50 shades of wildlife: Nature in black and white (Part three)
This is the third part of a three part series on shooting black and white wildlife images. You can read part one, and part two here.
The editing stage
Our approach when converting RAW images to black and white in post-processing is pretty simple. Like most wildlife photographers we like to prioritise time outdoors over time in the office.
We do almost everything in Adobe Lightroom, occasionally using Photoshop where we want to use layers. And while we sometimes experiment with presets to explore ideas that might not have occurred to us, we mostly prefer to adjust each image individually until it tallies with the vision we had in mind at the point of capture or approaches what we’d previsualised before heading out to photograph.
Once we’ve switched to the Black and White tab in Lightroom, our workflow for doing mono pictures is actually very similar to that for our colour images; making adjustments to exposure, shadows, highlights, contrast and clarity and dodging and burning.
But we’re often a whole lot bolder with tonal adjustments in black and white in order to achieve the exact artistic effect we’re after. Being assertive here pays off when editing black and white shots. We also use individual colour adjustments more when we’re processing in black and white. While this might seem a bit counter-intuitive, it’s extremely helpful in mono where contrast is key.
For example, if we’ve photographed a lion on a grassy plain the similar tones of the tawny yellow predator and the green backdrop could mean that in black and white the big cat merges into the background and gets lost. But if we adjust the luminosity of the two colours independently, making the greens darker and the yellows lighter, we can make our lion stand out proud again.
There’s also much more scope to experiment with tonal adjustment in the sky in a black and white wildlife picture than with a colour image, where it can easily look overdone and false.
Although we’re generally aiming for a full range of tones, taking care to avoid clipping, there are some situations with black and white pictures where clipping is not a big issue. Very often where we’re looking to deliberately create areas of negative space in an image there’s no need for us to retain highlight or shadow detail in those areas so we’re not going to lose any sleep about clipping in these parts of our picture. ❂