Being Bold with Black and White Processing

September 10, 2014

I have a tendency to not stray too far with contrast and levels sliders when processing images. When working with a color image, over-doing it can render the image cartoonish. However, when processing B&W images, sometimes you need to give it an extra push in processing. The image below is a good example. After working with the image below I was reasonably happy with this version:


Wanfujing Avenue, Beijing, China

It’s a perfectly acceptable photo. I’m happy with the composition and it has some nice elements. However, after coming back to it, I realized that it lacked something. Specifically, there are no true whites in the photo. It’s a bit muddy.

Back to the drawing board. I forced myself to push the contrast up until I got true whites. The setting ended up being 82 (on a 100 scale), and this was after processing in Nik Silver Efex 2. In the end, I like the revised image with increase contrast. I haven’t lost much detail and the image is much punchier.

Wanfujing Avenue, Beijing, China

However, if you look carefully at the 2nd image, you will notice that I have lost the sky detail in the reflections on the leftmost building. In order to bring back some of that detail, I removed some of the extra contrast from that portion of the image with a layer mask. The final result is here:

Wanfujing Avenue, Beijing, China

Wanfujing Avenue, Beijing, China

I won’t profess to completely understand all the nuances of Ansel Adams’ Zone System, but I think one principle is easy to apply for most of us. Try to achieve zones of true white and true black somewhere in the image. Here I’ve come pretty close to true white with the water in the center of the fountain. This has the added advantage of having the white point at a key element of the composition. I find that editing photos is often like editing my writing. I have to let the image sit for a few days before I can truly “see” it and critique it. Coming back to an image after the initial editing session often results in a much stronger final product. Give it a try!

Photo Data

1/320s | f/3.2 | ISO 200 | 12mm | Handheld

Equipment Used

My Trusty Olympus O-MD E-M1

Panasonic 12-35 f/2.8