The creation of a White and Black photograph by Olivier Du Tré

A few weeks ago, we featured Olivier Du Tré in our photographers of week section in this post.
Olivier’s work had some amazing black and white photography. I felt intrigued by his technique and asked him if he can share his know-how with ADIDAP Readers.

Olivier kindly agreed and wrote this tutorial that i’m proudly sharing with you. For further details, questions or feedback you can get in touch with Olivier on Twitter and Google+ , you can view all his work on his website as well.

I leave you to dive in the tutorial.

The creation of a White and Black photograph by Olivier Du Tré

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Before I start explaining what I do to create my Black and White photography, let me tell you that Photoshop has no rules you have to follow.
My photography is heavily based on vision. I see myself more as a painter or an artist than a photographer.

Don’t lose yourself in the technicalities on how Photoshop works. Instead follow your heart. There are a million different ways to get to the same end result. None of which are more correct than the other. They are all correct. Follow the path that is easiest for you and your photographic vision.

How do I make my images?

I have one camera (Canon 5DmkII) and one lens (24-105mm). That is it.

I believe that too much gear will get in the way of your vision. Keep your gear simple. Too many gadgets may hinder you in the field.
On top of that I have a polarizer and one ND 2 stop soft Grad and one 10 stop ND filter (and a tripod of course).

I have a dedicated Black & White mode setup in my camera. In that mode I shoot in RAW and I have set my preview on Black & White with a red filter effect and heavy contrast.

I also use a WB-shift towards the blue area. This way, I have more blues in my shots which get more affected by the red filter in my preview. When the light is right I can end up with almost perfect black skies.

Creation_of_a_photograph-2 The circled position shows where my WB-Shift is set at.

When it is time to start “Photoshopping” I know I have a good base image to start working from. Again this base file is based on my vision. It is based on what I like to see in the end. Maybe not something you of course would like or love seeing. But that’s ok.

Photoshop techniques I am using

Most of the techniques I am going to touch on in this little paper are based on my own darkroom experiences.
Yes I worked with film back in the good old’ days. My processing revolves around something that is called “dodging and burning”. Or simply said, darken and lighten certain areas.
Some will say that the way I work is old fashion and that is ok. Remember what I said at the beginning? There is no set way in doing things in Photoshop. So let’s get started!

How to choose the right image?

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Yes I am an Aperture user. I’ve stuck with Aperture from the beginning. Again, use what you are most comfortable with. For Black & White conversions I often switch back to Photoshop though. Photoshop simply gives me a lot more control over my printing than Aperture does.

I like Aperture for the way it handles large amounts of photos and how it groups them into one easily manageable library file.
As you can see from the sequence above, light can change dramatically and in a fast way. All these shots were taken only minutes apart. The first 2 shots in this sequence are the ones that I am focusing on.

  • The first one is underexposed by about 1/3 of a stop.
  • The other one (second from the left on the top row) is overexposed by about 1/3.

I chose the darkest of the two because for me, personally, I don’t need a lot of details in the dark tones. I like blacks. A lot of blacks. But I will need some detail in the lighter areas.

Small tweaks

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After I’m done deciding what shot to use I do some small tweaks to the image in Aperture:

  • I make sure the exposure is set correctly (no blown highlights).
  • Add some blacks, vibrance and saturation.
  • I check the contrast and the definition and that is about it.
  • I also cropped it slightly (not yet visible in this screen cap) to get rid of the bushes in the left bottom corner. Now I did see them when I took the shot. But I did not have a lens long enough to capture the scene as I wanted to. Thanks to the 5DmkII and its 21Mp I have some leeway though.

Remember I told you about that WB-Shift.That is why the image is so blue. That is OK though (again for my work, not necessarily for yours).
I now start to export this image to Photoshop. This is where I will do the Black & White conversion and all of the dodging and burning to get that print that really reflects my vision.

Initial conversion in Photoshop

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When I convert an image into Black & White I use the Black & White adjustment layer option in my layer pallet. I love to work with layers, because you will edit your photo non destructively.

This is important because you can always go back, delete a layer, change the opacity of it and so on, long after you made your initial conversion.

Keep in mind, tastes change over time. In 2 years from now I can simply alter the density of the blacks for instance with one simple click without going though the whole process again. I like to save time…
Anyway. The beauty of this layer is that you can adjust how Photoshop handles different colours individually.
You as a photographer have control on how colours render in Black & White just by pulling on the sliders.Remember to use your gut feeling in this. If it looks good, it generally is.

