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Colour or black and white?

So you’ve shot an image that you’re itching to process. You’ve culled, downloaded the very best of the best and now you’re in ACR staring at this image on screen feeling like you’ve just opened a Christmas present.

Now what are you going to do? What little tweaks and tugs will you make before you totally destroy this masterpiece you’ve been so thrilled to unwrap? The most burning question that comes to mind is – colour or black and white?

Before making your decision, realise there is an infinite amount of choices to be made beyond simply “colour or black and white”, all of which are dependant on your eye for tone and how your image was lit in the first place.

As photographers we know that tone affects detail and whether there is any loss or degradation in shadow/highlight areas of an image. But were you aware that colour affects tone as well? And just to further confuse things, the luminance and hue of a particular colour will further affect the tone of an area.

So how are we going to get back to enjoying the photographic process (and in particular our images) without getting completely lost in the litter of information overload?

Let’s start by bringing it back to what your eyes see and not what the camera or your image editing software dictates – these are merely tools you use to achieve the results YOU want (it is your image after all, isn’t it?).

I’ve given some examples below of what can be achieved subtly, always keeping in mind that a little goes a long way in giving an image resonance. My intention here is not to tell you what style or “look” is right nor is this a how-to blog. Rather my aim is to provide another way to view your images a little deeper than simply in terms of colour or black and white?

Mt Banks 05
Mt Banks 05

First up: Hue/Saturation edit.

Selective saturation of colour to draw out detail. You’ll notice in these examples that either of these images of Mount Banks in the rugged Grose Wilderness area of the Blue Mountains will work – the subject matter alone is worth the hike. However, you may be more used to the image on the bottom because of its colour saturation. What I have done here is applied a nominal increase in saturation to only the yellow channel  of the image. This appears to lift the detail in the foreground rock as well as accentuating the grass mid to background leading your eye virtually up Mount Banks.

Mt Banks 05

Next Image: Further Hue/Saturation edit.

What I have done here is take the image and used a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to slightly de-saturate all the colour in the scene. Then, using a reversed layer mask, I carefully brushed this desaturation back into the rock to take what I felt, the slightly gaudy yellow from the rock. I then selected only the blue/cyan channel of the scene and darkened it’s luminosity a touch to give more depth and mood to the sky.

Mt Banks 05

Final Concepts: Black and White or Moody Wash?

Once again there is no right one. The black and white version was converted from the original colour using a black/white image adjustment layer in cs6. I find this conversion method works for me because I have more control over toning individual colour channels. Here I’ve decreased the blue channel to give more drama to the cloud (blues tend to flatten when converted to greyscale) as well as decreasing the reds to give more definition to the edges of the rock while increasing the yellows to lift the highlights. (I’ll talk more about black/white conversions next week.)

In the image below, I’ve added a colour fill layer (something I don’t like to do that often to my own work but can admire when applied to others) and blended it with the original using an overlay method, dialling down the opacity considerably. The result ended up being very flat because of the added colour wash so to bring back the contrast I adjusted the luminosity of only the blue/cyan channel. The final look gives a very different atmosphere from the original.

Mt Banks 05

So what do you think? Colour or black and white?

At the end of the day it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

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Norman Lindsay Gallery, Faulconbridge.

Mountain biking on the Oaks track between Glenbrook and Woodford.

The old Lucasville Station platform and stairs on the Lapstone Zig Zag track.

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