A couple of weeks ago, I aimed a macro lens at some new leaves on my catawba grapevine and saw an unusual range of colors in its tiny shoots. I’ve only had the vine for about three years, and this may have been the first time I took a close-up look at it this early in the spring. Much of its orange, purple, and magenta color luminance — that you can see in the images here — is still apparent as the leaves grow, and I’m working on another set or two of similar photos. The vine made an appearance here last June in this post: Secrets Inside a Grapevine.
This is only the third time I’ve tried to convert a gallery of photos from color to black and white in Lightroom; for this set I used the same approach I took in my previous two attempts:
This kind of black-and-white conversion makes the images more abstract, where the main subject takes on prominence while the backgrounds — originally consisting of softly focused and desaturated colors — fade even further toward insignificance, barely suggesting context or placement for the subject. These three screenshots, from Lightroom, show my typical adjustments:
I find it challenging to decide, with black-and-white processing, when I’m actually finished with the images. With color, there’s always a point where I feel like “I’m done” … but with black and white, I’m still learning how to recognize that shift. This is where I ended out; here are the final versions of the eleven converted photos:
If you would like to compare the color and black-and-white versions, select the first image below to begin a slideshow.
At the risk of oversimplifying, subtracting colour from imagery allows the other graphic elements and dynamics to increase in importance….
Colour is so integral to our experience of the world, and of imagery, that most people (and most photographers) do not separate it in their mind’s eye from everything else that is going on. In order to understand what happens when we take it away and work in monochrome, we need to know how it fits in to the total range of image qualities; also, how it differs from the other elements in its effect. [Colour] elicits subjective and emotional responses in a way that other image qualities do not…. The subjective response to colour is powerful and pervasive, and as a result, takes over viewer response to many photographs. If the colour component in an image is strong, rich, unusual, or simply noticeable, there is a good chance that it will swamp the attention….
And because colour triggers emotional responses, there is also usually an unquestioned assumption that it works on a scale of beauty, or at least attractiveness. To say “what a spectacular sunset”, or “look at how blue the water is”, or “that gray really sets off the pink”, or any of the many other common value judgments on colour, is to acknowledge that the effect of colour can be likeable — and for most people should be likeable. This gut reaction to colour is by far the most common, and in this way it stands apart from the other formal graphic elements….
There are a number of ways of subdividing the graphic components of an image, but the most generally accepted are: point, line, shape, texture, and colour. In the way that these are used and interact, there is contrast, balance, and dynamics (or vectors). Subtracting colour enhances those remaining. In practice, this means that the components and qualities most affected are the graphic ones of shape, the graphic structure of the image, and the gradation along the gray tonal scale, as well as the three-dimensional ones of volume and texture.
After posting some photos of a Bradford Pear blooming in front of my house on last week’s Wordless Wednesday, I wondered how those multi-colored images would look if I turned them into black-and-white. The budding blooms are a key image element and they vary from light green to bright white, depending on how much the blooms had opened. I wanted to see if I could create black-and-white versions that emphasized the opening blossoms, reducing — but not eliminating — background elements that provided additional context (spring!) to the images. My goal was to elevate the quality of the photos by making the blooms, regardless of whether they were opened or not, “pop” out of the image in shiny bright white.
All of my adjustments to create these images were completed in Lightroom; this time, I didn’t use any Nik Collection filters at all. I’ve been trying to better understand where the two tools overlap, when to choose one over the other, and when to use both. For these images, I converted to black and white in Lightroom — which created the flat-looking versions you can see in the middle column of the second gallery below — then made basic image adjustments (to exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks) to emphasize the blossoms and fade the backgrounds. I then worked through the individual color channels in Lightroom’s Black and White Mix panel to balance the blacks, grays, and whites in each image, mostly by adjusting green, yellow, and red channels to create that balance.
I also applied quite a bit of sharpening to the images, which, surprisingly, didn’t create any apparent distortion but helped bring out the textures, patterns, and highlights of the individual blooms — probably because the sharpening tool mainly had whites and light grays to work with. As a final step I experimented with split-toning — a Lightroom tool I haven’t used very much but want to learn more about. For these photos, I used split-toning to shift gray in the shadows from a warm to slightly cooler color, which provided the silver-white brightness I was looking for when I started this workflow.
Select the first image to view larger versions; then, if you are interested, take a look at the second gallery showing the transitions.
Below are three steps in the transition of these photos from color to black and white. The first column shows the processed color image from my original blog post; the second column shows the color image after conversion to black and white but with no other adjustments; and the last column shows the final version, with adjustments to exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks, the individual color channels, sharpening, and split-toning.