8 Replies Latest reply on Oct 26, 2016 1:24 AM by richardplondon

    Hi, I'm unhappy with the "gray balance" in my black and white images, any advice to make them look better?

    danielg50178951

      I'm a big fan of street photography and am trying my hand at it. I feel like some of my b+w images have a very "grey" dull, quality to them and many of the photographers I admire (Bruce Gilden, Winograd, Vivian Maier, etc..) have photos that really catch your eye because of the contrast and distribution of black, white and shades of gray.

       

      Below is my original image:

       

       

      LavelleOriginal.jpg

       

      And this is my image after editing in Camera Raw:

       

      LavelleEdited..JPG

       

       

      I wanted it to be black and white so I pulled down the saturation to 0 (is this the best way to convert a color image to B+W?) and then fiddled with the basic sliders and did some additional work to specific regions with the adjustment brush. Still, I felt like the image didn't really "pop" out the way I wanted. I know that applying too much contrast gives a photo an very dry newsprint look, which I would like to avoid. It's difficult to discern depth and have clarity between objects in this photo, and I wonder what can be done to make the sky and background work with the subject better tonally?

       

      Below is an example of a black and white photo that is appealing to me in terms of tonality:Screen Shot 2016-10-22 at 6.21.53 PM.png

       

      Any suggestions on how to get closer to this with my original image? I did shoot that with a Camera Phone (Lumia 1020, which has an excellent camera.....for a phone), so I know that there may be a limit to how closely I can approximate that sort of tonality, but any advice on how I can get closer or generally improve the image in lightroom/photoshop/camera raw would be very much appreciated.

       

      Thank you!

        • 1. Re: Hi, I'm unhappy with the "gray balance" in my black and white images, any advice to make them look better?
          Bob Somrak Level 6

          The worst way to convert to B&W in Lightroom is to drag the saturation to -100.  Click the Black & White button at the top right of the BASIC panel and then use the sliders in the Basic panel and the Black &White Mix Sliders in the HSL panel in B&W mode.  The MIX panel may show some default settings that are not zero when you open it.  Don't touch any sliders that are grayed out such as Vibrance or Saturation or the photo will convert back to color. 

           

          Screen Shot 2016-10-22 at 7.45.01 PM.png

          • 2. Re: Hi, I'm unhappy with the "gray balance" in my black and white images, any advice to make them look better?
            danielg50178951 Level 1

            Thanks! Any tips on how to edit the image to achieve a better, more striking tonal balance?

            • 3. Re: Hi, I'm unhappy with the "gray balance" in my black and white images, any advice to make them look better?
              JimHess Adobe Community Professional & MVP

              I don't do a lot of black and white. However, I find it  helpful to keep an eye on the tone curve and drag the top in to where the histogram drops off. This tends to increase the contrast significantly in some of my images.

              Capture.JPG

              This works most effectively with the tone curve switched to the point curve rather than the parametric curve.

              • 4. Re: Hi, I'm unhappy with the "gray balance" in my black and white images, any advice to make them look better?
                richardplondon Level 4

                Clearly some pictures will resolve into B&W more effectively than others, and that is often a matter of the pictorial organisation suiting this - even, of how the picture was "seen" aesthetically, at the time of taking. I think you may have a challenge with this particular shot, for a number of reasons including the 'lens flare' at the right hand side, and the way the driver of the vehicle is not very clearly outlined e.g. as to his face's profile. You'll have much more to work with in that respect, if your capture was Raw.

                 

                Black-and-white conversion gets its emotional power and delight, often, from the clarity and distinctness of tonal shapes and patterns that are built in the picture. Those emerge from the capture in a way that discards hue, but since the hues of the original ARE real aspects of the starting scene these IMO tend to help you rather than hindering you. For that reason, it is best to employ them in your B&W processing and that means NOT setting saturation to 0.

                 

                There are an infinity of ways to explore those tonal shapes' emergence from the colour data, by which I mean causing one part of the picture to become tonally more different to, or more the same as, another area.

                 

                In B&W film photography, there are an infinity of film and paper types, and different developing, and different combinations of colour filtration that could be used in the exposure (and in the case of a colour negative / slide, in B&W enlargement). Taking this photo, if one was setting out to take a B&W picture with a film camera, one might choose to darken the sky with (say) an orange filter over the lens.

