Colours into tones in black-and-white


This task is designed to develop familiarity with the process of converting a digital image into black-and-white using processing software which allows the photographer to decide the exact shade of grey that each colour in the image should become.  The exercise aims to replicate in the digital process that which would be undertaken if using black and white film ie the use of red, yellow, green and blue filters and demonstrate the powerful tonal control of black and white imagery allowing the emphasis of certain objects in a scene whilst suppressing others. A still-life arrangement is required which includes red, yellow, green, blue and a piece of grey card.  The colours should be as pure as possible and the image shot under even lighting with shadow fill.  One exposure is to be made for which the grey card should appear as mid-grey (check the exposure gives this effect).  Using the processing software, in this case Lightroom 5, proceed as follows:

  • for the neutral, filterless version, accept the default settings for the sliders
  • for the ‘red filter’ either raise the brightness of the red slider or use the red filter preset; experiment with lowering the brightness of other sliders
  • repeat this for ‘yellow’, ‘green’ and blue


Fortunately I had submitted my images for Assignment Two in black-and-white and my tutor provided a good deal of detailed feedback on processing techniques which I have been following up.  However, it is clear to me that conversion does require a certain eye regarding deciding the choice of tones in order to deliver the punch in the image and I believe that it is something that can only be developed over time by studying notable works and receiving feedback on your own work.  Building on my tutor’s feedback I delved into a number of books ranging from Lightroom instructional manuals to those containing specifics on black and white photography in the digital age.  I also found numerous internet sites covering the subject.  However, since this exercise is about demonstrating tonal control rather than producing a pleasing final image I decided to restrict myself in the time spent on research as I became aware that this subject could become bigger than Ben Hur.


I set up the still-life and mounted the camera on a tripod with an horizontal arm so as to shoot from directly above.  In the first instance I set a custom white balance using a grey card (the same one used in the still-life) and took a shot of the ColorChecker Passport in order to generate a custom profile.  For the actual shoot I attached a remote release cable, dialled in Mirror Up and selected Live View.  The first results were not good as I did not get the exposure right for the grey card.  Whilst I could have taken one exposure and used virtual copies in the end I decided to take a shot for each conversion at the risk of some change in the light in the short period of time.


Whilst I did experiment with the sliders after applying the preset filters and saw what considerable tonal differences could be generated, the images above are all set at the Lightroom 5 filter preset default values.  I have to say I am surprised by some of the results above but guess that is down to the software designers and the individual selection of the associated options; I also noted that there is quite a difference between my two monitors which are both calibrated, something to be aware of.  This result does highlight the need to understand and master the use of tonal adjustments when converting to black-and-white, it is not sufficient to rely upon software presets as there are a number of options built-in; having said that this does not preclude using the presets as a starting point.  This has been an interesting exercise and has served to further increase my interest in the world of black-and-white photography, notwithstanding the need to become better acquainted with the software if I am to do the images justice.


Adobe TV. (2014) Working with b&w adjustments.  Available from: [Accessed 19 January 2014]

Freeman, M. (2012) Michael Freeman’s photo school digital editing. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Freeman, M. (2009) The complete guide to black & white digital photography. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Kelby, S. (2012) the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 book for digital photographers. San Francisco: New Riders


Colour relationships


This exercise consists of two parts.  Part one requires a single photograph for each combination of primary and secondary colours, adjusting distance, focal length or framing so as to compose the pictures in the following proportions, or at least close to:

  • Red: Green           1:1
  • Orange: Blue         1:2
  • Yellow: Violet        1:3

Part two requires the production of three or four images which feature appealing colour combinations; these can be of two or more colours.  The objective is to demonstrate there is no single ‘correctness’ to complimentary colours.  However, any indication of imbalance in the combination should be studied and the effect noted in the learning log; the slight tension that comes from imbalance can often be more interesting than perfect equilibrium.


