Big Blue (and Black and White) Hydrangea Blooms

From 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells:

“The big pink or blue garden hydrangea is as common in America as blue-haired old ladies, and has the same feel of dyed unreality.”

From Hydrangeas by Naomi Slade:

“[Many] hydrangeas have a ‘preferred’ colour, and they will lean towards this, regardless. Simply, some would rather be … blue….”


I started out assembling photos for this post with this image of two very blue hydrangea blooms. At first I didn’t mind the green leaves behind the petals, but after a while they got on my nerves and the hydrangea bones in the background made me nauseous (exaggeration alert!) … so…

… I removed the background, ending up with two floating flowers…

… and then created five virtual copies in Lightroom so I could crop the blooms as four separate photos at different sizes, plus a fifth large crop (of the first, most symmetrical bloom). Notice that in the fifth image, it’s more apparent that these blue blooms have purple-brushed petals… which is almost always the case with blue flowers of any type.

Side-eye note: These five images demonstrate one of (to me) the best things about shooting raw files, that you can crop out large sections of an image with little or no loss of detail, which is well maintained even after exporting the photos for uploading to a blog or website. As you may know, WordPress blogs compress images and reduce quality slightly; but if you click here to view the last image at full size, you can see that despite selecting only about a third of the image during cropping, it’s full of sharp detail.

Such was my delight at these big blue blooms that I thought it might be fun to do something else to the images.

I passed them in and out of the Nik Collection a few times, and while they looked fine with filters that converted them to sepia tones, or an antique look, or to an old film style, none of those renditions appealed to me that much. Funny how that works: you have an idea you want to do something creative with an image (without necessarily knowing what), and certain things strike you but many do not.

I then took several different approaches to converting them to black and white in Lightroom; and again didn’t like the results at first as they just looked like black and white variations of blue flowers.

Tools like Lightroom and Nik Collection of course provide the potential for endless possibilities and results. Yet I always try to think of that differently, as a way of exploring how we create and how we sense that something we create has reached a satisfactory “end state” — “end state” in itself being an ambiguous condition, never quite answering the question: am I done yet?

Whenever I feel a little stuck, I try two different mental tricks to change the way I’m thinking. First, in Lightroom, I try extreme changes for various exposure and color settings — which basically means moving Lightroom sliders to the far left or far right in different combinations to see what happens. Second, I consider what I usually do to an image, what changes I typically make (we tend to follow similar patterns or processes when creating pretty much anything), and try to break out of that pattern. In my former tech life where part of my job consisted of software quality assurance, such an approach would have been considered exploratory testing of edge cases to try and break the software; in photography post-processing it translates (for me) to experimenting with methods I don’t usually use to see what new potential is exposed.

Black and white conversion in Lightroom is initially a button-push, which typically renders a fairly flat (as in dull) variation of the original image — but many of the same exposure and color options (color in this case meaning the red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple, and magenta colors in the original image) are still available. Adjusting the black-and-white renderings of those color channels not only teaches you more about how color is represented in photos, but it can also produce surprising effects. For all five of these images, I discovered that the tiny pin-buttons at the center of each four-petal flower cluster — which initially appeared as dark black dots — actually contained red, orange, and yellow; and increasing those three colors to their highest value (an experiment with “extreming” the settings) changed the overly prominent black dots to white or light gray instead. Before adjusting the red, yellow, and orange, my eye kept getting drawn to the dots; afterward, the dots blended with the rest of the flower and weren’t such a distraction.

In addition to the Sharpening tool, Lightroom has two other tools for enhancing detail: Texture and Clarity. With a black and white image, a bit of extra sharpening (even though I had already applied sharpening to the original color image), adds a little sparkle to highlights around edges without creating jagged traces that you sometimes see in over-sharpened images.

While I use the Texture tool frequently, adding more than was in the color image didn’t have much of an effect. I hardly ever use Clarity to add detail (preferring Texture’s more subtle enhancements instead); but in this case, I broke from my typical approach and played around with Clarity to see what would happen. Lowering clarity reduced detail and produced a uniform softness in the flower petals, while also adding a bit of brightness — and the combination of softness and brightness appears as a bit of glow throughout the blooms. An illusion, perhaps; but your eyes will see what they want to see… or maybe what I, The Photographer, want them to see. Ha!

Finally, I used Color Grading to add a bit of blue color back into the shadows, highlights, and midtones; that produces a light silver effect on whites that I like and, to me, is more appealing than flat white.

The End!

