Although colour photography is generally considered a default choice, black and white photography has arguably never been equally more in demand and misunderstood. Even though digital practically killed off the Kodak empire, their iconic TRI-X film has just reached its 60th birthday and is still in strong demand. Software and mobile apps can offer a number of different black and white effects, but in too many cases they don’t tell you why the image looks different. Some name the different effects by names such as 'Ansel', 'Tonal' and 'Classic’ but offer no further explanation as to how and why they differ. Many people, to be fair, don't care - black and white is just considered what’s left when the colour has been taken away. And yet, colour plays a massive part in the look and feel of a black and white image. So, using variations of the same image, I'll attempt to make a little sense of those settings and show how differnt colours change the tones and effects within a black and white image.
Fig 1. Colour
When looking to see how a colour image will render in black and white note the complexion and background colour tones. In this portrait we have predominantly subtle red and earthy tones.
Fig 2. Standard Monochrome
It's a nice immediate black and white conversion, although there's a lack of contrast between her features and the background.
Fig 3. Red Filter
By adding a red filter it will lighten red or pink areas and darken blue or brown areas. Skin appears lighter and eyes darker. This can be a nice approach for pale complexions as it allows the eyes to really shine.
Fig 4. Green filter
A green filter/ mix of film is my preferred starting point for black and white as it has a rich warming effect to skin tones.
Fig 5. Blue filter
If you remember your paint mixing as a child you'll remember blue darkening anything you added it to. In black and white it's no different - it will create deep, dark tones for areas red, green and blue. Eyes will darken as will lips, so be careful how much you add.
Fig 6. Yellow filter
Similar to the red filter the yellow will lighten red tones and darken blue and green areas. This is another popular filter to present smoother skin and contrast to allow the eyes to draw the viewer's attention.
Fig 7. My Edit
For this I've tweaked the colour channels based within the Kodak TRI-X film recipe. I've attempted to balance between tone and contrast and the spark of her eyes. If my recent poll on social media is anything to go by, opinion will be divided as to which is preferred.
This of course has only scratched the surface of the differences in black and white photography, but hopefully has answered (and raised) a few questions.
Till next time...