Thursday, September 28, 2017

Black and White ~ in portraiture

After learning about how to correctly emulate black and white film using a digital file, I've been wondering about all the different ways of applying this new (to me) knowledge.

One of my favorite subjects is people.  I've worked with creative costumers in Steampunk, Tribal Fusion, and Victorian Gothic communities in the US and Europe over the past 15 years and enjoy it.  While most people I work with are wanting something "unique" (meaning colors and textures and "interesting" lighting), I've had it in the back of my mind that I'd like to explore the late 1800's imaging esthetic.  A good example of the goal I would like, someday, to shoot for is the style of the work of Alex Timmerman.

Taking an image from a series of photos I did recently with Hua Costumes, I set about seeing how a black and white treatment might be approached.

Here is a processed color version of the image in question.

Vampire photoshoot ~ Hua Costumes

And here is the black and white conversion.

Hua Costumes ~ in B&W

By desaturating the color file, making sure the blacks are deep enough and that there is plenty of detail in the highlights, I simply moved the center of the "curve" up a little.   That is to say, I made the mid-tones lighter.

I could have combined this technique with the black and white filter selections to lighten or darken the skin (red/yellow to lighting, blue to darken).  In this case lightening the skin seemed to ruin the effect I was looking for and darkening the skin seemed to turn it to mud.

The reason I mention skin lightening/darkening is that this is what I was required to pay close attention to when I worked in a photo lab making black and white prints in Hollywood.  The images were used in the local parade of the stars tabloids and lightening the skin-tones hid many of the star's natural blemishes.  High-key skin tones were all the rage at the time and the approach seems to be well entrenched in image making, even today.

Which brings me to another point about converting color digital files to black and white for portraiture.  The skin tones do _not_ need to be high-key for an image to be effective.  In fact, I rather like having tone and texture in the skin.  It can give an image a sense of depth and dimension (roughly the saying the same thing, isn't it?).

Here is an example of deep skin tones.

This image was made during la Traversee de Paris Estivale 2016.  The gent was driving a very early deDion Bouton and he was well dressed for the part.  I shot this against a very bright sky using an old manual focus (therefore rather difficult to focus in rapidly changing situations) and extremely sharp Nikon Nikkor 80-200mm f/4.5 that was mounted on a Sony A6000 body.  The camera metered for the highlights (fortunately) and this kept the sky from "blowing out."

Once again using the technique of raising the mid-tones when converting a color digital file to black and white I was able to bring the darker areas of the scene up to what you see here.  The skin is obviously darker than in the images from the Hua Costumes vampiress shoot.  Yet to my way of looking at this image, the darker skin tones don't seem at all out of place.

In summary, it appears that deep, richblack and white portraiture that emulates the beauty of film can be achieved.  The more I work at this, the more I'm liking what I see.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Black and White ~ more image processing approaches

A recent revelation concerning the making of great digital black and white images has bowled me over.  The technique is where you desaturate an image and grab the center of the "curve" and raise it.  This is quick, straightforward and produces some very lovely results.

There are, of course, more than several ways of creating decent black and white images from digital color image files.  In this post I would like to share an alternative and still simple approach.

Capture One, Lightroom, Rawtherapee and many other image processing software applications provide tools that allow you to manipulate the color response in black and white, just as you might when decades ago you applied a colored filter to a lens while shooting black and white film.  Do you remember using a yellow filter to slightly darken the sky?  It's the same principle used here, but is processed after the image is taken, not while you're tripping the shutter.

Take, for example, the following image.

Audelange, Jura, France

Using Capture One I added selected  "Black and White" -> "Color Sensitivity" -> "Enable B&W."  This activates a number of color range selections.  The sliders for each selection allow you to lighten/darken colors individually.  I consider this my infinitely variable and all powerful  black and white "filter pack."

For the above image, using "curves" to raise the mid-tones made the building and the sky too bright.  So, instead, I darkened the blues to manage the sky.  This had the additional effect of making the side of the building reveal more detail.  Next, I moved the green slider around until it revealed the reflection of the building as well as the leaves in the trees and plants around the scene.

Using the "let's play around with this" approach to image processing allowed me to lighten the areas I wanted and to selectively darken certain elements of the scene.  In this way I was able to selectively raise certain mid-tone colors.  The overall effect is subtle, and effective.

You might not be able to fully predict how the sliders will behave, so it's good to play around with the sliders in the "filter pack" until you find something you really like.

I enjoy looking at this image as it reminds me of the sensation of warmth of the late afternoon light I felt on that particular day in the village of Dole in the Jura region of France.