If you read all that, bless you! Treat yourself to some ice cream!




My previous hydrangea posts for 2021 are:

Baby Bluebird … Hydrangeas (1 of 2)

Baby Bluebird … Hydrangeas (2 of 2)

More Bluebird Hydrangeas! (1 of 2)

More Bluebird Hydrangeas! (2 of 2)

Pink Mophead Hydrangeas (Five Variations)

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Tales of Two Grapevines (4 of 4)

From “The Appeal of Black & White” in Black & White Photography by Michael Freeman:

“[Far] from a universal march towards more colourfulness, there is now a significant and growing reverse flow in photography, towards the new black and white. It’s new because it’s created from colour with processing software that makes the experience a delight, which means that you don’t even need to decide at the start that it’s a black-and-white image you’re after. You can even trawl your archives with a reconsiderate eye and look for images that might work more powerfully, or at least differently, in the single range called grayscale.

“So … what is this persistent appeal of black and white? There are some semi-practical answers, and a trawl of internet opinions throws up emphasis on form, shape, line and texture, as you might expect. Basically these all have the root argument that removing the distraction of colour allows you, actually compels you, to concentrate on other things. There is also the corrective argument — when the colour is somehow spoiling your idea for the shot, just switch. However, it seems to me that there must be deeper reasons, maybe not all of them easy to pin down. In fact, the underlying appeal of black and white ought to be difficult to describe, because surely any art form that has the potential to move people must have some enigma to it.”

From “Black & White Craftsmanship” in Black & White Photography by Michael Freeman:

“One recognised darkroom master was Ansel Adams, and he also wrote extensively on the subject. His 1982 book The Print is not just a classic of photo instruction, but peculiarly relevant to contemporary black-and-white digital processing. Peculiar because it confines itself to the wet darkroom and shows none of the technology that we now all use. Relevant because it deals with the fundamentals of turning [an] already-taken shot into a final image….

“Adams was at pains to insist that this wasn’t all about technique by any means. There is, he wrote, ‘great latitude for creative variation and subjective control’, and the process involved ‘endless subtle variations which are yet all tied to the original concept’.

“The reason why Adams and other serious printers made plans — actual physical plans on paper or on a work print — was that the clock was running, literally, whilst the paper was on the easel under the enlarger. Any dodging and burning had to be done in a finite and short space of time. In his book … Adams details the printing of one of his best-known photographs, ‘Clearing Winter Storm, Yosemite National Park’, shot in 1944. The basic exposure was 10 seconds, during which time the dodging had to happen — holding back areas that needed less exposure to make them lighter. Burning was always easier — adding exposure to darken areas — although it meant taking care not to let light leak onto any other part of the image….


Burning was done in stages — a few seconds concentrating on one area, followed by another few seconds somewhere else, all of this typically done with a timer on the floor with a foot-operated pedal…. Dodging tools were typically metal circles, ovals, and oblongs at the end of thin rods, often painted red, to which colour the silver bromide paper was insensitive. Burning tools were most commonly your hands, cupped and shaped. Otherwise you cut holes in large sheets of black paper or card. Adams made a distinction between the umbra (shadow) and penumbra (the soft surround), as the latter helped smooth the transition during dodging or burning so that this manipulation would not be noticeable in the final print….

The modern digital equivalent is called feathering, as on a radial filter.”


This is the last of four posts featuring two grapevines growing in my garden. For the first post and more on the series, see Tales of Two Grapevines (1 of 4). For the second post, see Tales of Two Grapevines (2 of 4); and the third post is Tales of Two Grapevines (3 of 4).

For this post, I selected nine photos of each type of grapevine and converted them to black and white. I’ve done a little bit of black and white work before, but converting these grapevine photos seemed like a new experience nonetheless. Because green and yellow colors dominated both the foreground and background of these photos, there was little to differentiate the main subject from the background once the photos were changed to grayscale. So I used Lightroom’s radial filters to remove most of the background, allowing its feathering to leave mostly subtle hints of light around or behind the subject. In some cases, eliminating the background meant that the subject was quite small for the size of the image frame, so I cropped the images to enlarge the subject (though not enough to create excessive noise or loss of detail).

