Serious Photographers Don’t Use Post-Processing

I’m not sure where this concept originated, but I know it didn’t come from the professional photographic community. This sophomoric bravado may be sincere in its conviction but it is sincerely wrong in its claim. Actually, the polar opposite is true.

History Lesson. If you shot film before the digital camera revolution, the following explanation is unnecessary. However, if you are a recent participant (last 20 years) in digital photography, you might want to understand this.

B&W Films. Black and White films were largely processed and printed by individual photographers in their personal darkrooms as a matter of preference, pride, and skill. The film development variables and print controls afforded to B&W were doable and rewarding, and B&W prints have always provided photographers a form of serious artistic expression. We revered Ansel Adams and he always post-processed his own images. He advocated the art of shaping the light.

Bowers SBS

Dave Bowers, President Flagler Beach Photography Club. Digital color capture converted to B/W

Black and white photography is the original and most obvious form of “post-processing” in film photography. Anyone who has ever dodged, burned, dipped and rocked trays in a sink in the darkroom understands this passion completely. Occasionally, when we needed extreme enlargements, we sent our negatives to a commercial lab for printing and dry-mounting on art boards.

Color Films. Color films were a completely different story. Professional photographers, photo retouchers, ad agencies, art/design studios, airbrush artists, art directors, photo technicians, darkroom jockeys, and even serious hobbyists prior to 1995, all entrusted their exposed color film exclusively to the services of professional photo labs for processing.

Very few professional photographers even processed their own color negatives, and precious few brave individuals produced their own color prints. The controls were simply too limited and all work had to be done in total darkness. There was no fun in the process.

Color Prints. Color prints (beyond Drugstore-grade 4×6 glossies) were produced almost exclusively for galleries, exhibits and wall decorations. Most of these prints were retouched for color, texture, and detail. Prints were rarely used for publications and high-end lithography unless serious airbrushing alterations were required. In that case, C-prints were produced for the retouching work before being handed off to the engraver.

Color Transparencies. Very few of us even processed our own Ektachrome slides (35mm) and transparencies (4×5 and 8x 10), and Kodachrome slides were only produced in 35mm size, were processed exclusively by Kodak-licensed labs. Kodachromes were rarely used in the printing process. Color transparencies were hardly ever used in the production of individual prints but were the preferred photographic original for publications and picture books.

Color Engraving. One more note about post-processing images. Virtually all chromes destined for publication or collateral materials were precision color-corrected by photoengravers and color separators during the color conversion from RGB to CMYK. Nobody outside the trade knew about the color transitions that occurred inside the shop. Any color photos that bypassed the color correction stage always appeared dull.

Lithography (high-end print) has always been handled by color trade professionals and involved the generation of multiple color-corrected proofs before going to press. I was a color separator for decades, and worked for National Geographic’s premier color engraver, so I know this first hand.

Virtually every mass-printed color picture, whether for publication, fine art, or advertising was heavily post-processed, just as it continues to be today for all commercial publications. I am a photo retoucher even today for several high-end City Magazines.

Disclaimer… professional post-processing stops way short of today’s typically-overproduced trend. In the color trade, we color balanced and adjusted tonality so that each image reproduced with punch and precision on press, but we stopped short of the surrealistic images, saturated colors and grunge hi-def appearance so popular in today’s processing software. True professionals respect the art of restraint. We live in the real world; Fantasyland only exists at Disney.

Personal Publishing. Only the phenomenon of the Internet and the advent of social media have provided a platform for the masses to publish their pictures any way they wish. They’re not hard to spot. Ironically, most social media affords the User various forms of photo effects, which is just a novel form of post-processing.

Next time someone demeans post-production, maybe you should have them read this post. That’s the way I sees it. Let me know what you think. Sign up for this blog and join me on a regular basis. I love to hear other opinions and feedback. Life’s for learning.

If you’d like to understand what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, go to and get Bright About Light! All the answers to these (and more) questions are answered in an easy-to-understand video series.

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Overlooking the Obvious: The Art of Not Seeing What You’re Looking At

I make myself shoot something every day for the shear discipline of it. You’re only good at what you do every day, and I intend to stay on top of my game. Occasionally I’ll walk around my own neighborhood in search of my subject du jour. Occasionally I walk for half an hour without seeing anything worthy of turning on the camera.

Today was one of those days. Nothing. Just boring nothing.

Then I opened my mind in addition to my eyes and suddenly I couldn’t stop framing and shooting.

