I’ve always felt a little self-conscious converting color images to black-and-white ones, both in film and digital. Back in the day, it was usually pretty easy to spot the conversions, and we all sneered at them. They didn’t have the feel, the texture, the caché, the honesty of “real” black-and-white. Of course, this was largely an artifact of the difficulty of translating a color negative image to black and white paper and getting contrast that mattered. If you wanted “real” black-and-white, you shot Tri-X, or HP5+, or something. Maybe even type 55.
Then along came the digital revolution. There’s no monochrome sensor; they’re all color. You want black and white, you’d better not be hung up over converting it. Of course, the digital revolution also brought along the ability to change contrast with a slider; to increase or decrease exposure, lift shadows, dodge, burn, sharpen, blur, etc… all the various abuses a digital photographer can subject the images to. You can adjust the saturation of the color image that produces the black and white one; you can filter out blue, red, green, orange… whatever you want.
But I was still somewhat iffy about it. Most digital conversions I’d seen were very… plastic. Smooth. Lacking in texture. Glassy and tasteless. I cut my teeth on Plus-X and Tri-X, and dammit, I wanted to see STRUCTURE in that gray. Texture. Feel.
Then I discovered Nik Silver Efex. This isn’t an advertisement; it’s just me talking about a tool I found that accomplishes something.
The feel of Tri-X, complete with sliders. Someone spent a lot of time looking at the characteristics of film negatives, and worked very hard replicating them. I’m still reticent to convert wholesale, but I find images I have to see in B&W, to see if they still look… interesting. Black and white is easier in some ways - it’s surreal, as we never see the world that way, but everything in the image is immediately recognizable. But it’s harder in others - you can’t use colors for interest. Just tones, and the objects in the image, and their relationship to one another.
You can now approximate this with Lightroom using filters and the grain slider. Not quite the same, but still very good, and not glassy or plastic. Crisp edges, subtle textures, long tonal ranges. Blacks that are black, whites that are white.
Yes, I know all these images contain flowers. It’s not a theme; that’s just the way it broke out. But I’m over it. I can live with it. Conversion is no longer for poseurs.