Once I was satisfied with the background appearance of each image, I used Lightroom’s brush tool to add highlights to the more prominent leaves, along with a bit of extra texture and sharpening to increase details. I don’t do that very often with color photos (I typically reject and delete photos that require sharpening to make them look like they’re in focus), but I’ve noticed that when working in black-and-white in Lightroom adding a bit of texture and sharpening has a neat side effect: it brightens the highlights further, creating tiny pixels of light without giving the subject an over-sharpened look. As a last step for each photo, I used Lightroom’s color grading tool to add a bit of silver tone (emulating the matte-finish side of a sheet of aluminum foil) — which is actually done by just slightly increasing the color blue in shadows, midtones, and highlights.

Here are the Catawba Grapevine images…

… and here are those of the Concord Grapevine.


Thanks for reading and taking a look! Next up: Irises!! 🙂

Catawba Grapevine, Early Spring, in Black and White

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:

Before and After: Bradford Pear, Blooming in Black and White

Before and After: Camera Studies Camera in Black and White

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:


Settings for Shadows and Blacks have the most impact on the image background; Exposure and Whites alters brightness for the main subject.

Black & White Mix changes the “gray level” for each of the original image colors, and adjusting these sliders is a good way to examine the effect of subtle color variations. I spent a long time micro-managing these adjustments. 🙂

These Sharpening and Noise Reduction settings may seem extreme, and would create distortion in a color image. With my black-and-white photos, however, they emphasized highlights and fine details instead.

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.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Before and After: Bradford Pear, Blooming in Black and White

From Black & White Photography: The Timeless Art of Monochrome by Michael Freeman:

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.

One Wordless Wednesday back in January, I processed and posted a series of color photos of a vintage camera; then a couple of days later, converted the images to black and white and wrote about the workflow I used. That was my first attempt at color to black-and-white conversion with Lightroom or the Nik Collection, and it was fairly easy to get the results I wanted since the color images leaned toward monochrome and the primary subject was mostly black and silver.

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.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Before and After: Camera Studies Camera in Black and White

From Black & White Photography: The Timeless Art of Monochrome by Michael Freeman:

“Black-and-white film photography, its image qualities and processes, have a great deal to teach us…. What sets black and white apart from colour is that it is not the way we see the world, and it does not pretend to represent reality. It is a translation of a view into a special medium with very particular characteristics.”

On Wednesday, I posted a series of photos of a vintage camera, a No.1 Pocket Kodak. While working on the photos, I accidentally converted one to black and white in Lightroom, briefly thinking “Well, that’s kinda cool” but then flipped it back to color and continued processing the batch. I hardly ever work in black and white, you see, because I’m so colorful, but I still thought it might be fun to come back to this set of photos and give black and white a shot, especially since most of the color in the photos came from the background or from the slight blue cast emanating from the camera body. I also got a bit of inspiration from a Christmas gift a friend sent me…

… a series of books by photographer Michael Freeman — including the one I quoted above — that I’ve been reading from nearly every day since I got them.

I took the color photos with two of my favorite lenses: a Minolta 50mm f/1.7 lens that’s about 25 years old (that even has its own Wikipedia page) and a Sony 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens that I’ve had for a few years (that has no Wikipedia page but gets used for many of my closeups and macros). Both lenses do well in low light and even intentional under-exposure, so were ideal for the camera photos: taken on my dining room table lit by a single window, with supplemental lighting from a small LED flashlight (yes, you read that right) that I normally use for finding things in the depths of dark closets. I did use a high ISO when taking the photos — because I forgot to check my camera’s ISO setting before shooting (oops!) and it was set to 1600 — but Lightroom and the Nik Collection did a suitable job of ridding the photos of what little noise was captured.

So I made copies of the color images that I’d processed and posted — having done mostly saturation and contrast adjustments — and ran them through Nik’s Color Efex Pro, applying these filters:

  • Black and White Conversion, where I made brightness, shadow, highlight, and contrast adjustments;
  • Tonal Contrast, to soften the images slightly and create smoothness in the backgrounds;
  • Darken/Lighten Center, to accentuate lighting on the camera and shift the eye’s focus to the camera body;
  • Detail Extractor, to reveal the structure and texture of the camera’s bellows and leather case, recovering a bit of detail that was lost by the Tonal Contrast adjustment.

The first gallery below shows the black-and-white versions of Wednesday’s images. Personally I think they’re interesting, but what I really liked was experimenting with the same tools I’ve been using for color photos for a while now, in the world of black and white. I avoided special effects — like applying warming filters, converting them to sepia-tone, or adding grain for that aged look — and concentrated on how to make the primary subject appealing without color.

In the second gallery, I’ve set the black-and-white and color images side-by-side. You can select the first image and page through a slideshow to view them as before-and-after versions. Thanks for looking!