Colour or monochrome? : Members’ evening

by Dec 7, 2022

The meeting this evening, held via Zoom, was included in our programme to offer members an opportunity to discuss the various merits of colour versus monochrome images.  The intent was to better understand the types of image that work well in monochrome, and to explore some of the processing required to produce a successful outcome.  The general consensus of the evening was that images with strong geometric shapes and high levels of contrast are more likely to result in a successful conversion, notwithstanding all of the normal considerations regarding composition in the image.

Three of our members agreed to put forward a selection of their images and to explain the thinking behind their selections. Our thanks go to Alfred C, Brian C and David S for their contributions.

The first image covered in this blog is ‘Yorkshire view’ by Brian C.  Brian explained that he felt that this original colour image with its strong leading lines and strongly textured stonework would convert well.  Brian has adjusted the colour image as his first step, and then made the conversion to monochrome.  He has emphasized the contrast in the image and the texture of the stones, and used the HSL colour sliders to adjust the luminance of the original colours in those stones for best effect.  This enhancement and the leading lines have produced a strong image.

Yorkshire view, by Brian C

Brian pointed out the halo effect that his processing had produced, very evident along the top of the right hand side wall against the sky. David P suggested a way of reducing this halo by using Photoshop. He suggested making a sky selection and then modifying the boundary line producing the halo by increasing the pixel count at the transition.

The second image for discussion here is ‘Jack and Felicity’ by Alfred C.  Alfred’s capture was taken with a very wide angle lens, and with a sky that looked uniformly washed out.  He explained that the colour image looked interesting because of the level of detail in the boats and the shingle, as well as the strong lines of the hulls.  Alfred used Nik Silver Effects Pro software (now DxO) for this conversion, and selected his preferred choice from the many options available within the package.  The resulting monochrome image shows a remarkable transition from the original.  The paint and hull planks on both vessels show a considerable level of detail, and the bland sky has been transformed into a dramatic backdrop.

Jack and Felicity, by Alfred C

Alfred also pointed out some issues with the monochrome conversion of this image.  In particular, he also was concerned about halo effects generated by the software which show up most clearly at the boundary between dark and light pixels in close proximity.  These can be seen around the ladder rungs and the gantry ropes on ‘Jack’s’ superstructure.

The third image included for discussion here was ‘Country gate’ by David S.  This image, with a white faded margin, was taken at the roadside.  A very evocative picture, and not obviously a candidate for monochrome conversion. 

Country gate, by David S

David has carried out a monochrome conversion in Photoshop and then used the colour mixer controls to achieve luminance changes in the black and white image based on the underlying colours in the original image.  The effect of this manipulation is most apparent when looking at the leaves towards the top left of the picture, which have taken on a totally different effect in the final image – changing from dark tones to light.

The three images reviewed above are just a brief examination of those seen, discussed and evaluated during our evening. I certainly came away from the session deciding that I must put more effort into my own monochrome entries to our competitions.  The suggestion that switching our camera viewing screen to monochrome can help the photographer ‘see’ in monochrome sounds like it can be effective.  I shall try this approach to develop the skill to imagine a picture as being black & white before I press that shutter button.

This evening has been a useful session, giving us the opportunity to understand both the photographers thinking whilst capturing the image, as well as the later conversion process to the final image.  Many thanks to out three volunteers who put their images forward for this meeting.

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