                 

                In digital Raw conversion, or a little less successfully in postprocessing a JPG, one can achieve the same effect in one of two methods in Lightroom / ACR - e.g. if one wanted to apply and adjust a "virtual orange filter" after the fact.

                 

                One way is to put the image into B&W mode, and then fiddle with the colour zones as they contribute to the tonality of the picture (colour mix), as described by another poster already. LR has the option of an Auto mix when you go to B&W, but that will only be a suggestion and only a mechanically generated one at that.

                 

                Another way, that I prefer, is to use the Hue / Saturation / Luminance tool but retain the image in Colour mode. By setting Saturation to 0 for all the colour zones (I have a preset which does this), you now see a fully B&W output. And you can still use Luminance to vary the colour mix, just the same as in B&W mode.

                 

                But unlike the B&W mode you can also use the Hue sliders to separate out or merge closer together, particular hues in the original such that in combination with your colour mix choices, things of those colours adopt more distinct or more similar tone. Plus still use "live" the global and local colour adjustments (Vibrance, White Balance etc) which tune the relative strength and character of colours in the original.

                 

                All easier to do than describe.

                • 5. Re: Hi, I'm unhappy with the "gray balance" in my black and white images, any advice to make them look better?
                  danielg50178951 Level 1

                  Such a great answer. Thank you. I did shoot and raw and I am beginning to understand that the position of the sun in relation to the subject wasn't ideal. I know there is no set answer, but where should the subject be in relation to the sun to get a quality black and white street photo?

                  • 6. Re: Hi, I'm unhappy with the "gray balance" in my black and white images, any advice to make them look better?
                    richardplondon Level 4

                    It's all highly personal, but I don't think the considerations as to how light falls relative to the subject, are basically any different for B&W or for colour photography. Exposure choices are going to be driven in much the same way, too.

                     

                    You may want something frontally and flatly lit whereby the variations in tone / colour of the surfaces are most prominent (sun behind you), or something side-lit or rear-lit so as to define the forms and spaces more clearly, somewhat at the expense of differentiating the colour of various surfaces. You may actively want some "dazzle" even, if that is part of the pictorial meaning, e.g. squinting into bright light might have been part of your experience in the moment, and you may want to communicate that feeling to the viewer of the photograph. In which case it could be a positive not a negative, for the success of the photo.

                     

                    While flare or sun-stars or shadow graininess or (by standard terms) over- or under-exposure are conventionally considered technical flaws, where YOU consider them to benefit the picture aesthetically, there's no reason not to value them for themselves.

                     

                    Sometimes such attributes as lens flare are included or even simulated for gratuitous effect, other times these are merely authentic traces of the circumstances of taking the picture.

                     

                    Sometimes the finished image may be much adjusted from the 'untouched' image, and/ or much altered, other times a more 'straight down the line' approach is adopted.

                     

                    All those are artistic choices, and justifications, for you to decide based on what looks good (and seems "true") to you.

                     

                    Just the same as applies to the decision in the first place, to produce a B&W output rather than a colour output..

                     

                    regards, RP

                    • 7. Re: Hi, I'm unhappy with the "gray balance" in my black and white images, any advice to make them look better?
                      danielg50178951 Level 1

                      Thanks again for such a well written and insightful response. You clearly understand the subject and are very generous in sharing information. Is there any place online that I could check out your work?

                      • 8. Re: Hi, I'm unhappy with the "gray balance" in my black and white images, any advice to make them look better?
                        richardplondon Level 4

                        Daniel: compared with the photographers whose work you say you admire, I am a mere dabbler... and my photos will interest nobody but myself (not false modesty: I trained as a painter initially and know I simply don't have the 'photojournalism' storytelling mindset - it shows).

                         

                        So I don't think my example will particularly help you arrive at your own personal approach to shooting and Lightroom processing - IMO the best advice is to look at a LOT of different people's very different work anyway, without placing too much weight on any one of them.

                         

                        That applies for how people edit and post-process, and which pictures they choose to show, as much as for their photography itself.

                         

                        To look at so much, that you are eventually forced through sheer repetition to work out what it is that truly keeps your eye interested (however subtle the distinction). And become jaded enough with being visually impressed, to "get past" that immediate response - and gain more of an aware feel for just how it is that pictorial tricks (and creative qualities) can provoke it.

                         

                        best wishes, RP