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


Horizontal and vertical lines


The aim of this exercise is to find some of the different ways in which horizontal and vertical lines appear to the eye and camera.  Through the process of searching it is expected that some conclusions will be reached about how certain design elements come about and how common they are.  Four examples of vertical and four of horizontal are required, avoiding repetition of how they appear.  In each photograph the content is to be subordinate to the lines and, as such, the first thing the viewer should notice is the line(s).


As usual, I turned to Freeman (2007) for initial inspiration.  I also trawled a number of internet sites searching for horizontal and vertical lines examples.  However, I then remembered seeing some books by the artist/photographer Andy Goldsworthy and recalled being bowled over by his work; a visit to the websites thrown up in the search soon revealed many uses of lines in landscapes, inspirational, especially as I favour the genre of landscape and was shortly to visit the Lake District.  I had also recently met Edward Parker, the photographer and writer who specialises in photographing trees, he has done a lot with Kew Gardens, and set in my mind an obvious subject for vertical lines, although unlikely to come close to the images in his book, Photographing Trees, Parker (2012).  Some images were already in the bank from other excursions having done a bit of pre-planning.  I also decided to continue to produce the images in both colour and black and white for comparison purposes.


With a preference for landscapes I took the opportunity of a visit to the Lake District to look for suitable subjects.  Since much of the time was to be spent walking on the fells there was the issue of what camera equipment to carry.  Consequently some of the shots have been taken with nothing more sophisticated than a Canon SX110 IS compact camera as I came across scenes that captured my imagination; where I went out to specifically take photographs there was the usual SLR and associated baggage.  I found it quite uplifting to be walking in this beautiful landscape and really looking at what was around me as I sought out images for the exercise, no more head down, thumbs tucked in rucksack straps, well apart from the really steep bits or in the horizontal rain (couldn’t work out how to capture that image!).


This is a shot of some decking around a building as the sun began to dip towards the horizon.  Although it was quite narrow I was able to get a position such that the angle of the shot provided enough definition of the board spacing to give well defined horizontal lines, helped by the angle of the sun and the shadows cast.  This was taken hand-held and some straightening was carried out in Lightroom.

Whilst out walking around Derwent Water late in the afternoon the angle of the sun caught the trees on the edge of a clearing casting long shadows.  It took a good deal of head scratching, not just due to the midges, trial and error to get the camera settings right (questionable even now) given the high contrast of the environment; there was also the question of the angle of the shot and depth of field to create the best illustration of the lines.  I also fell into the trap of trying to improve things post shot processing without really knowing where I was going – thank heavens for the reset button!

Returning from a walk on the fells above the Borrowdale Valley I came across what was obviously some outdoor leadership tasks being carried out by a group.  Ropes had been stretched across the river and the resulting lines seemed to slice through the otherwise idyllic scene, confronting the natural curves of nature.


Passing by this multi-storey car park I was struck by the unusual attempt to make it acceptable to the eye.  I considered whether to include this shot for quite a while mainly due to the trees in front of the building; whilst there are many “lines” I think the bold horizontals  of the main floors stand out and then there are a host of others which reinforce the theme and overcome the trees.  I have to say I particularly like this image for the juxtaposition of the hard straight lines of the structures and the natural lines of the trees.


Whilst contemplating a shot of a long metal fence I came across this ornate gate which, whilst portraying vertical lines, also represents a stark boundary with the wide open spaces beyond.  The challenge was to get the angle right and remember to focus on the gate itself so that it was the main subject.  I took a number of shots with the gate in isolation as well as with the fence running on beyond it.  In the final analysis I thought this composition best met the brief.  For me, though, as an image it represents a physical barrier to the freedom of the wide open space beyond, imagine how a caged animal feels.

This is one of the many landing stages for the ferries that ply Derwent Water.  It was tempting to encompass more of the surrounding landscape but, given the brief, I spent a good deal of time shooting from various positions in order to emphasise the lines of the vertical supports and achieve an optimum depth of field.

The Lake District is awash with drystone walls, many of which are a tribute to human endeavour.  Whilst descending a particularly steep incline I looked across the valley and saw this image; I was determined to get a drystone wall in this exercise!  I was immediately reminded of some of Andy Goldsworthy’s work. I was not sure whether to take the shot in landscape or portrait orientation in consideration of what I was trying to capture, the vertical line in isolation or the fact that it divided a vast area of the mountainside.  However, I felt that whatever the orientation the wall, as a vertical line, would stand out.

Approaching this building in Bath, the Holburne Museum of Art, I was struck by the vertical lines of the building and the columns, an obvious candidate for this exercise.  I took several shots conscious of the need to make the lines of the building the focus and decided the full frontal provided the most dramatic view.  Not being able to get a higher vantage point due to the location I was also mindful of the effect on the verticals (comment from my tutor on a previous image ringing loud in my ears), Lightroom to the rescue.


Apart from finding suitable subjects, the biggest challenge for me was to make the content subservient to the lines such that the lines are the first thing the viewer notices; I discarded many shots having reviewed them against this criteria.  Once again it all comes down to who is viewing the image; a photographer might immediately associate the image with lines whereas Joe Public might not without prompting or being confronted with the obvious eg power lines, railway lines, a pencil line on a piece of paper.  Whether I have met the brief is, ultimately, for the viewers of this blog to decide; for my part I believe I have produced images that deliver the brief.  Probably more important is whether I have reached any conclusion about how certain design elements come about and how common they are. Certainly this exercise has made me look at the world around me and, in so doing, recognise the existence of the elements and notice that they are very prevalent, almost everywhere you look you can quickly recognise them, although sometimes it does take a bit of mental debate.  The most striking thing, though, is the image captured by the camera versus that by the human eye with all its associated processing power.  The frame of the camera constrains the image such that when viewing the two-dimensional result it is considerably different from that you would have registered with the eye, for example the wall running up the side of the mountain becomes a vertical line in the camera, not so to the naked eye.  Turning to the comparison of colour and B&W images; I think this exercise has proved to me that the B&W does help to focus on the elements, particularly where there is high contrast conditions which, in my case, leads to over processing with some quite appalling results.  This has been an enjoyable exercise which has opened my eyes, quite literally, and given me a new insight into composition of an image; it has also made me a lot more mindful and appreciative of our surroundings, there is something worth looking at everywhere.  It has also reinforced my preference for landscape photography and the importance of conserving our wide open spaces.

Reference List:

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

The Crichton Foundation. (2013) Andy Goldsworthy Digital Catalogue: Volume 1 1976 – 1986. The Crichton Foundation.  Available from: [Accessed 17 August 2013]


Digital Photography School. (2013) Latest assignment – photographing lines.  Available from: [Accessed 25 August 2013]

Parker, E. (2012) Photographing trees. Richmond: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew