Consider Photoshop’s Black & White
The most recent versions of Photoshop allow you to choose “Black
& White” under Image Adjustments. While not perfect, this feature
preserves more of the mid-range tones than simply desaturating an
image. If you compare the “Black & White” result (Figure 4) against
desaturation (Figure 2), you can see that the gray tones of the “Black &
White” option have more variation. Other techniques within Photoshop
that preserve the mid-range tones require calibration through Channel
Mixer (see Figure 3)—and though Channel Mixer results in superior
preservation of the mid-range tones, the “Black & White” option is the
next best method for those who want quick results that are superior to
4Preserve the Mid-range Tones as Much as Possible “Capturing and preserving the mid-range tones is crucial for black-and-white images,” Fong
says. “Losing the mid-range is analogous to
coloring with 8 crayons instead of 64.” To be
clear, the mid-range tones are all of the values
between the extremes of black and white.
Capturing the mid-range tones creates true
realism in the image, and allows the perception
of fine detail.
For example, in Figure 5-A we see a color
image of a bride and groom. Figure 5-B shows
the image converted using a more exacting “lab
color” conversion (a fairly complex method that
requires a fair amount of knowledge) while 5-C
shows the image with contrast boosted. You’ll notice on 5-C, you can’t see
the arm of the tuxedo, as all of the dark shades of gray have “merged” into
black. Also, the detail on the bride’s dress has been lost, because the light
grays have merged with white, creating a splotch of white.
You can always increase contrast on an image with good mid-range detail
Figure 5: A, B and C
(for example, to create an image with more “pop”), but once you lose the
mid-range detail in an image, it is impossible to restore it. This is especially
important in wedding photography, where a cake cutting shot can result in a
cake being completely blown out as the camera attempts to expose for the
skin tones of the bride and groom. Midrange tone is the key to lifelike realism, while high contrast approaches the look of a faxed copy of the image..
Create Soft Lighting
“The most common complaint of photographers who don’t like flash is that
it blows out images,” Fong says. Harsh lighting creates big values between
blacks and whites. A diffuser is crucial.
In creating his Lightsphere, Fong noticed how well a lampshade diffused
light and went about essentially creating a lampshade for a flash. The combination of better diffusers and cameras now allow photographers to create
the kind of lighting necessary for standout black-and-white images.
Play with Contrast
Once you understand mid-range tones and how to preserve them, you
can break the rules to achieve dramatic black-and-white portraits. “You
can kill the mid-range tones for a very theatrical look,” Fong says.
Learn more about Gary Fong, and his line of products at
Christy Rippel writes often for Rangefinder. Reach her at