As this followed logically from the previous exercise my research was focussed on possible images.  It was evident from the outset that the first part was going to be difficult if I was to follow my wish to identify suitable scenes ‘as found’ in the landscape environment.  I also had to get it firmly in my mind that this exercise was about colour harmony and that balance/imbalance was not about, shall we say, the selection of white balance setting. However,  I did delve into the origins of the colour values assigned by J W Von Goethe out of interest as I had never heard of this before; on the one hand I found it to be a bit difficult to get my head around having an engineering background and therefore very much from the Newton side of life, but on the other there may be something in Goethe’s view given the influence that colour has on us from a psychological perspective.


Part 1

DC6_3890 - 1/45 sec, f5.6, ISO400, 56mm Red:Green - 1:1

DC6_3890 – 1/45 sec, f5.6, ISO400, 56mm
Red:Green – 1:1

It was difficult to gauge the proportions of this in camera so I chose to bisect the frame diagonally with the green bramble crossing the red stems of the Dogwood.  Compositionally this worked for me with the single thick stem of the bramble contrasting with the confusion of red stems behind.  Taking the shot in the early morning shortly after a heavy mist lifted gave a good depth of colour to both the green leaves and the red stems.

DC6_3847 - 1/90 sec, f6.7, ISO100, 70mm Orange:Blue - 1:2

DC6_3847 – 1/90 sec, f6.7, ISO100, 70mm
Orange:Blue – 1:2

Fortunate to have an RNLI station close by!  Whilst the proportion does not strictly fit the requirement I think the design of the sign illustrates well the use of proportions and complementary colours to produce a striking, eye-catching advert, especially attached to the green fence.  I guess I could have cropped the image to give a closer 1:2 but, to my mind that would have been fiddling the books for the sake of it.  I believe what I have captured here is a good illustration of the use of colour to attract attention and it has been designed following the ‘ideal proportions’.

DC6_3899 - 1/15 sec, f8.0, ISO 100, 105mm Yellow:Violet  - 1:3

DC6_3899 – 1/15 sec, f8.0, ISO 100, 105mm
Yellow:Violet – 1:3

Again, finding a subject that gave the proportions called for in the exercise proved a challenge.  I felt sure I could find something in nature to use for these colours as they are so prevalent in flora, just not at this time of year in the wild.  However, this proves that looking at things from a different angle is revealing.  Right or wrong I really like this image, to me it speaks volumes as to the use of colour by nature.  The proportions may not exactly fit the bill but nature must have had a reason for what we see here; it may not be divided up in the proportions that deliver an impact for us but it surely must be pleasing to some bugs out there.  Again, I guess I could have framed\cropped to deliver more closely the 1:3 but that would have lost the context which I consider important to illustrate this use of colour balance in nature.

Part 2

I decided to adopt a ‘Just Do It (JDI)’ approach to this part of the exercise; get out and about and see what takes the eye from a colour perspective, take the shot then address the “why?”.

DC6_3800 - 1/60 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 50mm

DC6_3800 – 1/60 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 50mm

Shortly after a bit of a storm I decided to go to the beach to see the impact. This, believe it or not, is ‘as found’!  I had no hesitation in breaking out the camera.  So why? Having sat in front of the image on the screen for some time I guess there are two main reasons.  First, this demonstrates the power of colour insomuch as we produces millions of throwaway articles many of which are highly coloured, presumably to appeal to us sensually, encourage us to purchase them, use for a while then throw away and buy some more.  This is reinforced by the fact that my eye was instantly drawn to the area.  From a colour perspective it is, to me, in harmony or balance probably because of the spectrum of the colours present and the random distribution, although I think there is tension induced by the fact that the coloured artefacts are against a backdrop of naturally occurring material, be it the colour or texture.  The other reason I took this shot is very simple, it is but a small indicator of what we are doing to this planet; take a look at the work of Garth Lenz.

