I still think black and white rocks. And I finally am starting to figure out how to do it in digital

This image started life in the LED lit studio.  I used a big bank of LEDs over to Selena's right side.  Their photons were flowing thru a six foot by six foot diffusion scrim.  I did a custom white balance and the camera set something that looked in PhotoShop like 5400 at +14 magenta (on the hue slider).  We were shooting with the Canon 7D and the fabulous, cheap 70-200 f4 L lens.  To get here I did the best job I could of overall color correction and then went into Adjustments and selected black and white.  I played with the color sliders until I got what I wanted and then I took the image into curves to get a nicer mid range contrast adjustment.  I also pulled down the shadows just a bit.  Then I went to the noise filter and added film grain.  That's about it.

Here's how the file started out:

And here's how it looked after I adjusted it in a way that I thought would print better and make a better black and white conversion:

It's not a gigantic change but the skin texture is subdued a bit.  I used the time honored technique of making a duplicate layer, adding gaussian blur with a radius of 34 pixels and then holding down the option key while clicking the quick mask button on the layers panel.  Then I select a brush with an opacity of about 20% and brush in the softness where I want it.  Works pretty well but sometimes I go a little overboard.  That's okay, I can always back off the effect by changing the layer opacity before I flatten the file.

Some of my neophyte friends wanted to know why I don't just hit "grayscale" when I want a black and white files so I decided to show what that would look like as well:

Seems a bit murky to me.  Amazing how much different it looks to me than the first image.  Of course all of this is for naught unless you like the look for the portrait in the first place.   I was sitting here processing the files for Selena's portfolio and I came to understand that the thing I like in her portraits is the way her eyes look.  The phrase "old soul" comes to mind.  So different to me than some of the glamor type shots I see that seem to be a celebration of estrogen over intellect......

Hope you've just about finished that Christmas shopping.......it's sneaking up on us quick.


Anonymous said...

Kirk, Why would you use the 7D for a portrait when you have the 5d2? Inquiring minds want to know.

kirk tuck said...

There's a certain hysteria attached to the 5D2 that I really do understand. For years the holy grail was to be able to have an affordable full frame camera in digital. But we're too quick to discount just how good the smaller sensor cameras have become. Under controlled lighting the quality of the 7D and the 60D are pretty remarkable. And I find that color balancing files from the 7 and the 60 is easier and more reliable. Add to that the sound of the shutter and the feel of the camera and I'm there. Remember also that I'm using a continuous light source for a lot of my portraits these days and the difference in the sizes of the mirrors and the shutters does make a difference in vibration. Maybe not huge but it is there.....

I like em all. I am currently most partial to the 60D and the 60 EFS Macro for portraits. Go figure.....

Wess Gray said...


Since my first digital camera, the 20D, I have been impressed with the Black and White Raw files that Canon has in it's presets. Adjust it in the "Digital Photo Professional" afterwords a little, and it is ready for "old school" retouching in photoshop. Most of the portraits in "the last ..." section of our website were done this way.
As always, thanks for your insight,


Michael Ferron said...

Just opening up a new B&W layer and adjusting the sliders opens up a lot of tonal options. This also maintains the RGB color mode which lets you use layers=filters to add tone as well.

I've found the Sepia filter is a quick way to add a bit of vintage feel. Personally I'm still messing with the noise filter for an exceptable look.

Kyle Batson said...

I couldn't agree more, Kirk. I've been having a blast shooting black & white portraits recently. I recently shot a few family members in B&W for fun and converted them using Nik Silver Efex Pro. I like using some of their film presets as a starting point, and then tweak to get everything to look the way I want it to.

I must say that many of your B&W white film portraits you post have been inspirational in this regard.

Here's a few examples:

Jim said...

Just hitting the "Gradient Map" and selecting the 3rd. square (b&w) offers a nice, quick option as well...sometimes surprisingly perfect.

Steve said...

Hi Kirk.

There's something about the quality of light from LED panels that I can’t quite put a finger on. I know a light is a light is a light, and it’s all about what you do with it that matters. Different, yes. But better? I’m just not feeling it. They are fun to play with though.

I’ve enjoyed your blog immensely this year. Some blogs teach me things. Yours simply makes me think. Have a wonderful holiday.

kirk tuck said...

Hi Steve, Thanks. Important point: Not better. Just different.

David Ingram said...

I like the portrait a lot, as usual with your work. Have you tried any of the PS plugins like Nik Silver efex for doing B&W?

Merry Christmas!

Gino Eelen said...

No matter what technique is used, the truth of a portrait is always in the eyes. Beautiful conversion though. Merry Christmas :-)

royvertigo said...

Merry Christmas, Kirk Tuck. I've enjoyed your blog all year long.

John said...

+1 for Silver efex. I have a couple presets I made in there that I use constantly.

Anonymous said...

Thanx for sharing your ideas, creativity and some of your work loads.Always fun to read, always inspirational. Sometimes i prefer your older pix done with film..but time marches on and i am having a ball with digital.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You and your family.
Thank you.

Kurt Shoens said...

This black and white conversion looks very good. I've been experimenting with a simple conversion consisting of a layer stack with the corrected color image on the bottom, next a normal mode curves layer, and on top a channel mixer layer with the monochrome box checked. The middle curves layer controls the luminosity curve of each color.

I've had less luck with the B&W adjustment layer because it ignores luminosity of each color and adjusts instead based on hue and saturation. You can see the effect in a portrait by running the reds up and down. The subject's lips are usually redder and are therefore proportionally more affected. On landscapes, attempts to render a darker sky look noisy.

I've also found B&W conversions to be tricky on the young. I have better look with B&W on older, weathered faces that have some texture and a story to tell. On the young, the simulated film grain is pretty much necessary to hold some texture.

As an added bonus of a good B&W conversion, try putting the B&W conversion on a layer over your good color version and changing the B&W layer's blending mode to Luminosity to see if you like the result. This set up takes the detail that you put into the B&W image combined with the color.

Happy holidays to everyone!