters (e.g., red, orange, green, etc.) and “film type” options are readily selected and compared using an easy preview mode.
Point Reyes Shipwreck, Tomales Bay, California, NIKON D800E,f/20 @ 78 mm, 0.6s, ISO 200
The current issue of Outdoor Photographer (August 2013) discusses other B&W conversion software packages, HDR for B&W, digital B&W master "darkrooms" and traditional B&W glass filters.
To date, my most successful digital black and white images have been created from high resolution photo files, mainly of patterns in nature. Images of the Death Valley sand dunes and other geological formations seem to present particularly well in the black and white format.
Aspen Trees, Hart Prairie Road, Flagstaff, Arizona, NIKON D800E,f/7.1 @ 70 mm, 1/320, ISO 400
Given this broader perspective, I feel a bit (no pun intended) re-energized - eager to capture my next color photos with an eye to the revered gray scale. And all of this with no red glass filter in my camera bag. We’ll just darken those dramatic blue skies on the computer, back at home … of course.
In peaceful surrender,
Marcus W. Reinkensmeyer
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