UnobviousWhat happened? I stopped looking for that interesting detail and dramatic lighting and started seeing what was right in front of me. Maybe not the knock-your-eyes-out color burst variety, but the simple beauty of natural composition. And it doesn’t have to be limited to nature, but the beauty of visual contrast. The contrast of shapes, colors, textures that are around us all day every day.

Something reminded me that you shouldn’t have to look special to be noticed, just bloom where you’re planted. Everything has a purpose. My purpose today was to open my eyes.

Sometimes I’m guilty of packing a subconscious agenda when I slip into my shoulder sling and I expect something in front of me to scream “look at me, I’m worthy.” I had to wince when I finally realized my smugness. Today I saw what I wasn’t looking for and it woke me up. You truly see what you’re looking for, and in the process sometimes you miss what’s staring right back at you.

Photographers come in all shapes and sizes and use this marvelous process for a variety of reasons; artistic, philosophical, nature, sports, babies, politics, etc. Depending on the day, I’ll wear any pair of those shoes. But whatever your bent or purpose, I encourage you to look wider than normal and see the world you’re missing. It might be your best work.

No lecture or lesson here. Just a personal observation. Look at life differently and shoot something new tomorrow and then share it with me. I’d love to see it.

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Remember What You Forgot and Learn What You Never Knew.

Remember that sinking feeling you had in Algebra II when you realized you should have paid more attention in Algebra I? Well, here you are with your camera and it’s deja vu all over again! The fundamentals of light and color that were taught in Science and Physics classes in High School really do have an application in the real world. And your real world is right now.

The very stuff that seemed so irrelevant back then are the foundation of the photography you are loving now. Suddenly you realize the difference between memorizing facts and grasping concepts. Those answers you “committed to memory” for the exam got forgotten the next day. Real life requires real understanding. Here you are with a spiffy new camera bristling with techno-features and a Settings file that looks like the dashboard of a 747. Every term you’re reading may as well be written in Russian. Geeez!

OK, let’s look at this like adults. The past is the past. You didn’t learn this earlier, but you want desperately to understand it now. So let’s break it down to the basics. Most of the settings on your camera concern either light or color. That’s because photography is ALL about light; how to measure it, capture it, and how you shape it. Here’s a factoid tounge-twister: without light you have no color, and without color, you have no light. Light and color have a desperately symbiotic relationship that you need to grasp now.

Here are some basic questions that you should know the answers to if you want to use your camera as a precision tool more than an open-end experiment. Pay attention… these issues are very important, and they directly relate to how you use your camera.

• Are you aware that all color is based on pure white light? • Do you know that there are several different “color buckets” that your camera can use (and it expects you to choose)?

• Do you know that the perfect balance of all colored light becomes white light? • Can you name the color that is directly in-between yellow and blue (hint: it’s not green).

• Do you know that sunlight changes intensity all during the day and that clouds and shade not only darken the light, but change the color of the light? • Do you know that accurate color is based on the color gray?

Every one of these questions has a direct bearing on how your camera records each scene as well as how you edit your pictures. When you understand the basic behavior of light from your camera’s perspective, you’ll know all these answers, and more. You’ll feel much more qualified to step into any situation and capture the light with confidence.

Here’s one more thought. If you’ve been depending on your camera being smart enough to figure all these things out, you are probably already disappointed. Your camera isn’t really smart at all, it just knows the right questions to ask. You need to know the right answers.

If you rely on your camera’s Auto functions (color, focus, metering, shutter speed, ISO) to capture your shots, you’re missing the real fun (and probably the most creative pictures). You are to be the smart one, the camera is simply there to faithfully carry out your choices. Choices are knowledge-based decisions. Get smart and stop getting lucky.

That’s the way I sees it. Let me know what you think. Sign up for this blog and join me on a regular basis. I love to hear other opinions and feedback. Life’s for learning.

If you’d like to understand what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, go to and get Bright About Light! All the answers to these (and more) questions are answered in an easy-to-understand video series.

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Rekindling the Romance of Black and White, Part Three: A Walk in the Park

This is part three; the final installation in this series. Before I talk about converting color digital to black and white, you should appreciate how different the monochromatic (black and white) photo process is today compared to what it was in days past. For those of us who lived and produced monochromatic prints in the film years, today’s digital process is a walk in the park by comparison.

35mm-dev-tankBack in the days of silver halide film photography, black and white photos were either shot on black and white film or shot on color negative film converted to black and white prints in the photo lab. By far, the most successful B/Ws were shot on B/W film. Professional photographers in the film days always carried both B/W and Color film on assignment. Not only did they carry multiple kinds of film, each of the films were kept in a refrigerator to preserve the “freshness” of the silver halide. Color film came in two general types; color negative and reversal (slide transparency) film.
MinoltaThe silver halide days of processing color photos for monochrome prints offered little control over the tonal shape or internal contrast in the process. This process required a color negative to be mounted in an enlarger and projected onto panchromatic (emulsion sensitive to all colors of light) photo paper in total darkness. Typical black and white print paper (orthochromatic) could be processed under typical dim red safelights.

