A Grayscale Trap

Lichen and Rocks

While I was reacting to Tim Atherton’s digital grayscale blog, I had defensively taken the position about the full range of black to grays in a digial black & white image.  Because my system was acting up, I then posted an earlier image to try to “prove my point”.  Opps! 

 “So, Mr. Stockdale, just how do you like your crow served, baked, fried or over easy?”.

The issue is not one of can a digital color image be converted to Black & White, but its the thinking behind what the intent is and how it’s executed.  (Today in an earlier email exchange with Tim, I said I would not use the term pre-visualization).  The execution also includes what you do after the image is captured up to the final print.  Looking at this image Lichen and Rocks on the monitor, it did seem like it was grayscale, not a full range of black & whites.  Bad monitor, bad monitor.  So I found my print and I was happy.  Then I laid the print down next to some prints where the starting material was film as well a full digital.  Now I was unhappy.  This print was a full range of grays, but only grays and then I realized my mistake.  What I will call the Grayscale Trap for digital B&W using Photoshop, regardless of version.

It goes like this, you want a full range of tones.  Thus when you made your RAW conversion, you made sure that the histogram reflected all of the availabe data for highlights and shadows.  Then the image was converted to B&W, subsequently adding a curves adjustment layer.  Not thinking, you make sure that the shadow slider is just touching the histogram. 

So in effect you may have a tiny, tiny little bit of real black, everything else is a value of gray.  But when you view the print, you have a hard time finding that little bit of black even if you have some really dark, dark grays.  As an ex-film guy, I always had issues with getting the shadows to open up a little, but now I had wonderfully open shadows.  I just forgot to make sure that there was some wonderful black blacks. 

Thus my do-over of the image Lichen and Rocks. Compare this image, although this is a tigher crop, with my earlier version down below in an earlier post and see if you don’t sense the difference.

So now I have two issues to be keeping in mind, don’t let the eyes slide out the lower right corner of the image and don’t be cheap with the real blacks in the image;- )

Best regards, Doug

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