Strip color, make better image

With all the post-processing tools available now there’s a criticism I hear from photographers about people who change color images to B&W; “what’s the matter, couldn’t get the color right?”  Sometimes it’s a derisive comment, sometimes a search for information, but most of the time I feel it misses the point.  Images are made of compositions composed of what the photographer wants to show the viewer and sometimes it just looks better without the color.

Not that I’m intending to get snobbish about “art” and “black and white” and all that effort at segregating what’s of value from what’s common.  No, I use both color and B&W in my work, although I’m a novice when it comes to knowing which will work best!  The beauty of digital is we can tell quickly whether to pursue it or not; in the film days it required a different workflow to make a B&W image out of a color negative and when I say workflow I mean more than a few clicks of the mouse.  It took literally getting  your hands dirty while working in the dark.

I’ve been going through my Lightroom catalog to remind myself what’s in it and I found the following image.  It’s a scan of a Kodachrome slide image I made several years ago while driving along the coast of the Olympia peninsula of Washington.  I remember liking the shape and contrasts but also remember not being particularly thrilled how it turned out as the colors were dull and the image lacked some spark.  That was back when I thought a great image simply came out of the camera.  Now I know better.

I fortunately exposed the image fairly evenly (the sky was totally overcast so I knew it would be blow out but there were no details to preserve) so when I saw it I realized some post-processing would enable me to turn it into more of what I saw at the time.  And when I started working on it I knew it would be a B&W in the final product – the subtle colors of the rock and water just didn’t bring anything to the story of the image.

Looking at it now I really like how the even lighting of the overcast sky helped give me light all over the rock, including into the clefts and holes.  A more stark lighting, such as bright cloudless day, would have rendered this too harsh.  In this form it recalls the sense I had of the cloudy, cool Pacific coast, a place of not quite shadows and not quite sunlight, with a bit of salty tang in the damp air.

The moral, at least one, of the story is to not throw anything away (cheers from the pack rat demographic, groans from those more organized) because you may have a masterpiece just waiting for a little adjusting.

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