Dodging-BurningOnly the most basic dodging and burning (literally funneling the light through a hole formed by your hand, or card) could influence the exposure. The exposed paper was then processed in a temperature-controlled development solution under a very dim amber light for a very specific time.

The result was far from an creative effort and afforded very little artistic expression. Honestly, converting a color photo to black and white was a rare experience and a pain in the neck. If you wanted predictable black and white results, you shot B/W film.

But digital photography is quite different indeed. All photography is shot in color and the conversion to black and white is truly an artistic endeavor rather than a dreaded process. In truth, the latitude and controls afforded with digital photography is much more creative than film ever was, even with the most elaborate lab equipment and in the best facilities.

durstlabrator.0I was fortunate to own three to-die-for photo labs in my career and loved every minute, but could never have produced the kind of results that I enjoy today. But while producing digital black and white prints is a relatively simple process, producing great black and white results takes skill and understanding. The best black and white prints are produced by those who understand the science of color and light.

There are various RAW interpreter software packages on the market that afford tremendous conversion controls (Camera Raw, Lightroom, On1 Photo Raw 2018, Alien Skin Exposure 3, etc.). The nearly exhaustive number of chromatic tools provide control over the entire spectrum of colors that translate into gray values.

Processing. I’ll present one conversion process using Photoshop’s Black and White palette and Shadows/Highlights controls first, then, I’ll describe basic RAW processing using Adobe Camera Raw software. Since the adjustments found in CR can be achieved similarly within most other RAW interpreters, you’ll get the idea.

Individual colors can be boosted and diminished to influence the internal contrast of the black and white result. Virtually EVERY photo is unique, so consider the individual color makeup of each image as you make your adjustments. Color becomes contrast in B/W.

1) Photoshop

Black and White: This is a general color/tone shaping adjustment that lets you develop internal contrast using the image’s color channels. Within this very powerful interpreter, each color can be tuned to a specific gray range, giving you to the total control over how each color is transposed into the monochromatic mode.

PS-Black and White menuPS-Black and WhiteUsing the individual primary (RGB) and secondary (CMY) color sliders, you can determine the gray tones. Make good use of the Preview checkbox to see how your interpretation compares to the original RGB colors. This step puts you in control of the conversion process and gives you the power to shape your black and white images. Once you’re happy with how the colors transpose to tones, click OK to produce the basic monochromatic conversion. This will cement the basic conversion process, but you won’t be finished quite yet.

PS Shadows and Highlights

Shadows/Highlights. The overall tonal range of the resulting monochrome image probably won’t be ideal; there are two more major controls to shape your black and white conversion into a monochromatic masterpiece. Remember, detail is all about internal contrast, and these additional Photoshop tools (Highlights/Shadows and Levels) will deliver all the control you need.

This amazing group of sliders allow you to adjust the internal portions of the shadows (darkest tones), the highlights (lightest tones), and the middle tones, all in one dialog. This will form the internal contrast but will still require a final setting of the lightest and darkest points in the picture. That will be accomplished with the Levels dialog.

BlackGammaWhiteLevelsThe final touch is determined by the Levels  command. There will be no need to adjust the middle (Gamma) slider since all the internal contrast will have been set by the Shadows/Highlights control. These two outside controls should be set visually. There is no right or wrong with this setting, it is a matter of personal taste. Don’t be afraid to “invade” either side of the graph slightly to achieve the level of depth and contrast you desire.

2) Camera Raw

Basic Panel: Black & White: This conversion method is similar to Photoshop’s version of the tool but inside Camera Raw, all adjustments can be accomplished and previewed while the original image is still in color. The three basic adjustments for Monochromatic conversions, and all three can be interactively adjusted at will. These three tool bins can be accessed by three mini-icons located just below the histogram graph. These bins include Basic (Black and White), Tone Curve, and Black and White Mix. You can preview ALL three adjustments before exporting (opening) the final monochromatic conversion in Photoshop. Even after the conversion, the file can be reopened in Camera Raw for readjustment and reassignment of tones.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 4.37.27 PMScreen Shot 2018-04-19 at 4.36.44 PM   Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 4.34.46 PM.pngWe’ll start opening a color image in Camera Raw and choosing the Black & White radio button near the top of the Basic panel.

