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« civilized ku # 2661 ~ box o' prints / the time has come | Main | civilized ku# 2657-60 / decay # 50 / kitchen life # 47~ where are the lies / falsehoods or untruths? »

triptychs / the light ~ I'm not a b+w guy .... really, I'm not ... but ...

bathroom light • click to embiggen
stairs light • click to embiggen
yellow chair light • click to embiggen
kitchen light • click to embiggen
... every now and again one or more of my pictures seem to demand a conversion to b+w. Such a demand arose a day ago as I was working on an image from my the light series / book.

I was making a small localized contrast adjustment using the LAB Lightness channel - where I do all of my contrast / tonal and sharpening processing adjustments - when I became acutely aware of how interesting the pictured looked in b+w. Consequently, I started to explore the possibility of converting the images to b+w. As I did so, I was actually quite impressed by how the pictures translated, technically and aesthetically, into b+w.

I was even more more impressed when I printed a converted file on heavyweight matte paper. The print was very rich in tonal quality and, to a very significant degree, it rivaled results I use to obtain back in my wet darkroom days. In a word, nice. So the die was cast, and I set to converting all of the files from the series.

B+W CONVERSION TECHNIQUE ASIDE: Over the years I have read (online) about the trials, tribulations and angst experienced by dedicated b+w analog pictures makers regarding the problems of digital picturing and printing in their beloved genre. Some were even pining for a b+w/greyscale only sensor (their wishes were granted by Leica in the form of the $8K [body only] M Monochrom digital camera). Most were fiddling around using various PS adjustment tools - Black & White, Channel Mixer and the like - or test driving various stand alone conversion software.

Since b+w was very low on my picturing list - can't say I ever made a digital picture which was intended to be a b+w image - I didn't go down any of those paths. Instead, I concentrated on what I belief to be one of the best and easiest methods of color>b+w conversions methods available. A method, which in a sense, is not a conversion method at all inasmuch as it relies on a b+w/grayscale image / information embedded in each and every RGB RAW file - the Lightness channel in the LAB color space.

Most digital picture makers are unaware of this wonderful greyscale information simply because visits to the LAB color space are seldom, if ever, undertaken simply because LAB color space is little understood by most - there are only 2 color channels (+ the Lightness channel) and curves in the color channels work in a very different manner than they do in RGB color space. While figuring it out ain't rocket science, most tend not to bother.

I first started using the Lightness channel (years ago) for sharpening. One can perform significantly stronger sharpening - without corresponding sharpening artifacts - in LAB than in RGB color space. The same is also true with contrast/tonal adjustments. In both cases, you work on only the greyscale component of the file and the color channels are un-effected.

In creating these b+w files, I went into LAB with each picture and threw away the color channels which left just the Lightness channel. I then applied a tonal adjustment curve - the same for all the pictures in the series - to the Lightness channel and then converted the result to greyscale. The next and last step was to convert the greyscale file to a RGB file. IMO, in the name of high quality color>b+w "conversion", it doesn't get any easier than that.

An interesting aside to creating the b+w pictures was that I discovered several related pictures triptych possibilities along the way.

Will I forego the color pictures in this series for the b+w ones? No, I will not. IMO, they are different but equal. Will I print a b+w book in addition to the color book? Yes, I will. However, I will be very interested to see how my RGB b+w files print on a printing press.

Comments on the b+w vs color pictures, re: the light, are both encouraged and welcome.

Reader Comments (1)

I've not done very well trying to do BW conversions without using expensive plugins but those look beautifully smooth and rich. And it's interesting how as a set they look really good in BW given the received wisdom about visualizing for BW (by which I mean they were clearly originally seen as color and that's supposed to be the wrong way to approach BW).

February 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Nilsson

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