How to develop color-blindness.

I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t love to see a well-executed beautiful black and white photo. I certainly do.

And perhaps it is just because we were brought up seeing so much of it. Sorry… “some of us” should be substituted for “we” in that last sentence. The great French photographers… Willy Ronis (my fav) and Robert Doisneau knew how to capture a memorable photo in Black and White. The Americans… Irving Penn, Diane Arbus, Edward Weston and of course Ansel Adams knew the secrets. And Leni Riefenstahl endowed her images with such amazing power and compositional drama that they inspired photographers for decades and continue to do so even to this day. They all knew that content was foremost. Drama and composition second.

And a close third was the understanding that a wonderful black and white image is not just black and white. A truly beautiful b/w image will usually contain the whole range of tones… from pure white… to dense black and as many variations of grey/gray in between. Ansel Adams was the king when it came to including the entire spectrum.

So how does one develop color-blindness so that when you look at a scene… you just know it will make a magical b/w image?

First… if you are really going for a b/w image… don’t let color throw you off. Vibrant color has a way of doing that. Heh… we are all drawn to the shiny object once in a while! So… look at the tones in the scene. Look for contrast. Flat is bad. Look for interesting shapes that play off each other. Then… compose well… and shoot away.

Below I have included several recent photos that started out as color but were changed to b/w in the processing. More about the pitfalls of that right below the images.


IMG_4743bw copy


IMG_4438 BWcopy

IMG_2480 copy

IMG_1969 copy

Annecy copy

Now…. take a peek at the photos again… you can just click on the photo to enlarge it. What they all have in common is they all have a nice range of black to white, some more than others. OK… let’s say you have taken the image and now you want to transfer it into the classic b/w. Well… if you are doing this in Photoshop… DO NOT GO TO IMAGE AND THEN TO MODE AND CLICK ON GREYSCALE! If you do that… you don’t get to come here any more! That procedure… albeit… easy as pie will destroy the image data and on top of that… it will give you what the computer thinks is a nice transfer. Bad.

YOU are the photographer. Go into “adjustments” and scroll down to Black and White. Now we are talkin’. Click on that and you will be in the “darkroom” again… adjusting the image that makes you happy. But first… sorry… always duplicate your image before operating on it.

I would love to spend the next hour or so going step by step… but this is not a “how to” blog for Photoshop. Ha!

Just remember… be color blind… do not get pulled off the base by some exciting color. More on composition next time.

Happy trails!


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