Camera Raw’s Basic Black and White sliders shape your tone curve. Photographically speaking, there are five major tone regions in every image; Blacks, Shadows (three-quarter tones), middle tones, Highlights (quarter tones), and Whites. Each region is controlled by the named slider except for the middle tones, which are affected by the Exposure and Contrast sliders.

Tybee Window S-SThe Tone Curve delivers additional tone shaping capabilities by allowing you to determine the latitude of the tonal regions. These regions are labeled in a straightforward way, Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows.

Flower-framed window Flower-framed windowCR

The Black and White Mix panel provides the typical additive and subtractive colors of Reds, Greens, Blues, Cyans, Magentas, and Yellows, and offers an additional two color channels that affect the conversion process: Purples and Aquas. The same Mix panel sliders that serve as the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) adjustments for color pictures, serve as the color conversion channels for Black & White. While the image editing process displays a monochromatic view of the color image, tapping the “P” key at any time will allow you view the original color image as a reference.

BountyColorizeIf you wish, you can open the Hue/Saturation dialog to convert your Black and White image to a toned image. Simply check the Colorize checkbox at the bottom of the dialog and adjust to please. Be careful, it is quite to overdo the color. Remember intent of tinting is to add depth to the image and break the monotony of purely black and white.

Get serious about learning photography and then stay focused. Invest in yourself and determine to understand the process. Sign up for the regular blog series by entering your email address at the top-right corner of this page.

That’s the way I sees it. Let me know what you think.

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If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, go to and get Bright About Light!

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What’s Choking Your Photo Creativity?

Shortly after Photoshop stormed onto the scene folks started peddling their personal Photoshop Actions and Presets in Lightroom. It didn’t take long for ambitious power-users to figure out how to make money by selling prefab effects and routines. I always thought that was a bit presumptuous to assume that others aren’t smart enough to figure their own workflow, though I did applaud their entrepreneurial fervor. To me, using someone else’s routines is sorta like paying someone else to do your homework.

Strangle Graffiti

I shot this graffiti wall in Genoa Italy hoping that someday I’d have a place to use it. Here it is.

Personally, I get a kick out of learning the tools and shaping my images my own way, so that subscription movement never really appealed to me as either a buyer or a seller. True confession… when digital imaging burst on the scene in 1990, my background in litho scanning and image preparation prompted me to write an intelligent automation plug-in for Photoshop called ScanPrep Pro. SPP did very well for itself and helped a lot of folks produce professional results. The difference was, back then people were submitting digital photos to printers without understanding the printing process. That was then.

But now the industry is filled with lookalike software packages that offer the same basic processing sliders along with a bagful of predigested image effects. To my thinking, there’s something fundamentally wrong with this. Let me propose a couple of hypothetical products outside the digital photography realm to show you what I mean.

What if we published a line of coloring books for children that offered thirty pages of pre-colored Crayola pictures. That way each child could simply choose a page, sign it, tear it out of the book and Mom could hang it on the refrigerator? Think of all the messy walls and broken Crayons we’d save.

Maybe your child’s Creative Writing class could have a workbook with scores of pre-written short stories all produced with perfect sentence structure, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The stories could provide blanks in the sentences for your child to fill in the names of parents, friends, and pets to make it personal. Think of the frustration that would be avoided from kids having to process thought and use their imagination in such a stressful way. There would be no more misspelled words or wasted time in class. The kids would have more time for gaming and networking. Wouldn’t that be great?

I know that both of these examples are a bit absurd but you can imagine the effect that either could have on the creative development of a child. Not only would there be no artistic involvement and creative thinking in the process, but the skills and rigor of kids learning to express themselves in a very personal way would be lost.

Until recently, Adobe remained honest to the art and science. They use to provide all the image processing tools needed (and a boatload more that you didn’t need) to keep the art of photography a creative effort. Both Photoshop and Lightroom always required the user to learn, imagine, and produce their own personal work. But alas, even Camera Raw now provides dozens of canned and categorized imaging effects to help the helpless.

I know, I know, you can edit the results, but you can buy a ready-made cake and just write your kid’s name on it too! Thank you Mom for actually baking my birthday cakes.

The photo industry is making cameras now that are so smart that you don’t have to understand photography at all; just shoot. Soon, the firmware in the camera will automatically do all the thinking, set all the exposure settings, weed out any bad pictures, and automatically upload the “keepers” to all your social media outlets and then save them to the cloud.

There is a camera being developed that obeys voice commands so no buttons have to be pushed or preferences set. Won’t that be wonderful? Perfect dictated pictures every time.

