So I think I have a problem

Thank you Chase Jarvis. No, really, thank you. As a direct result of your recent blog post I have added another 15 blogs to my Google Reader subscription. I'm up to 72 blogs, 71 of which are photo related. So, as they say, "Hi, my name is Doug, and I have a problem." Or something like that.

So, to that end, I link you to another one of my new blog additions, commericial/editorial shooter Andrew Heatherginton's blog, "Whats the Jackanory?" Today he blogs a very cool behind-the-scenes You Tube video that goes behind the scenes at a Rolling Stone cover shoot with the newly reunited Police.

So, what are my "must reads" - the blogs I couldn't live without? There's two. The best lighting blog on the Web, aka, "The Strobist" and the Photoshop Insider blog, by Scott Kelby.

Black & White Imagery

I spent a while this morning preparing for a lecture I'm giving next week to my high school's digital photo 1 class. We'll be talking about black and white conversion in Photoshop, and I thought it might be interesting to post my notes here as well.


Color exists in Photoshop in the Red/Green/Blue “RGB” colorspace. While not a color itself, RGB is our formula for mixing color. Think of RGB as the “bucket.” R, G and B are the paints.

  • Why not just capture in the camera’s B&W mode?
    • Less tonal control – if you capture n B&W you are letting the camera make important tone and color decisions for you.
    • No color data exists, once you capture in B&W, you are eliminating the color option, our goal with all things Photoshop is to practice non-destructive editing – a workflow that will let you step backward at any time should you so choose.
    • Most cameras simply desaturate the image when they capture in B&W.

  • Why is desaturation not the way to go?
    • When we desaturate an image (images -> adjustments -> desaturate) we are simply removing the color information from the image, what you end up with is an image that is 33% Red, 33% Green and 33% Blue.

  • What about converting to Grayscale Mode?
    • By going to Image -> mode -> Grayscale, you will achieve a similar result to desaturation. Before you do so, Photoshop will prompt you, “Do you want to discard the color information?” Right there this should tell you this is a bad idea, Photoshop is about exerting control, not giving it up.

  • How do we exert maximum control?
    • The first step toward total B&W control is to view out images in their separate RGB channels. To do this, click on the Channels palette. When the R/G/B Channels appear, selectively click on each one to view the color data independently.

    • Channel Mixer Layer
      • Click in the layers palette (the half black, half white circle)
      • When the Channels box pops up, click Monochrome.
      • Photoshop converts the image to B&W, giving you it’s default channel settings, 40% R, 40% Green and 20% Blue, but we can do better.
      • Again, it’s usually a good idea to first view each image at 100% in each channel to get an idea of the best parts of each channel. (Hint, for dramatic skies, try moving the Blue Channel to negative values.)
      • Advanced Move: Create each channel in its own layer, which will give you 3 layer masks so you can selectively paint each channel into the image.
      • As a general rule of thumb, your total values should be around 100%.
      • Use the constant slider sparingly, as it can result in dramatic brightness tonal changes (positive values will brighten your image and vice versa). I try and avoid using it all, preferring to make my lightness adjustments in a separate curves or levels layer.
    • Photoshop CS3 also has a new tool for B&W adjustments. It’s similar to the Channel Mixer tool, but has more specific color channel options and a “scrubby slider” for making adjustments. The scrubby slider will allow you to click and drag (left and right) directly on the image to affect the B&W color values.

  • Adding tone to B&W images
    • To add tone (warm or cool), to our images, we can create a separate Hue/Saturation layer on top of our B&W layer. When the dialogue box pops up, check the “colorize” box. Click and drag the Hue and Saturation sliders to add tone to the image – a little goes a long way.

  • Finalizing your images
    • After you have a B&W image that you are happy with, the next steps usually are to evaluate the contrast of that image and make any final adjustments. Usually this will mean a curves adjustment layer (for contrast) and a Shadow/Highlight adjustment Layer (to open any shadows that may have blocked up (completely black) and to try to recapture any highlights that have blown out (gone completely white).
      • When you create your curves layer, you will first want to change the blending mode of the layer to “Luminosity.” This means the layer will only affect the image in Light and Dark terms, and will not alter it’s saturation. If you do not make this change, darkening your image will result in increased saturation, and vice versa.
        • Keep in mind that viewing a photo, the eye naturally goes from light to dark, and sharp to blur.
      • In the vein of staying non-destructive, the Shadow/Highlight layer will first require you to duplicate your background layer (Cmd: + J), then convert it to a smart filter (Filters -> convert for Smart Filter). This will let you make further adjustments later should you so choose.

A return trip to Castle Hill Lighthouse

When I first visited Castle Hill Light in Newport, R.I. last December it was freeeezing. However, I did manage to make an image that is now on my business card and one of my favorites (see first image to the right). That said, I thought it would be cool to revisit the lighthouse again in slightly warmer weather to see what I could come up with almost a year later.

The first image is something I visualized as a black and white the entire way. Using techniques learned from photographer Vincent Versace's book Welcome to Oz: A Cinematic Approach to Digital Still Photography with Photoshop I was able to combine 12 exposures to create one black and white image. It's definitely an example of an image I would/could not have made a year ago, and something I'm pretty happy with. The final PSD file was over 400 megabytes!

The third image is more of a classic lighthouse shot with a twist. The door was lit by my SB-80DX at full power, with 1/2 CTB gel on it, triggered by a Pocketwizard. I had a lot of fun revisiting this location, and probably will go back again.