Exercise 25 Colours into Tones in Black & White

This exercise is designed to provide a “taste” of how understanding colour and putting it to work in black and white imagery gives a powerful tonal control.

I chose to take two still life pictures as my basis for this exercise. In both cases I set up the still life under a hot-shoe soft box loaded with a flash gun set to trigger remotely from my camera. The soft box was set to the left and slightly above the still life to allow me to glance the light off the objects and emphasise their texture. The set was in front of a small window so there was some natural light from the back and to reduce shadows on the right I used two small LED video lights that are of a similar colour temperature to the flash gun. The LED lights are diffused by translucent plastic sheets and the soft box is diffused with material.

Image 1 was a still life using fruit and vegetables.

Fig 1 - 1/60 at f/11, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Fig 1 – 1/60 at f/11, ISO 100. 50mm prime lens

Following the instructions in the exercise brief I used Photoshop (PS) to convert the image to black and white and then adjusted the tones using the sliders in PS and, as a comparison I followed the same sequence using Silver Efex Pro (SEP). In PS I used the sliders manually whereas in SEP I simply used their pre-set colour filters. Note that there is an orange filter in SEP but no orange slider in PS. As there were no blues in the still life I did not produce an image with a blue filter.

Fig. 2 Default PS and Neutral SEP

Fig. 2 Default PS and Neutral SEP

Fig. 3 Red Filter

Fig. 3 Red Filter

Fig. 4 Yellow Filter

Fig. 4 Yellow Filter

Fig. 5 Orange Filter

Fig. 5 Orange Filter

Fig. 6 Green Filter

Fig. 6 Green Filter

The results are mostly unsurprising. The most interesting aspects are:

  1. Silver Efex Pro gives a much more satisfactory neutral or default image that achieves a better overall tonal balance than the Photoshop  version.
  2. The red chillies are obviously quite a pure red because the other filters have minimal impact on their tone but we can see that the red tomatoes actually contain a lot of yellow and orange as those filters also effect their tone.
  3. I am surprised by the significant effect on the red tomatoes of the green filter in Silver Efex Pro.

For my second set of colours I wanted a wider range so I set up two sets of coloured pens and some Postit notes. This gave me a much broader spectrum. I restricted myself to using the filters in Silver Efex Pro which is the tool I now use for black and white processing.

Fig. 7 1/60 at f/22, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 7 1/60 at f/22, ISO 100. 105mm prime lens

Fig. 8 Silver Efex Pro Red Filter

Fig. 8 Silver Efex Pro Red Filter

NK0_3980-pens-still-lifeBlue and dark green become black. Yellow becomes white. Red becomes a mid-tone grey. Obvious why the red filter is a favourite with landscape photographers seeking a Ansel Adams black sky and very white clouds.

Fig. 9 - Silver Efex Pro Orange Filter

Fig. 9 – Silver Efex Pro Orange Filter

NK0_3980-pens-still-lifeSimilar effect to the red filter but more muted. Blue is nearly black so some texture is just discernible. there is more variation between blue and dark green especially on the coloured paper. Orange and yellow are much the same tone as the red filter. An autumn landscape would have an infrared feel and we would be able to tell the difference between grass and blue sky.

Fig. 10 - Silver Efex Pro Yellow Filter

Fig. 10 – Silver Efex Pro Yellow Filter

NK0_3980-pens-still-lifeOnly a  small shift from the orange filter. Blue and green have moved a little further apart as have red and orange, red is slightly darker and orange lighter.Yellow now has some texture.

Fig. 11 - Silver Efex Pro Green Filter

Fig. 11 – Silver Efex Pro Green Filter

NK0_3980-pens-still-lifeA continuation of the progression. Blue has more texture so is becoming lighter, Orange and yellow are darker and green much lighter. Blue and green have moved much further apart. Red  and purple are now black on the pen tops.

Fig. 12 - Silver Efex Pro Blue Filter

Fig. 12 – Silver Efex Pro Blue Filter

NK0_3980-pens-still-lifeWith the blue filter there is quite a significant shift. Yellow, orange and red have all become much darker with yellow quite black on he paper and orange black on the pen tops which shows how different materials reflect light and thereby effect colour.

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