Perhaps we’ll have a wearable camera soon that will sense the presence of friends and family and will take shots automatically at an opportune time. Just think of the memories that technology will capture for us and make accessible from the cloud (don’t get me started!).

Balderdash to all of it. I’m a photographer, not a social media photo-enthusiast. I like everything about the art and science of photography and I still enjoy pushing my own pixels around. If you understand my point (and can tolerate my sarcasm), why not join me on a weekly private post where I’ll teach you what you really need to know about shooting and editing you photos. Then you’ll know what you’re doing and you’ll be proud to share the real you with your friends. Just think how much more they’ll like that. I’ll detail this program in an upcoming post.

Get serious about learning photography and then stay focused. Invest in yourself and determine to understand the process. Sign up for this regular blog series by entering your email address at the top-right corner of this page.

That’s the way I sees it. Let me know what you think.

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If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, go to and get Bright About Light!

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Technology and Tolerance

Tolerance is an interesting concept; it keeps our biases and personal convictions in check and moderates our acceptance of issues that we don’t agree with. In a social sense, tolerance plays a critical part in a well-behaved society.

I was raised to be tolerant long before it became socially popular. My father was a minister who modeled tolerance. People loved him because he loved them rather than judged them. I learned a lot from him. But there is one particular area of today’s culture in which my acceptance is wearing thin, and it is in my very own field of photography.

Here’s where I’m losing it, and why.

There are amazing technology products on the market now that automate the entire photographic process, from beginning to end, and they generate great pictures. Automated cameras and predigested visual effects pretty much guarantee great pictures. Every time you see a friend’s photo, you probably “like” it. We all do. But I wonder if this techno-blessing hasn’t brought with it a serious curse; one that seems to be having a profound effect on the whole photographic culture.

I not only write a photo blog, I shoot a lot, I produce educational videos, I edit photos for city magazines, and I speak to groups about photography and imaging. I’m totally immersed and marinated in photons and pixels. I love the entire process because of the creative juices that it stirs inside me. When I view a potential photo scene I envision every element of the capture process. I size the scene up for lighting, framing, angle, and depth of focus. I see it all in my mind. I even imagine how I’ll shape the camera image in post-production before I shoot the picture.

I guess that’s at the core of my distress. I’ve developed my skills and knowledge from a ton of personal experience (mistakes and poor judgment). I never stop learning. I’ve learned how light behaves, how to capture it, and how to push it around and massage it during the editing process. Because I understand light, I understand how to shape color. I love the whole creative process, not just the result. I enjoy making it happen.

Perhaps our culture is becoming so dependent on smart technology that we’re becoming not-so-smart about how to produce pictures without it. We’re satisfied with the canned effects that technology offers while we should be proud of learning to master the process. Could the discipline of photography and the development of technical skills be declining because of technical advances? How ironic. Has technology made photography so effortless that we have little interest in personally controlling the process?

More and more people are learning about talented devices but fewer people are developing their own talent. Personal pride in personal skills seems to be fading. It’s easier to accept someone else’s interpretation of a picture than it is to learn to express our own. Perhaps we have too much tolerance for “easy” and too little pride in our skills.

Here’s a question for you!

If the camera is doing all the work, can you really take credit for the result?


I know how to set the camera up to capture the light and freeze the action.

If your skills are dependent on the Auto button and a handful of pre-sets, you are shortchanging yourself. Photography is an art and a science built around the capture and shaping of light. Ask yourself how much of that science you actually understand? It’s a shame to rely on tricks and pre-sets when you could learn to control the process.

LavePoolWaves Corrected

Because I understand some basic facts about controlling light and color within imaging software, I was able to adjust this camera image and produce this result. All these tones and colors were locked inside the photo, just waiting to be revealed. I just know how to bring them out.

Make sure the “likes” you get in social media are for what you know and produce. Take pride in your personal knowledge. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel about about those likes when you produce the results with your own work!

Learn something about photography today that you didn’t know yesterday; then you can really be proud of yourself. Make yourself a promise to no longer tolerate your lack of knowledge. This is one case where pride is a good thing and tolerance is a bad thing.

That’s the way I sees it. Let me know what you think.

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If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, go to and get Bright About Light!

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Rekindling the Romance of Black and White, Part Two: Photoshop

The thrill of romance wanes when we fail to appreciate uniqueness and recognize differences. When we downplay distinctive traits, the spark of romance gradually mellows and we settle for the bland and predictable. Instead of identifying and appreciating those small differences, amplifying distinctions that stimulate the senses, we settle for what is merely tolerable, and we end up with boring.

