July 2003 COBA Meeting

We had a nice turnout for the July meeting of the Camera Owners of the Bay Area. Uwe Steinmueller of Digital Outback Photo presented techniques for making black and white photographs using color digital SLR cameras. He and his wife have an exhibition going on at the Gallery House in Palo Alto, which is located next to the Printer’s Inc. Cafe on California Avenue. They also have several prints on display at the Pacific Art League in downtown Palo Alto.

Even though black and white photography is clearly not replicating reality, it often seems more real than color photography. I’d wager that it’s because our society has grown up reading newspapers. Those grainy black and white photos imprint on us a reality that is outside of our own one playing in color. Television and the Internet are doing a good job of pushing B&W images out of sight for people growing up today, and I wonder what they think when they see a black and white photo. Is it more real to them or does it represent an abstraction of reality?

Uwe went into numerous techniques for converting color images from digital cameras to black and white. Classic Photoshop techniques include:

  • Image->Mode->Grayscale. Discards the color information. Not very much control with this command.
  • Image->Adjustments->Desaturate. Removes color information but remains an RGB photo.
  • Image->Mode->LAB and use the Lightness Channel. This introduces a color space conversion.

After those three techniques, Uwe showed us how the Red, Green, and Blue channels sometimes display what we want right off the bat. Using the Image->Adjustments->Channel Mixer command, we can fine-tune a black and white image using a percentage combination of the three channels.

He mentioned a few Photoshop Plug-Ins, such as Photokit from Pixel Genius, that are available that simulate various lens filters and film types. The downsides are that the preview windows are typically too small, and they are hard to tweak settings.

Adjustment layers allow one to change your settings after the fact. By creating a Channel Mixer layer, for instance, he can constantly update the image without having to undo and rerun the Channel Mixer command. The Russell Brown approach uses two Hue/Saturdation adjustment layers to desaturate and modify the black and white image.

Uwe’s preferred method of working in black and white is to avoid the color conversion process altogether. To achieve this end, he’s using a custom black and white profile for Capture One, a RAW Image Convertor from Phase One. When he loads up his RAW images in Capture One, they are immediately displayed in black and white because the colors have been interpreted through the black and white color profile. Uwe is able to use all the color controls and white balancing features of Capture One, but the results are shown to him in real-time in black and white. This pure black and white workflow using Capture One isn’t more powerful than using the Photoshop techniques listed above, but it fits within Uwe’s desire to think completely in black and white.

Uwe makes his prints with Epson printers using Image Print RIP from ColorByte Software. Image Print RIP is a replacement printer driver that enables toning and eliminates the metamerism problem when printing black and white photos. Metamerism is the idea that colors change when viewed under different light sources. The sample prints that Uwe and his friend Jim Collum displayed at the meeting were quite impressive.

Following Uwe’s presentation, we had a short discussion on various camera bags. COBA members brought in the bags that regularly use. The following bags were presented last night:

Next month, we’re going to have presentations on various software for cataloging and organizing your digital photos.

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