Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Black and White

Fargo, North Dakota.

This week Anne Sandler asks us to look at our photos with an eye for shade and texture and focus on the impact of black and white photography in our photo work. She writes about black and white photography, “I don’t process a lot of it, but when I do I enjoy the texture and depth it gives a scene. It reaches a place in your soul that color can’t. Some images cry out for black and white.” You can read her entire challenge post here.

Similar to Anne, I don’t do many black-and-white conversions, but there are times when I can see an image has the potential for stripping the color away. Some years ago, I discovered Silver Efex 2 which is part of the Nik Collection, now from DxO software. Just recently they released a new version of the collection that includes Silver Efex 3. This challenge was all I needed to spring for the upgrade fee to the new version.

My opening photo features an image captured at Orchard Glen Park in Fargo, North Dakota. The park is on the state line between North Dakota and Minnesota. There is a clearing on the river bank near a bend in the river that is a great place for photography any time of the year.

Most of my processing for black and white starts with Lightroom for basic tweaks like cropping and making global settings changes like applying the correct lens profile, adjusting clarity and contrast. Lightroom is my image catalog as well and it helps me keep track of my photo library.

Red River at Sunset

This winter view of the Red River was captured from the Minnesota side. Before sending the image to Silver Efex 3, I used Lightroom to remove a cell phone tower that was a distraction in the background. Then I sent it to Silver Efex for black and white processing.

The program offers about 50 preset images. When I first see the image in black and white, I get a first impression of where I’d like to start in a conversion. The presets are divided into types and with a little practice, I’ve been able to pick a category of these pre-finished settings to use as a starting point.

Sometimes I second-guess myself and discover that the preset I thought I would like turned out to be what I expected. From there, I can go back to the top of the preset images that are displayed in a column on the left. The top image preset is always the conversion directly from Lightroom. Selecting it again allows a “do-over”.

Trestle Bridge-1

The image above features a drone shot of the High Line Bridge at Valley City, North Dakota. This trestle bridge is one of the longest and tallest active trestles in the United States. This image, like all the rest in my challenge were captured in North Dakota.

Once I find a preset to start with, then I use the column of tools on the right to modify the preset as I see fit. Most often, I add some structure or change the brightness or contrast globally.

Oil Tankers

One of my favorites in black and white is a photo I captured in the summer of 2013. At Fargo, a train of brand new oil tanker cars were sitting on a siding awaiting transfer to the Bakken Oil Field in western North Dakota. This image, reprocessed this morning with Silver Efex 3 is probably the fourth time I’ve tweaked the original color image using a different preset starting point.

Blacksmith

A few years ago in Bismarck, North Dakota, a pioneer days event brought me out to look for photo opportunities. The gentleman in the image above was giving demonstrations of blacksmithing techniques. This photo allowed me to use the program’s control points to work on a specific area of the image.

The shot was diminished by the very busy background. I should have used a wider lens opening to blur the background to reduce the “clutter”. In Silver Efex, I chose one of the low-key presets that brought the image to look very under-exposed. I applied a control point around his face and increased the exposure in that area only to bring his face out of the shadows. Control points are circular and I discovered that I needed to add another control point under his chin to bring up the exposure around his neck and upper chest area to balance out the exposure around his face.

Flower-1

In Anne’s post, I noticed some beautiful black-and-white flower conversions. I admit to not having considered that floral images losing their colors would be something to be considered. Anne’s examples showed me how wrong I was about this attitude. For this challenge, I attempted to find a suitable flower that would convert nicely to monochrome. Most of the floral images I tried to convert didn’t fare well in the conversion, mostly because the solid color tones in the flower turned to some shade of gray with little distinction.

One of the flowers that did convert well, in my opinion, was this blossom captured in the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis. The mostly white flower converted nicely with the brightly lit blossom and the lighter green of the stem seemed to fit. I used a lower key exposure setting than in the color photo and then darkened the background shadows to highlight the foreground components. In the future, I’ll be looking for more flowers that will convert well to black-and-white.

Red River at Lindenwood

I conclude this post with another image of the Red River, this view from Lindenwood Park in Fargo. Adding structure and contrast to the image in Silver Efex brought out the details in the sky. The structure control also improved the definition and clarity of the trees on the opposite bank.

As always, I invite you to click on any image above to view it in 2K HD from my gallery on Flickr. From there, you can click on the right or left arrows beside the photo to move from one photo in the gallery to the next. I made a total of eleven conversions for this challenge-response, and all of them are posted in my Flickr gallery for your review and, I hope, your approval.

Thanks again to Anne for allowing me to indulge myself in some more black and white work.

John Steiner

25 comments

  1. John, this post was worth waiting for! Amazing images of black and white. It seems we have a similar workflow, and I’m glad to have helped you discover black and white floral images. Thanks for participating!

    • Thank you. The challenge was that final “kick” that got me to upgrade my Nik software. Now I should start working on learning some of the other apps besides Silver Efex. 🙂

      • Is the upgrade worth it? I really have to start using those control points more. Have you used Color Efex? I like the detail extractor filter.

      • Truth is, I use Luminar now for my color work mostly. When I heard Nik had upgraded Silver Efex, it was for that alone that I made the switch.
        I am not sure if the upgrade price is worth it for just one app, but I thought I’d give it a shot. To get more value out of the update, I would need to go back to using the other modules again.
        Your mileage may vary. 🙂

  2. Very interesting to read your processes for these shots, especially the blacksmith one. I too like to use the control points in Nik Efex. I see Anne has already asked about the upgrade. Like her I use the detail extractor in Color Efex, and I also like some of the other filters – tonal contrast, graduated ND, colour contrast. The vintage effects can be fun to play with too.

  3. enjoyed your take on black and white – and the oil tankers shot is wonderful – how do you get so close to the trains? Are you able to walk right up there?

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