I’m not talking about human relationships here, I’m talking about black and white conversions from color images. When color is transposed into monochrome, billions of colors are reduced to a couple-hundred monochromatic steps. It doesn’t take a genius to see that with this transition something can easily be lost in the translation. But if we handle it correctly, we can exchange color for detail, drama, and power.

Look closely at the images below. While the color picture is colorful but the monochrome image presents an additional level of drama.

Hawaii Lava Rocks +

For the sake of this post, I’ll refer to B/W as Monochrome. There are only 256 tones between black and white in this photo, but this reduced number is actually a benefit. Detail is the result of internal contrast control, NOT sharpening. When you control the contrast, you control the detail. Distinguishing individual tones in the shadows and the highlights creates detail.

Hawaii Lava Rocks

Notice that as an RGB image, you have a minimum of 16.8 million colors/tones. Making a distinction between all those colors is a real challenge. The very nature of overlapping red, green, and blue channels reduces the visual distinction. While the “dynamic range” is much larger in color than in B/W, the “dynamic distinction” is much harder to achieve.

The intent and purpose for this Black and White series of posts is to showcase the power of contrast and edginess possible with monochromatic images; an exchange of subtile color for detail and drama. You’ll learn that sometimes color can actually diminish detail instead of enhancing it. Because color is inherently lacking in dynamic contrast, the transitions between tones is much more gradual. This may work well for subtle beauty, but if the colors present little contrast, the photo will present little visual detail.

Photoshop Black and White Conversions. There are a number of ways to convert color pictures to monochrome in Adobe Photoshop as well as a number of RAW software products. Photoshop offers a number of ways to transpose colors to tones of gray, commonly known as Grayscale. In this post I’ll present four powerful processes available in Photoshop. In the next post, I’ll dive into the RAW Interpreter methods.

PS-Black and White

Black and White Panel. All six primary and secondary color channels can be lightened and darkened by the sliders in this panel. Only the luminance of each color can be adjusted here but the Preview checkbox allows you to reference the original color image while you adjust each color’s effect on the grayscale. Increasing or decreasing of each color channel affects the corresponding gray tones. The Hue slider at the bottom has a profound effect on the overall monochrome image though the Saturation control has very little effect. All of the sliders have influence over the interpretation of the grayscale conversion.

PS Channel Mixer

Channel Mixer Panel. This panel provides interesting (Red, Green, Blue, Orange, Yellow, and Infrared-filtered interpretations of the color image. While both the Black and White and the Channel Mixer panels render the file as a grayscale image, each produces very interesting results. Once the color influence has been established, further tonal controls can be made in the Shadows/Highlights dialog.


HDR Toning. HDR Toning provides many controls over the image’s color and shape. While primarily a color tonality tool, once other adjustments are made, simply dial back all the Saturation (bottom-most slider) and you have a unique monochromatic image.


PS Shadows and HighlightsShadows/Highlights Panel. Shadows/Highlights dialog from the Image/Adjustment menu. Shadows: the top three sliders allow you to lighten and shape the Shadows (the darkest parts of the image). Highlights: the next three sliders let you affect the internal contrast within the Highlights (the lightest parts of the image).

Adjustments: Since this image is now grayscale, the Color slider will have no effect, though the Midtone slider will have a major effect on the overall contrast. Don’t change either the Black Clip or the White Clip since we will address both the Black point and White point next.

Any one (or even combinations of all) of these workshop areas can be employed. If additional contrast and middle tone adjustments are needed, the trusty Levels dialog can provide the finishing touches.

Levels Panel. Graph vs Index HistogramThe Levels panel is where we set the darkest and lightest tones in the image.

PS Levels

I’ll cover additional methods of producing very rich black and white prints from digital image files in subsequent posts. Stay tuned. That’s the way I sees it. Let me know what you think.

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If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, go to and get Bright About Light!

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Rekindling the Romance of Black and White, Part One.

There is a renewed interest in the romance of black and white photography for several good reasons. First, hyped color is becoming boringly predictable. Second, automated software provides a predictable variety of predigested looks that can be applied to any image. Just as Hollywood movies seem to fall into the same predictable themes, digital photography has lost its creativity. As you noticed, the common trap is predictability. Serious photographers want to do serious work and that means cranking up the power of black and white.

But before you set your camera to capture Black and White (aka Monochrome and Grayscale) pictures, you should understand why digital cameras capture and record spectral data differently than film cameras did decades ago. If your recent experience with digital B/W has resulted in disappointing results,  I have good news. If you (like me) loved B/W film, you’re gonna love digital even more.

Tybee Window S-S

You can make a stronger statement with black and white than you can with color. Nothing “pops” like good black and white.

