Sunday, January 2, 2011

Black and White

I recently converted a bunch of Burning Man portraits from color to Black and White for printing. Originally, I thought these portraits would work best as color, since so many of the folks at Burning Man are literally colorful people. But the power of the Black and White really brought home the impact of the portraits. My professor in Digital Printing, Ryan Farnau, really impressed upon me the fact that a black and white image gives more freedom of interpretation by the artist. Since, by definition, a Back and White is not realistic, then the print can stress the parts of the photo with the greatest impact. In this example, I will go through the steps of one of the more complicated conversions I did. Starting with the color image and going step by step until the final B&W image. Here is the original image. I shot this in natural light. I had a silver canopy tent set up with a white seamless background.
The first thing I did was increase the contrast. the image is a little flat, so i used a high pass filter and dialed the opacity down until I liked it. Then I selected out the subject and filled the enture background with white. This brings out the features of his face and gets rid of that uneven background. The tattoos pop a little more as well. This version is still a little dark so I boost the exposure and brightness.That completes the global adjustments. I would like this to pop more, so I darken the leather in the vest and increase the contrast in the metal "S" shapes. I also boost the contrast in the glasses to make the reflections whiter. Now the conversion to Black and White using the B&W adjustment layer. Now for the final image I darken the tattoos, the wrist bands and the contrast in the hat. Now it pops!Of course, the whole thing took several hours. Selections and adjustments take a long time. Each adjustment gets its own layer in Photoshop, so it is easy to turn them off and on and go back to the original. You can see set of Burning Man portraits on my Flickr page by clicking here. I left some color photos in the set. They still looked better in color.


  1. Hi Scott,

    I agree with you about the power of black & white - when color is removed, there are no more distractions and the image requires more engagement and interpretation. I think this portrait is much more interesting in b&w than in color.

    I can appreciate all you've done in Photoshop and the work it takes there to achieve the look and feel you want. We work with clients' color file all the time and always use Nik Software and the Silver Efex Pro for all our B&W conversions and post-production work. It simulates the work we did in the darkroom and provides us with very evenly balanced RGB channels for printing. Since b&w printing is all we do, we have come to appreciate the faster workflow that the software gives us. Nik has 15 day free trials for their software; I encourage you to check them out and then buy the software from us. We'll even give you a coupon for 50% off your first b&w print order!

    Happy New Year and good continued success!


  2. Eric: i have been looking into Nik. Maybe I will give it another look. I will check out your site as well.

  3. Great portrait can't wait to see more of your photos from Burning Man.

    I also use Nik Silver Efex with Photoshop and it is amazing. It makes a world of difference and makes the process take a fraction of the time. I have a brief demo/review on my blog:

    Check it out, and good luck with the MFA!