This week’s challenge introduces the concept of using colored filters for B&W photography. Some of you may already be familiar with this concept, but for others it will be brand new information. Don’t worry – you do not need to purchase filters in order to accomplish this week’s challenge! We will simply be applying the digital equivalent of a technique used by B&W film photographers. In fact, Ansel Adams himself used a colored (red) filter in his well-known “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome” and described it as one of the most exciting moments of his photographic career because it was his “first conscious visualization.”
So what exactly do colored filters do and why use colored filters if the goal is a black and white photo? You might remember my challenge back in 2017 where I talked about learning to “see” in B&W and how contrasting colors do not necessarily mean contrasting tonal values. For example, red tomatoes against green leaves are nearly the same tonal values when converted to B&W:
Colored filters are extremely helpful in situations like this because they allow you to control how colors are represented in shades of gray. In other words, colored filters allow you to better separate different colors in your black and white photos because a colored filter lets through more of its own color and less of all the other colors to be recorded on the camera sensor.
Looking at the set of images above, the flowers don’t stand out very well from the background in B&W when no filter was used. But let’s take a look at what happens when different colored filters are used – remembering that a colored filter lets through more of its own color and less of all the other colors.
- Green filter: The turquoise background is ever so slightly lighter, but the reds and oranges in the flowers and even the yellowish greens of the stems are darker than the No filter image. In my opinion, this makes the B&W image look worse than if no filter has been used.
- Blue filter: The turquoise background is brighter and the flowers are even darker. In my opinion, this B&W image is even worse than the Green filter. (In fact, a blue filter is rarely used in B&W photography.)
- Red filter: The turquoise background is quite dark and the red/orange flowers are so bright they look over exposed. It does create a strong tonal separation between the flowers and the background, but in this case it is probably too strong.
- Orange filter: The turquoise background is slightly lighter than with the red filter and the red/orange flowers are slightly darker than the red filter, but there is a better separation of tonal values than the “no filter” image above it.
- Yellow filter: The turquoise background is slightly darker than the “no filter” image, but the flowers have lost some contrast compared to the “no filter” image.
To further understand the effect that colored filters have on black and white images as well as typical uses for the different colored filters, I highly recommend the following two articles:
- How Filters for Black and White Photography Work
- Using Coloured Filters in Black and White Photography
Now let’s talk about how to actually apply colored filters to our B&W photos. When using B&W film, photographers need to use an actual filter on their lens. But with digital cameras, there are digital versions of the colored filters. Some cameras have a setting to apply colored filters at the time a B&W photo is taken. If you prefer to convert to black and white in post-processing, there are options for applying a colored filter effect during the conversion. Here are a few options:
DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have the ability to shoot in black and white and most of them have a setting that allows you to apply a colored filter within the in-camera monochrome settings. This short video explains how to do that for a Canon camera, but it will be similar for other brands. And this article provides the terminology used by each manufacturer: Mastering Monochrome Mode. Consult your camera’s manual for how to customize the monochrome settings to apply filters. If you then use Live View, you should be able to see the effect of the filter before you take the photo.
B&W camera apps for your mobile phone are another option. For example, the free BlackCam app which runs on both iOS and Android allows you to see the effect of the filter on your photo in real time, i.e. before you take the photo. Scroll through the filters at the bottom of the screen to find the colored filters. (Suggestion: You might want to go into settings to set a higher camera resolution.)
If you like to do your B&W conversion in post-processing, Nik Silver Efex Pro and ON1 (and possibly others) have an option for applying colored filters. You can click through the different colors and adjust the strength to see the effect that it has on your photo.
Other post-processing applications (namely Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop) might not have filters that you can click on, but you can simulate the effect by adjusting the individual color sliders in the B&W conversion. Lightroom does have some B&W Filter Presets that simulate the effect of colored filter and I encourage you to explore those further by playing with the color sliders to see what effect they have on your photo. For further details on this concept, check out: Understanding Black and White Filters in Lightroom.
Regardless of which of the above methods you choose to use this week, the point of this challenge is to think about how your B&W image might be improved with the use of a colored filter before you take your photo. When working with colored filters, the important thing to remember is this:
A colored filter lets through more of its own color and less of all the other colors, so anything in the scene that is the same color (or nearly the same) as the filter will appear relatively brighter in the B&W version of the photo.
This week’s challenge:
- Use a colored filter to help convert a colorful scene to a black and white photo.
- Your final image should be a B&W grayscale image. You can come to that image any way that you would like as outlined above – from capturing B&W in camera to converting in post-processing.
- Don’t ignore proper exposure, contrast and composition which are especially important in a B&W image.
- (Optional) When you post your photo, feel free to mention which color filter you used and why.
The friendly community guidelines are pretty simple:
- Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to our active community on our Facebook Group, Flickr Groupor 500PX group (or all three). Tag the photo: #10thanniversaryphotochallenge #2018photochallenge #photochallenge #tempusaura
- The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
- Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2018 Trevor Carpenter Photo Challenge is fun and easy.
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