The dynamic range of black and white film is fundamentally different than the range captured by today’s digital cameras. A simple conversion to grayscale is about as exciting as oatmeal. There’s something missing and I think I know what it is. I shot film and produced marvelously rich prints for a decade before digital took over and I intend to pick up where I left off. It took a while to figure it out, but now, watch out!

The truth is, your digital camera’s color settings significantly influence the way additive primary (see The Visible Spectrum: RGB Color Voodoo) colored light transitions into monochrome captures. While the brand of your digital may describe these controls differently, the essence of these settings will be similar. More on this in the follow-up post.

Hawaii Lava Rocks

This original RGB capture of the lava pools in Hawaii presented a challenge. How to capture and delineate detail in the extreme shadows and highlights. Tough enough for color but almost impossible for monochrome.

Hawaii Lava Rocks +

The RGB image above provided over 4 billion colors that could be pushed and shaped. This monochrome shot provided only 256 tones to do the same job. With film, this would be nearly impossible but with digital…

Black and white photography transports your mind into a playground of creative thought; a semi-guided tour into your imagination. Black and white photography doesn’t enclose you inside the bookends of a specific color scheme; it sets your imagination free to discover a place full of emotion. Black and white photos deliver moods, not just pictures.

Color literally captures your mind, but not always in a good way. Here’s what I mean. Once you see a color picture, the die is cast. You can no longer imagine the scene your way. Before you know it, you find your mind subconsciously critiquing the color rather than interpreting the subject. Black and white gifts you with the freedom to dream.

Both film and digital cameras capture color information and transpose it into black and white images. But when photographic film is in the hands of an old-school darkroom artist, he can produce prints that are absolutely captivating. Here’s why.

Film cameras make use of the light-response attributes of silver-halide and black and white films and papers are composed of various formulations of silver and bromide (and other coatings) that record light frequencies of color that influence its visual transition from color to black and white. I know it’s weird to speak of chemical compounds and romance in the same sentence, but that’s the difference.

Digital cameras follow a purely analytical recording process based on electrical current. Now if chemistry left you numb, electrical current should absolutely paralyze your brain, and it does… that’s the problem! Photo cells in your camera’s circuitry simply count photons (the atomic level of light measurement), and use electrical current to set the gray levels (based on the camera’s ISO settings). Digital cameras simply use math to convert colors to grayscale. Pretty sexy. Digital images are by nature very calculated and sterile, unless you understand how to put your personal fingerprint on the process and use colors to shape the mood of monochrome images.


This is the original RGB image shot in San Juan Puerto Rico

Here’s the problem. When a digital image is captured in monochrome (Black and White) mode and JPEG format, the camera discards all RGB information and retains a very sparse number of gray tones. While this sounds like a logical way to arrive at black and white values, it negates the nuances of spectrally-weighted color transformation. Quite simply, it neuters the image. Each camera manufacturer determines how each color of light gets parsed as a gray value. Emotional content designed by mathematician computer scientists. Hmm-m. The same sensitive folks that developed JPEG.


This is a simple conversion from RGB to BW with no adjustments

When you capture images in black and white (monochrome or grayscale) mode, you are literally at the mercy of the engineers who wrote your camera’s algorithms. While some very interesting color/monochrome translations are provided by some camera manufacturers, you are still locked into someone else’s interpretation. So what to do?


This is the conversion from RGB to Grayscale using Camera Raw’s HSL Grayscale tools. The intensity and saturation of eight different colors determine the internal contrast of the gray tones.

There are a couple of solutions to this problem. First, record all images in both B/W JPEG and RAW formats. 1) Great results can be achieved when grayscale images (usually referred to as “monochrome”) are captured in your camera’s “scene” variations when certain other of your camera’s color settings are in place. 2) When digital images are captured in RAW format, all spectral (color) information can be accessed and used to influence the tonal values. When these controls (provided by a number of post-processing tools) are involved in shaping the spectral information into B/W, some absolute magic results take place.

When either of these processes is put to work, you, the photographer become creatively involved in converting colors into gray tones and the magic of silver halide interpretation gets replicated in the digital process. And here’s the kicker… using digital controls, you can surpass the mile markers established by the black and white masters of the past. This is scary good stuff. Ansel would have loved this control.

If I got your attention with this challenge, subscribe to this blog (upper right hand corner) and I’ll tell you the secret ingredients for these powerful imaging recipes. Only if you are signed up individually will you see Parts 2 and 3. You don’t want to miss this! Join me for this series and together we’ll rekindle this amazing art form. I’ll want to hear your feedback and see examples of your own conversions in future posts.

