Fun with Black and White in Color

I am often asked if I shoot my images in black and white.  When shooting film, I did.  Not any longer.  Digital cameras typically capture RGB color.  Photoshop has extensive capabilities to manipulate the color images into black and white.  When shooting film, one is kind of stuck with the color profile of the specific film.  It has been a while since I looked at the spectral responses to black and white films, but generally, those films worked reasonably flatly across the color spectrum.  In order to get rich black skies, one had to use a red filter.

That made everything except red much darker.  There are tons and tons of filters one can purchase to alter the images taken on film.  Of course, the filter went on the front of the lens, so it was pretty much an all or nothing thing.  Not so with digital.  The image is taken in red, green, and blue.  Each of those is a ‘channel’ that has different intensities.  The tools in Photoshop are sort of like dimmer switches on each of those channels.  If I want less blue, I dim it down.  That has a similar effect to the red filter for skies. The same image can produce dramatically different results when modified to dim down certain colors while enhancing others.

Often, when out shooting, I will try to think of what the image would look like in black and white, but by thinking of ‘turning off’ one of the colors.  I can’t say I am particularly successful, but that’s part of the fun of exploring new techniques.

Here are a set of different images taken from one HDR shot of the stunning Chihuly glass sculpture at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.  It is truly a breathtaking piece of art – there are 2,000 glass flowers in the sculpture.   The original is in color.  It is vibrant.

As you scroll over the images, you can see what the color image looks like in the default black and white.  Then, I’ve applied the adjustments meant to achieve the effect of a high contrast red filter, a green filter, a blue and high contrast blue.  In the bottom left of the thumbnails you can see one flower of each color next to each other.  The red one in the corner is white in the image with a high contrast red effect, but is pure black in the high contrast blue image.  Just the converse is true for the deep blue flower.  The greens come out brightest when using a green-filter adjustment.

At any rate, making these adjustments is very easy in Photoshop CS5.  I am certain it was very difficult to achieve the effects in that layer.  For what it brings my art, I am truly indebted to the programmers at Adobe.