Next thing I almost always do is I make a new layer and draw a gradient from pure black to transparency from the top of the image to about where the sky stops. I set this layer to overlay or soft light (depending on how dark I want that region to be) and pulled back the opacity to 45%. I keep doing this on separate layers until I have the blacks right where I want them to be in the picture. Working on small sections at a time means that I am able to keep adjustments very local and targeted.
Creation_of_a_photograph-7 Creation_of_a_photograph-6

What we are doing is basically burning sections on the photograph just as we would do in a darkroom.
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The below image is the result of all this burning. Not a pleasant sight. I love how rich the blacks are but we do not have any whites. Time to change that.
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Adding Contrast (step 1)

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So let’s get some contrast in this photo. What I did in this step was add some local contrast to the light areas.
Effectively dodging the lighter areas to make them brighter.
In this step it is crucial you have an understanding of how light looks and how light can play with the landscape it illuminates. I used a variety of layers to get to the result I wanted but they all target the same middle region of the photograph.
Creation_of_a_photograph-11
This looks very complicated but in reality it is not. I could have done this with 3 curves layers. Instead, just to illustrate that like I said before Photoshop does not have a rule book that you need to follow, I used all three possibilities (levels, Curves and Brightness/ Contrast).
You can even use a simple white brush on a new layer and paint the light areas in. Set your layer to soft light and you are dodging as well.
The above image is starting to look like the end result I like but we are not there yet.

Adding Contrast (step 2)

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Now it is time to add some real drama to this photograph. We already have the blacks down but there is no pure white in this photo. I simply added a Levels adjustment layer and dragged the white triangle almost to the beginning of my white tones.
Creation_of_a_photograph-13 Creation_of_a_photograph-14

I like to leave myself just a little bit of playroom. We will adjust this once we are in the final stages of printing. Effectively what you are doing is adding contrast without affecting your dark areas. You are compressing your tones. You can play with the mid tone slider a bit but usually I don’t.

In this image I added another form of contrast, global contrast in the form of another adjustment layer (this time the you guessed it right the Brightness and Contrast adjustment layer). At the end of this we get the image above. Close but no cigar yet.

Adding some more drama

Then I needed to put some more emphasis on the light rays that make this image spectacular. I added 2 more layers and painted in some areas with a soft white brush.
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I concentrated on a cloud on the right hand side and the rays that are in the middle of the shot. These layers were set to overlay in various degrees of opacity. Look at how far we got already. We are almost there.
The histogram looks the way I want it to look. Yes I have a lot of pure blacks in there without any detail. That is OK.
Creation_of_a_photograph-16

I believe that you don’t need to have detail in all your areas of your composition. But this detail was present in the original capture. I decided I did not need this detail in the final version of this shot.
I then had to clone out a little spot on the bottom and added just another slight contrast adjustment layer.

I saved the image and brought it back to Aperture where I added some overall sharpening and some extra local sharpening to the bright spot in the bottom left of the image.

Done!

Before and After

Lets compare what we did here. The before and after effect is huge. This is truly the birth of a photograph. This is how the old masters did it.
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Now it’s your turn to experiment.

I hope this little how-to has given you some insight into how I process my images into the Black & White photographs that they are.

Thank you!
Olivier

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  • http://www.goodsmithstudio.com/denver-engagement-photographer/ Denver Engagement Photographer

    Great tutorial and a stunning BW final image. Excellent.

  • http://www.hnratcp.com/ Nieuwe Rijden

    This is really awesome i loved the work keep up the great work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pashminu Pashminu Mansukhani

    Very good tutorial.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shawnkent.ca Shawn M. Kent

    An inspiring tutorial. Because of it I am starting to explore black and white. Thank you so much for putting it together.

  • Paul Johnson

    Thanks for the post. I was always a fan of Ansel Adams and this image above reminded me of his beautifully rich black & white photography. In many ways we have it so easy today technically as the zone system took some studying to get to grips with, This image you’ve captures makes me want to out and shoot some landscapes

  • York Place Studios

    Really interesting tutorial, it always intrigues me to see how others create their monochrome images. This is a particularly beautiful one.

  • kas

    As a lover of black and white photography I have been using a new software program that has some newer features than photoshop version I have. It is worth checking into. I found it at http://b570fhppcv5s4k84zm-b-kar7y.hop.clickbank.net/

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    Congratulations, very nice work ! Brazilian Photographer at http://www.amazingfotos.com.br and my own http://www.sergiogaeta.com.br

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