If you shoot digital, this is a subject that you should understand. That’s the way I sees it. Let me know what you think.

Speaking Promo

If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, go to and get Bright About Light!

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Don’t Show Me Your Tricks, Show Me Your Skills

eyes-see-it-logo.jpgThe automated features and tricks built into cameras and software can actually stunt your photographic growth. Are you relying on auto settings, pre-sets, and effects to make your shots look better? Do you run your photos through software that pushes your shots through pre-fab cookie cutter interpretations? Perhaps it’s time to take off the training wheels and develop a solid understanding of the real photographic process. There’s an artist inside you who yearns to learn. Let your pride be in your work, not someone else’s.

Stop being predictable.

Those pre-digested interpretations offered by the trendy camera pre-sets and post-processing software packages are way too easy to spot. Yes, they look spiffy, but they can also look a bit like a paint-by-numbers painting. They all look like someone else’s stuff! This kind of treatment looks good once in a while- I even use them myself (but sparingly). I want people to see my skills, not someone else’s tricks.

Be the individual, not the trend.

I grew up in the hippie years and to some degree, I bought into the trend. I wanted to be taken seriously as an individual, a non-conformist who didn’t just follow the masses and do what everybody else did. But it didn’t take long to realize that all those non-conformists all dressed alike, talked alike, acted alike, and smelled alike while proclaiming their individuality. They conformed to their non-conformity. It didn’t make sense back then and it doesn’t make sense now. If you want to express yourself, do just that… express yourself!

Determine today to see life through your own lens and interpret what you see with a clear understanding of how to command the medium of photography. Don’t see life through the lens of popular automation and trick treatments, learn the fundamentals of light and color the way your camera sees them. Capture what your mind sees, don’t try to force your shots into someone else’s pre-fab mold. Be an artist who understands the medium and is in command of their art.

Enough of the grunge, the saturation, the borders, and the pre-fab crap. Show us your message as expressed by your skills!

If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, here’s a suggestion. I’ve created an easy-to-understand video series that will teach you the fundamentals of light and color and help you to capture and produce amazing photos. Go to and get Bright About Light!


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The Visible Spectrum: Color As Frequencies & Light Waves

Hang on, in this final installment in this series, I’m about to get geeky about the emotion and romance aspect of color photography. Your eyes don’t actually see colors at all. Color is more of a perception than a reality; a neural response to light frequency.

Here’s the sterile truth. Both the fovea area of your retina and the image sensor in your camera are receptive to specific wavelengths of light energy, not colors. Once these collective signals are transferred to your camera’s image processor and your brain’s visual cortex, they are interpreted as visual sensations that we humans perceive as color.


Everything that we perceive as color is actually a specific wavelength or vibration of light energy that oscillates between the 380 and 780 nanometers in the visual portion of the electromagnetic spectrum.


Colors correspond to set frequencies in both these visual devices. It is the job of the camera’s image processor to parse these numbers into colors. How accurately these colors are identified and recorded has a lot to do with the color space and file type specified in your camera settings.

Your camera probably allows you to choose either sRGB or Adobe RGB color space. While both color spaces capture pretty much the same colors, Adobe RGB provides a wider range of saturated colors and is preferable for printed photos. sRGB is the more widely accepted color space and is more suited for social media and Internet use.

Of more critical importance is the file type selected to save and transfer your images. Almost all digital cameras offer to record images in JPEG or RAW format. This file type has nothing to do with your camera’s range (the difference between solid color and no color) of the images, it does have a major impact on the bit depth (the number of shades and tones of color between solid color and no color) of the images.

Green Plants-JPG-RAW

This image was captured in both JPEG (left) and RAW (right). The RAW file allowed me to reclaim the highlights.

As you probably know, JPEG images only record 254 levels of color between the darkest and lightest colors in each channel while RAW images provide billions of levels. But even more important is the little known fact that JPEG images are quite indiscriminate about the internal contrast of the images captured. This matters most when the lighting in the scene is more dramatic.

Higher contrast scenes like high-key or low-key JPEG images contain very limited latitude for shaping the shadows and recovering highlights. Whenever possible, I seriously recommend that you set your camera to save both JPEG and RAW files. It’s much easier to discard the RAW file than to recover lost detail.

Color affects all of us emotionally, though it is simply science to your camera. How accurately you record those numbers is critical. Just thought you’d like to know. Let me know if this makes sense to you.

If you’d like to understand even more of what makes color work, how light behaves, and how easy it is to shape the light in your photographic images, here’s a suggestion. I’ve created a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you the fundamentals of light and color and help you to capture and produce amazing color. Go to and get Bright About Light!


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