When living in the UK, I only used film cameras and shot almost exclusively in black and white. I still love traditional ‘wet prints’ made in a darkroom, but for practical reasons I went digital in 2016. Here in Zambia, photo chemicals and papers have to be specially imported and I don’t have space for a darkroom.
This is one of my first digital images, processed in Lightroom. Shooting in raw mode, to get as much detail as possible from files, most of my pictures come from the camera looking flat and dull. So usually the first thing I do in Lightroom, after converting to black and white, is increase the contrast. Adjustments are made with sliders, which I find intuitive to use.
I hesitate to recommend my favourite tool for black and white conversions – Silver Efex Pro. Used as a plugin with Photoshop or Lightroom, it has some excellent ‘presets’ and film simulations. But Google bought the company, made the software free of charge, then announced that it won’t be supporting or updating Silver Efex Pro any more.
So why am I still using Silver Efex Pro? Because for me it’s one of the best tools for bringing digital black and white images to life. Lightroom is very good – and intuitive to use – but sometimes the results look clinical to me. As a fan of black and white film, I love the choice of film simulations offered by Silver Efex Pro. I’m not promoting film grain as a way of making a dull photo interesting, but used sparingly it can enhance your pictures enormously.
The presets in Silver Efex Pro are there as a starting point, like a standard recipe. In many ways the fun starts when you improvise and create your own recipes.
If you normally work in colour, why not experiment with converting some of your images to black and white? Let me know how you get on and feel free to share your own hints and tips.