WEEK 36: B&W with Colored “Filters”

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.”

2017 WEEK 39: B&W with Soft Light by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero. A yellow filter used during the B&W conversion helped to darken the purple petals at the top of the viola and blend them into the background while the yellow petal with the water drop became nearly white.

2017 WEEK 39: B&W with Soft Light by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero. A yellow filter used during the B&W conversion helped to darken the purple petals at the top of the viola and blend them into the background while the yellow petal with the water drop became nearly white.

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.
Towers in the Sky by Bryce Bradford. Red filters can be used to create strong contrast in a partly cloudy sky.

Towers in the Sky by Bryce Bradford. Red filters can be used to create strong contrast in a partly cloudy sky because they significantly darken a blue sky.

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:

sunglasses & sunflowers by John Catbagan taken with an orange filter. The orange filter would brighten the sunflower petals as well as smooth out the skin tones by hiding blemishes and freckles.

sunglasses & sunflowers by John Catbagan taken with an orange filter. The orange filter has brightened the sunflower petals and possibly smoothed out the skin tones by hiding blemishes and freckles.

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.

2017 WEEK 11: STORYTELLING – IN MY TOWN by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero. An orange filter used during the conversion to B&W helped to brighten the red sandstone cliffs and the red dirt in the foreground and at the same time darkened the blue sky to add contrast to an otherwise flat looking scene.

2017 WEEK 11: STORYTELLING – IN MY TOWN by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero. An orange filter used during the conversion to B&W helped to brighten the red sandstone cliffs along with the red dirt in the foreground and at the same time darkened the blue sky which resulted in a higher contrast for an otherwise flat looking scene.

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.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero. A yellow filter was used to brighten the red rocks along with the spring green leaves and darken the blue sky. The strength of the filter was significantly increased during conversion to B&W.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero. A yellow filter was used because it brightened not only the red rocks but also the spring green leaves. It also darkened the blue sky slightly. In general a yellow filter has a mild effect, but in this case the strength of the filter was significantly increased during the B&W conversion in Nik Silver Efex Pro in order to boost the contrast of the image.

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.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona – No filter. I’ve included this version of the photo above to reinforce the difference that colored filters can make. The only difference between this photo and the one above is that I turned off the strong yellow filter in Nik Silver Efex Pro. All of the other B&W conversion settings are the same.

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 GroupFlickr 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.

 

About thedigitaljeanie

I’m a self-taught photographer and way back when I used to love taking photos, but I allowed a business that I started in 2004 to take over my life and my photographic repertoire was reduced to quick product shots and how-to tutorials. When I joined the PhotoChallenge in December 2015, I was looking to rekindle my creativity and bring some joy back into my photography. I jumped in with both feet and have not looked back. I believe that photography can change the way we see and interact with the world around us. Some people may think that I hide behind the camera, but I feel that I experience the world in a much more intimate way when I am creating a composition in my viewfinder. In those moments distractions disappear, my mind focuses and I am fully present. It is just me and my camera capturing a moment in time that might otherwise go unnoticed. My background is as varied as the photos that I take. I’ve trained and worked as a software engineer, a massage therapist, an English teacher in Vietnam, a photo restoration artist (which is how I learned Photoshop) and for the past twelve years I have run a small software business with my husband where I have been published in numerous books and magazines, appeared on PBS television, created designs for fabric, quilts and machine embroidery and won awards for some of my quilts. It should come as no surprise that I am intensely curious about life and love to learn new things. I am blessed to live in the beautiful state of Colorado, USA in the Rocky Mountain foothills outside of Fort Collins with my husband and cat. You can find me online at: Photos: flickr.com/photos/the-digital-jeanie/ Day job: KaleidoscopeCollections.com Facebook: facebook.com/jeaniesa

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