DC6_3845 - 1/180 sec, f8, ISO100, 48mm

DC6_3845 – 1/180 sec, f8, ISO100, 48mm

Passing by this park I was struck immediately by the visual impact of the colours used in the children’s play area against the lush green of the field in which it stands, notwithstanding half of it was under water!  Here we have, in the main, three colours that sit one in each third of the colour wheel providing a strong contrast that is eye-catching rather than harmonious. I can’t help wonder what the designer had in mind regarding the impact that this colour scheme might have on the emotions of the kids using it, presumably energising.  I think the tension arises from the shape, form and colours of the structure sitting within the lush green of the grass.  The net effect is a very eye-catching structure appealing to the target audience.

DC6_3914 - 1/4 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 105mm

DC6_3914 – 1/4 sec, f8.0, ISO100, 105mm

I found the colours of this flower to be striking, it just screamed for a macro shot so that’s what I did.  I think there is also the fascination of why it is these colours, I have no idea as to whether this has been modified by breeding, but presumably it is attractive to some particular insects for the act of pollination.  From a pure colour perspective there are the complimentary orange and blues, the similar reds blending with blue fringes of the petals.  Whilst it does not fit perfectly with the definition of colour accent I would contend there is something about the orange highlights against the  blue, red and green background.


This was a challenging exercise both in terms of finding the scenes and, once found, composing the shots to deliver the required images.  There was good deal of learning and it has certainly opened my eyes to the use of colour and encouraged a more questioning view of the world and how colour is used both by nature and man to achieve desired outcomes.  It has added yet another variable to use in the equation of making that superb photograph and I am concerned that it may increase my procrastination rather than relieve it, at least in the near future, as I try to remember all the elements to consider when setting up for the shot and composing it through the viewfinder.  Judging the colour proportions is a particular challenge despite the part of the exercise that is aimed at demonstrating there is no single ‘correctness’; being relatively inexperienced it is difficult to ignore the conventions despite trying to develop ones own voice, so to speak, for example I still invariably opt for the rule of thirds.  Clearly, how you use colour and apply the ‘rules’ very much depends upon what you are trying to convey in the image, I imagine the commercial photographer and the photojournalist could differ significantly in their approach.


Douma, M. (2006) Goeth’s color theory. Institute for Dynamic Educational Advancement, Washington, DC. Available from: [Accessed 22 January 2014]

Google. (2014) Images for Garth Lenz photographer.  Available from: [Accessed 22 January 2014]

Primary and secondary colours


To produce images that closely match the six primary and secondary colours by finding scenes, or parts of scenes, that are dominated by the colours.  For each scene the exposure should be bracketed by half a stop which will change the appearance of the colours; select the image that provides the closest match to the colour wheel provided in the manual.  Man made decorative surfaces should be avoided if possible in favour of naturally occurring colours.


The first thing that struck me as I began my research for this project was the wide variation in colours in the selection of colour wheels I found on-line.  Also viewing the same image on different monitors/screens produces quite a variation.  Given that we all have slightly different colour perception also adds yet another variable in this exercise.  Considering the research I carried out for the previous exercise and the requirements of this one I decided to try to find scenes in the landscape for as many of the images as possible and to venture into some macro photography which I have previously dabbled in but have been fascinated by what can be achieved.  This meant some delving into the camera manual to beef up on some of the functionality as well as looking for examples and tips on the techniques.  I found a plethora of information on-line and was particularly taken by the work of Ross Hoddinott which I had seen in many magazines and found his images were an inspiration.  Also I found the work of Ernst Hass to be very inspirational in the use of colour.  However the first thing I did was to calibrate my monitor and then dig out my ColorChecker Passport. It was then a case of some extensive footwork looking for the colours in keeping with my preference for the landscape scenes, noting the wide definition of landscape.


As suggested in the course notes, it was not easy to match the colours I found in the landscape environment with the given colour wheel and a good deal of frustration was encountered on this task.  In the main I was able to find scenes which delivered acceptable results and only in 2 cases did I have to resort to a trip to the local florist.  When I started taking the shots and trying to get a decent comparison with the supplied colour wheel I became very frustrated as the colours in the course notes did not seem to match at all well with my images or other colour wheels I viewed; I concluded this was a result of the printing of the course notes and decided to use the patches in my ColorChecker Passport as they are claimed to match industry standards.

