The Importance of Black in Monochrome Images

Posted March 9th, 2012 by   |  Photography, Software, Travel  |  Permalink
How do you create drama in black and white photos? Read below for some tips.

How do you create drama in black and white photos? Read below for some tips.

I love converting my images to black and white. There is a timeless quality and a sense of abstraction that we just can’t see with traditional color photography. Many black and white images are greatly improved by having areas of dense black in the composition. These solid black areas anchor the photo and can add drama to otherwise boring images.

For this blog post, I want to show you how to create a strong monochrome image while still keeping solid black areas in the composition. In this example of a small cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains NP, my initial image (below) didn’t have much detail in the interior walls. I knew that I wanted to brighten up the interior, but I also knew that this would cause the image to lose drama.

Here's the original shot from my camera. The interior walls are dark and devoid of any significant detail.

Here's the original shot from my camera. The interior walls are dark and devoid of any significant detail.

My first step was to brighten up these walls and bring out detail. One of my favorite tools for this is a plug-in called Detail Extractor, found in Nik Color Efex Pro 4 (CEP4). Since my image was already opened in Photoshop, I activated the CEP 4 plugin called Detail Extractor and moved the sliders until I was happy with the amount of detail in the wood and the brightness of the interior. The shot below demonstrates the enhanced image after Detail Extractor.

Here's the image after bringing out details using the Detail Enhancer tool in Nik Color Efex Pro 4.

Here's the image after bringing out details using the Detail Extractor tool in Nik Color Efex Pro 4.

The next step was to convert the image to black and white. There are as many ways to convert an image to black and white as there are photographers in the world! One of my favorite software packages is Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. I really enjoy the wide range of adjustments in this tool, especially a slider adjustment called “Amplify Blacks” found in the Contrast area. This slider allows you to maintain the tonalities (brightness) of the mid tones and highlights, while adding a significant amount of density in the blacks. It is similar to adjusting the “shadows” slider down in Lightroom/Aperture, but it is even more targeted to the very darkest tones in the image.

Here's a screen shot from Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. You can see the "Amplify Blacks" slider on the right side of the screen under the Contrast section. I use this slider all the time to create the dense black areas, while still maintaining detail in the mid tones and highlights.

Here's a screen shot from Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. You can see the "Amplify Blacks" slider on the right side of the screen under the Contrast section. I use this slider all the time to create the dense black areas, while still maintaining detail in the mid tones and highlights.

My final two steps were to add a border and do a bit of noise reduction. I used the border creation tool in Silver Efex Pro 2 to get the look I was after. To reduce the noise, I used the Nik Dfine plugin for Photoshop. The final image is shown below.

Here's the final image with the border and Nik Dfine noise reduction applied.

Here's the final image with the border and Nik Dfine noise reduction applied.

For your next black and white conversion, I encourage you to add areas of solid black in order to create a sense of drama. This approach doesn’t work for every image, but it can breathe life into an otherwise boring shot.



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