August 15th, 2018

Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria, Virginia

With my recent focus on attempting to capture nature and landscape images in black and white, I realized that post processing a black and white image can be a real challenge. More so than editing a color image. Not every image is meant for black and white and when you do have a composition that seems to fit black and white well, post processing can render an image that either looks unnatural or not what you originally had in mind. This photograph above is a good example (taken at Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia). I was pleased with the composition and the dynamic range between the water in the background and granite boulders in the foreground suited black and white well. The challenge wasn't so much taking the photograph but editing the photograph to match the photograph that I had in mind. I can't speak for everyone, but I tend to lean towards the dramatic when editing black and white; with dramatic shadows and highlights. However, this style has started to produce fewer and fewer images that I would define as keepers. I knew something wasn't right, but unsure why.

My 'ah ha' moment came from a word that I mentioned just a few sentences ago; unnatural. My tendency towards dramatic shadows and highlights produces an image that appears unnatural and often unlike what I had envisionied when taking the photograph in the field. Using that as my guide, I scrapped all of my versioned edits of this photograph and started again from the unprocessed RAW file. My goal was to process this photograph as naturally as possible based on the behavior of the light when the photo was taken. In order to accomplish that I had to start by choosing a Camera Profile that offered little to no value effect on the image. In Adobe Camera Raw, the new default Color Profile for black and white images is set to 'Adobe Monochrome'. This setting generally produces good results during conversion but, rather than Adobe Monochrome, I opted to use a legacy color profile called 'Camera Flat B&W. This setting essentially produces flat gradations in tone across the image. While the image looks 'flat', the benefit is that you can slowly build up the contrast in values to the image, rather than starting from a preset, such as Adobe Monochrome, that has an preset amount already built in. Starting from the a base camera profile like the Camera Flat B&W and editing the photo based on how the light reacted naturally to the scene, I was able to finally arrive at the image that I was after all along.

Editing black and white images is purely a personal preference and while a natural effect to black and white might not work for everyone, at the very least I would recommend trying out the different Camera Profiles that are embedded into Adobe Camera Raw. Deviating from the standard Adobe Monochrome, or Adobe Color for that matter, can significantly change how you approach editing a photograph and possibly improve your existing post-processing workflow.