Primary Colours


I took this shot because, to me, it represents the winter hedgerow.  Two seed pods hanging on amongst a tangle of bare branches and vines.  The composition makes the seed pods the focus of attention but behind is the confusion of the branches.

The left hand image (DC6_3695) provides the closest match with the colour patch.


This is a fantastic splash of colour in the otherwise fairly drab colours.

Again the left hand image (DC6_3710) provides the closest match to the colour patch.


Have to admit this one was not lurking in the hedgerow.

It was difficult to select the most closely matched image here due to the varying hues but, on balance, I think that once again the left hand image (DC6_3789) is the closest match.



There was plenty of choice for this colour with a huge range of greens in the natural environment.  I chose this example as it provided interest with the pattern and taken shortly after a rain shower still had the water droplets on it.

Whilst I was expecting the underexposed image to be my selection, probably due to the fact that I tend towards British Racing Green, but in this instance I believe the overexposed image (DC6_3722) to be closest to the colour patch.


Although I did find some flowers growing naturally the colour was very pale and I had to revert to the florist for these shots.

The richness of the colour is best matched by the underexposed image (DC6_3774).


I felt lucky to find these berries in a hedge lit by the afternoon sun, a rare commodity at this time.

Something of a subjective assessment of the colour match here due to the lighting but overall I think the underexposed image (DC6_3762) provides the best match.


This exercise was a challenge on a number of fronts; finding the scenes with the colours required without reverting to the paint manufacturer’s colour charts; nature’s decision to inflict persistent precipitation on the locality; venturing into the macro photography arena, an aspect of photography only previously touched on out of curiosity.  Nevertheless, I found the exercise to be an enjoyable experience, particularly the technicalities of going macro and discovering new ways of employing the functionality of my camera eg using live view to aid focussing.  I was also pleased to be able to find so much in the countryside to photograph and there were challenges in capturing the scenes I wanted “as found” – I now understand why right angle viewfinders are recommended.   Once you get down to this level of detail you really appreciate the range of colours that occur naturally, however, I still find some difficulty in deciding precisely where some of the pastel colours fit in.  As the course notes suggest, this will come with experience along with instant discrimination between saturation and brightness.  Looking at my images and my choice, in the majority of cases, for the underexposed image I wonder just how much we become indoctrinated by the preponderance of “supersaturated” images in the media – should it be pleasing to the eye/brain or “as found”?  A bit like having a sweet tooth?  I guess there is also the question of how the camera electronics process the image as I understand cameras do have a tendency to either under or overexpose and it is a matter of experimentation to deduce a particular camera performance.


Google. (2013) Images for famous macro photographers.  Available from: [Accessed 1 January 2014]

Google. (2013) Images for Ernst Haas.  Available from: [Accessed 3 January 2014]

Haas, E. (2013) Color.  Available from: [Accessed 3 January 2014]

Hoddinott, R. (2014) Ross Hoddinott photography.  Available from: [Accessed 1 January 2014]

Nikon USA. (2014) Macro photography tips: photographing insects and other small creatures.  Available from: [Accessed 1 January 2014]

Research – The work of Don McCullin CBE FRPS

Following the review of my Assignment 2 work which contained one or two fairly “moody” shots and my stated preference for landscape photography my tutor pointed me towards the work of Don McCullin; a photojournalist who covered extensively some of the most brutal wars and conflicts of recent times including Vietnam, the Congo, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Biafra and Bangladesh before developing a profound interest in protecting our countryside and turning his considerable energy and talent towards that goal and, of particular interest for me, his support of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.

Unfortunately there does not appear to be a single website that gives the full spectrum of his work but I found many examples, predominantly his images from the wars and conflicts he has reported.  However, it was very revealing to watch the film produced by Canon, as they courted him into digital photography during a trip to France, which gave an insight to the man and an understanding of his pictures which are, in the main, dark.  Having watched the film and some interviews on YouTube I found myself revisiting his images and being very drawn to them.  His war images are brutal, honest and shocking; they tell the story as it is and despite the horror they convey they are captivating and make you question humanity.  It is therefore not surprising that, as he turned his attention to the countryside, his landscape images also convey a similar darkness but are also captivating and caused me to gaze long and hard at each one;  his use of light is fantastic and in particular the black and white images convey a magical use of tones and textures.  I am truly in awe of the photographs this man makes; look at his work, sit back and reflect.


BBC. (2013) Don McCullin in his own words. Available from: [Accessed on 14 December 2013]

Google. (2013) Don McCullin landscape photography.  Available from: [Accessed 3 December 2013]

Canon. (2013) Don McCullin feature.  Available from: [Accessed 5 January 2014]

Control the strength of colour


This task is aimed at illustrating a technique to control the colour in a photograph at the time of shooting; it utilises one of the most basic, over saturation.  The exercise requires a subject of strong, definite colour shot from a viewpoint such that the colour fills the viewfinder frame.  Five photographs are required, all composed exactly the same, but differently exposed from bright to dark.  Having found the average exposure setting take the sequence of photographs starting at one stop brighter than the average recorded and subsequently stop down by half a stop each time. On completion note the difference, apart from over-exposure to under-exposure, in terms of colour.


My research for this project began by building on what was given in the course text ( I lost the will to live in trying to find the basic text for the theory of colour on the OCA website).  My main sources were Freeman (2007: 109-127), Freeman (2013: 139-153) and Prakel (2012: 74-85).  Whilst these readings went way beyond the requirement for the first exercise I considered it best to get a fulsome understanding of the subject matter at the outset.  The main learning was to keep at the forefront of the mind Hue, Saturation and Brightness and to view all images, and potential images, in consideration of those parameters. Having considered the requirements for the exercise I selected a piece of green card for the subject.


I mounted the green card on the wall and set up the camera with cable release, tripod mounted, such that the card filled the viewfinder.  The average exposure setting was determined with a hand-held light meter and a custom white balance set using a grey card. All the shots were carried out in manual mode.  There was an unexpected challenge during the shoot which was carried out in a conservatory in the middle of the afternoon, in that the weather changed rapidly and the light kept changing.  This was overcome by resetting everything and completing the shoot in quick time.

The exercise called for the shots to be reviewed for difference in colour apart from the over/under-exposure.  I approached this question with the HSB mantra in mind.  In deliberating this I found the explanation of HSB given in Freeman(2013:141) of the colour cylinder to be the most useful.  Clearly the Hue/colour is constant but as the exposure changes the saturation and brightness are affected.  Looking at the shots from left to right, the constants are ISO and shutter speed and the variable is aperture with decreasing light falling on the sensor giving an increase in saturation or richness of the colour with the final two frames being so dark as to make the colour almost unidentifiable; in other words the saturation increases to a point where brightness becomes the dominating factor.


The exercise has demonstrated the ability to control the saturation of a colour when taking a photograph.  However, It has raised questions in my mind as to the relationship between saturation and brightness where brightness produces the pastel colours; can you have a saturated pastel colour?  There does seem to be quite a lot to get your head round with saturation, brightness, pastel colours, muted colours et al.  But is there a right and wrong treatment?  Again we come back to the eye of the beholder.  Whilst the basic theory of the colour wheel, harmony and discord provide the basic structure the latitude for personal preference appears to be in the saturation and brightness, notwithstanding some will elect to go totally off-piste.

Reference List:

Dorling Kindersley. (2008) art the definitive guide. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited

Freeman, M. (2007) The photographer’s eye: composition and design for better digital photos. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Freeman, M. (2013) The photographer’s eye: a graphic guide. Lewes: The Ilex Press Limited

Prakel, D. (2012) Basics photography 01: composition. Second edition. Lausanne. AVA Publishing SA