Lighting captures in black and white Technique
Lighting and Monochromatic Photos
If there’s one thing almost all photographers agree on, it’s that photographs are about capturing light. How your subject is lit—whether you arrange the lighting, or it is natural because the light was “just there”—is crucial to the success of any photo. The most important aspect of the art and craft of working with light is perceptual. It’s necessary to learn to be able to pre-visualize the impact of lighting—and relatively small changes in lighting—on a ﬁnal image.
The way light works in your photographic compositions is different depending on whether your photo is a monochromatic or color image. With color, there are more variables. Light with a given quality can interact and appear differently depending on what is being photographed. Two objects, right next to each other in the same photo, can reﬂect different color temperatures, even though they are lit the same way. The inﬁnite gradations of
light intensity, color temperature, and tone correspond to the normal way we see the world, and provide a rich and subtle palette for nuanced imagery.
The strengths of black and white tend to lie elsewhere. Light still plays a crucial role in monochromatic compositions. But its role is usually anything other than subtle. Monochrome favors bold boundaries and abrupt transitions from light to dark. When I see a subject that shows this kind of strong, abstract demarcation—particularly if color doesn’t play a vital role in the compo- sition—I start thinking, “black and white.”
Since a digital monochromatic image is essentially a simulation that involves re- purposing a full color capture, working with light in black and white .
HDR in Black and White
HDR—High Dynamic Range—photography means creating photos with a greater variation in tone from lightest to darker than is normally possible in a single digital capture (or a frame of ﬁlm, for that matter).
The human eye is capable of perceiving a much greater tonal range than is normally captured in photography. To see this is true, try staring at the shadows in a dark room that is illuminated in one area by a shaft of strong sunlight. As your eyes adjust, you’ll be able to see details in both the dark areas and in the bright sunshine. No conventional photo can do as much.
Digital photos with an extended tonal range can render an even greater gamut from light to dark of tonal values than even the human eye. This can sometimes cause these photos to look unnatural and almost unreal—which, depending on the context and the intention of the photographer is either good, or bad.
To create an HDR image, start by shooting multiple captures at different exposure settings. The multiple captures are combined in post-processing to create a single image.
Shooting for HDR
Whether you use Photoshop, Photomatix, or some other tool, here’s what I’ve found to work best when shooting for HDR:
The camera shouldn’t move between captures; therefore, I almost always use a tripod.
I keep my ISO fairly low, probably less than 400. Otherwise, my HDR composite is likely to get very noisy.
It’s better to vary the shutter speed than the aperture. If you change apertures between captures, you may change the depth-of-ﬁeld between images—which could make the ﬁnal HDR composite
There are two parts to Photomatix: the initial HDR blend, and an adjustment step that is called “applying a tone curve.”
Using the ﬁrst part of Photomatix couldn’t be simpler. You ﬁre up the application, and the small window shown in Step 1 opens. Choose Generate HDR image, choose the images to blend in the window shown on the right, and click OK.
Infrared Camera Conversions
Infrared radiation (IR) is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength that is longer and a frequency that is shorter than that which produces visible light. Capturing imagery using IR has forensic and scientiﬁc applications; however, there are currently no production IR cameras available.
The alternatives are to use a ﬁlter, or to retroﬁt a digital camera (you can also simulate IR in post-processing, as explained on pages 222–223). An IR ﬁlter appears either black or very dark red, letting IR pass through it while blocking visible light. One problem with this kind of ﬁlter is that since it blocks visible light it can be very hard to see and compose through if you are using a DSLR. For superior results, I’d recommend converting an existing camera (see page 235 for information about doing this). An older model DSLR or a compact camera with a manual exposure mode that
is capable of RAW captures is probably best for IR retroﬁtting.
Most digital sensors, particularly older ones, have considerable inherent sensitivity to IR (as well as UV, the radiation at the opposite end of the visible spectrum).
Retroﬁtting in part involves removing any ﬁlters that blocked IR. This may change the distance from the back of a lens to the sensor, and therefore its focusing. So it’s a good idea to have the lens you will use with your IR camera calibrated for the retroﬁtted camera at the same time it is modiﬁed.
There’s nothing inherently monochromatic about an IR capture, although IR captures
will typically not exhibit a great dynamic range. RAW captures often have a kind of pinkish hue at default settings.
Personally, I prefer to present my IR captures in black and white, with the expectation that I’ll be converting not-very- colorful RAW captures to monochrome using the techniques shown in this book.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of converting your infrared images to mono- chrome each time, it is possible to get your camera equipped with a black and white IR ﬁlter at the time it is retroﬁtted. However,
I feel that this limits rather than expands your options.
What does an IR capture look like? This can be hard to know until you experiment in
a given situation—one of the great things about digital IR capture is that you get immediate feedback on the LCD screen. Foliage appears white rather than green. The more plants are growing, the whiter they appear. Skies are dark, although clouds can be quite dramatic. Depending on the lighting you use, portraits can be very unusual with pale, milky skin and dark, dark eyes.
Infrared and monochrome go very well together. If you’ve never tried to make a photo using a light spectrum not visible to the naked eye, this may be just the time for you to experiment with one of the most creative effects available to black and white photography.
Simple B&W Conversion Programs
A number of programs that are either free or very inexpensive let you do straight- forward black and white conversions from color captures
For example, iPhoto, Picasa, and Photoshop Elements each provide black and white conversion for JPEG photographs that’s easy to use—although not as powerful, subtle, or capable of tonal gradations as the methods that are the focus of this book. This kind of software is perfectly adequate for some kinds of black and white photog- raphy, depending upon your goals and what you want to do with the photos