Last week Jane, a former guided client, sent me a photo she’d just made and asked for my opinion of it. The photo, seen above, immediately intrigued me. The weathered old wall and headstones were full of interesting texture and the shadow of a cross with a crow perched on top as if he were a guardian of the graveyard had tremendous impact. It struck me as a brilliant candidate for a black and white conversion. I emailed Jane and asked her permission to work on it. In addition to doing the conversion I promised I would send her a description of what I did and why I did it to help her understand the logic behind my decisions. Luckily, she gave me the go ahead. Please note: The images on this page are copyrighted and do not belong to me.
I imported the photo to Lightroom 3 and then went to work with Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2 to do the black and white conversion. Once there, I did a custom conversion rather than relying on one of the presets. I began by increasing the brightness of the highlights while slightly decreasing the brightness of the mid-tones and shadows. Next I increased global contrast to give more separation between the tones. I also used the “Amplify Whites” slider to give the brighter tones a bit more punch. Lastly, I increased structure by 10% in all three tones to enhance the texture of the stone. I experimented with colored filters but none of them added anything to the overall scene.
After doing the conversion in Silver Efex Pro 2 I switched to Viveza 2 to do some additional fine tuning. First, I increased global contrast by 4% which made the shadows just a bit too dark for my liking. So, I used the shadows slider to lighten them up and bring a little bit more detail back into the darkest areas. Not too much though, as I generally liked the overall stark contrast. I then used control points to select only the headstones, which I darkened by a few points and increased the contrast so the names would stand out more distinctively. I dropped a couple control points on the wall behind the tombstones and lightened that area using the brightness slider. I did this so the tombstones would contrast more sharply with the wall, causing them to become even more prominent in the image. Finally, I decreased the warmth by about 5% to give the image a very slight blue (cool) color cast. I felt the image needed cooler tones to convey the chilly mood of the scene.
When all was said and done I’d spent a total of about five minutes on the conversion. I emailed it to Jane with a description of my workflow and her response was, “Whoa! It is brilliant Bret.” Needless to say, she was overjoyed. Most importantly, she had her own photo in a “before and after” tutorial that she could refer to the next time she found herself “stuck” in a processing rut. Some times we’re just too close to our own images, or maybe we lack the digital darkroom skills, to be able to effectively translate the vision in our mind into a finished photograph. On these occasions it might be a good idea to put that image aside for a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes. Or, maybe, we could ask a friend to work on it for us. The outside perspective we gain might be all that’s needed to help us break through whatever barriers had been holding us back.
I’d like to extend a sincere thank you to Jane Lyons for allowing me to muck around with her photograph and share the results here on my blog. Thanks, Jane!
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got an image you’ve been struggling with and you’d like me to take a crack at it. Send me an email at bret (at) bretedge (dot) com and I may take a run at it!