Monday, December 17, 2012

Sometimes Black and White Works Better

I was looking through my set of color photographs taken at Petaling Street yesterday, as I have published them here in full glorious color. One particular shot stood out, which I thought would have been much better with monotone processing. Alright I admit I was giving myself an excuse to try the new Snapseed software that I have just installed few days ago, the hype of using it to process my black and white images different is still going strong. 


The above image was processed with Snapseed. The original color image is shown as below.




I also decided on a tighter cropping. No particular reason actually, perhaps trying to make it look a little different, and more close up. 

32 comments:

  1. Looks a lot better, Robin! There's a quote I remember from another photographer (can't quite remember who though) that goes something like;
    'Colour shows the fashion of the day. Black and white shows the soul.' I know that doesn't apply to everything, but I think it applies here!

    I'm in KL at the moment and am gonna check out you famous 'Pentalling Street.' I've also got the 35mm f1.8 lens (but on an A77) so I hope for good pickings!!

    Will Jax

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    1. Hello Will,
      You may want to check out Studio Zaloon in Pudu Plaza, it is a shop dedicated to selling Sony photography gear only. Find Uncle Chin. I am sure he can give you a good deal !!
      You may go to their FB page here for address and contact info.
      http://www.facebook.com/Alphaproshopstudiozaloon?fref=ts

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  2. I agree - that black & white one is lots better. Plus I love the toning. Looks like you're onto something with that Snapseed software. Hmmm just looked it up, but sadly not available for Linux :-/

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    1. Hello Wolfgang,
      It has a setting called drama, much like HDR processing but you can control the amount you want, so it wont look too "harsh" and overcooked.

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  3. Nice one, Robin. The result is a more interesting and somehow more powerful image. I did notice some loss of detail in his hat, but not elsewhere. Is that intentional?

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    1. Hey Andre,
      Thanks for the kind words. Sharp eyes you have !! There is this filter in snapseed that is called "center focus" where you get to add corner blur, or vignetting effect to draw more attention to the center of the frame. The application of areas untouched by this effect is a circle, which you can adjust and place wherever you want. The circle I chose was just around the face, fitting his hand and the cigarette of course. The hat was outside the circle, hence the slight blur. The effect can be turned off. Similarly, it can be heavier too, meaning adding more blur.

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    2. Another evidence would be the wall at the left of the image frame !! See it is also blurred. I thought this effect could add some dreaminess !!

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    3. You're doing some very interesting stuff. Robinesque! :-)

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    4. And mshafik, below, commented he prefers my older black and white stuff !! Now this is getting interesting.

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    5. I think your older B&W style is somewhat rare and unique, it's what attracted me to your pictures, however the contrasty version shown in your previous post is more common and not suitable with everything. I myself tried something similar recently, and wasn't happy with all the pictures, especially when there were portrais, and I decided to stay with the lighter, more airy feeling B&Ws.

      This is what I tried to do,

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    6. http://betterfamilyphotos.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-final-chapter-canon-40mm-f28.html

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    7. Mshafik,
      Now that you have mentioned, I actually do agree with you. For general portraits, with poeple as the dominant subject, particularly head and shoulder shots, I would say my old black and white usual processing works better, mainly because of smoother skin and overall brighter tones. They make the subject look more flattering. However, I do think that the more "dramatic" effect works better for scenes with a lot of environment, it adds certain feel to it.

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  4. Hi Robin, I don't know if you remember me, I sent you a link to my post about my visit to KL, Malaysia.
    I have been following your blog closely since Kirk linked to your BERISH post.

    Huge confession: I just sold the last of my Canon gear today (5D Mark 3, 24-105 f/4, 50 1.4, 100L Macro, 200L 2.8, lots of flashes, bags and accessories), and I am buying a small Olympus kit: OM-D Black + 12-50 kit + Panasonic Leica 25 1.4 + Olympus 45 1.8 + FL600R, and a couple of manual flashes. What do you think of this kit? The main reason for conversion is to downsize, and I will save a lot of money in the process.

    Anyway, I have one question, and I really hope I get an answer, I love your original B&W conversion process with the warm-ish tone and not too many crushed blacks, much better than your last Snapspeed post, can you post about how you process your files to get this monotone look? I also hope I can get the same result from Lightroom since this is my main RAW processing software.

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    1. Hello mshafik,
      Of course I remember you !!!
      Oh my goodness... you made the jump !! Welcome to the world of micro 4/3. I think you have an amazing setup to start with. The 25mm F1.4 and 45mm F1.8 should be able to cover most general shooting needs. For macro, you might want to have a look at the 60mm F2.8 macro. It is one amazing lens.

      For my old, usual style of black and white processing, I have shared my processing here:
      http://robinwong.blogspot.com/2012/06/my-custom-black-and-white-processing.html

      I love Kirk's blog !! I have him to thank for linking me up for the Bersih 3.0 post.

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    2. Yeah, Kirk is as nice as well as interesting, along with my Canon gear switch, I un-followed around 50 photography sites/blogs except for Kirk, your blog, Zack Arias, Lens Rentals and Sisters blog (amazing photos of two very cute little sisters).

      Anyway, thanks for the comment, I don't know how we missed your comment, but we have a lot of spam, so sorry for that. By the way, we are two authors on the blog, Mic Ty representing Nikon, and me representing Canon and now Olympus + a new surprise Canon, the post you commented on was Mic's.

      I checked your B&W conversion post, and I will have to try it in LR since I don't have the Olympus cameras yet.
      You will be hearing a lot from me in the future as I tell my story with the Olympus system.

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    3. I am honored you are still coming here !!
      Oh I did not know it was a two author blog, apologies. Interesting stuff you guys are doing over there, keep it up !

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  5. Robin, add my vote to those who agree this one is better in monochrome. Seriously, when I viewed that last series of images, I wondered why you'd kept this one in color, the color was a distraction. I think I'm like you when it comes to editing - every time I go back through older images, I always see some way to "improve" on the work I did before.

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    1. Hello Spike,
      I think I was keeping the previous series consistent, and I have been running rampant with black and white lately. I do think color worked better for most shots in that series, with warm, good morning light.
      Nonetheless, as you and many have pointed out, the black and white processing works much better in this particular image.

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  6. You are absolutely right, the monochrome version is a lot better. I do have a trick question for you, though (I really don't have an answer, this is just simple, honest curiosity): do you think that, with more / better/ different post-processing, the original color version could be significantly improved?

    Please understand that this is just an impression, but I get the distinct feeling that this is the case, that the color version could indeed be made better, and perhaps significantly so. I certainly wouldn't know how, I am only judging based on my experience as a viewer (someone who frequently looks at a lot of photographs, that is).

    What prompted this interrogation is that, assuming that my gut feeling is correct, then the comparison is unfair. I'm only mentioning this because it's something I have seen more than just a few times: people using such biased comparisons to make their point that B&W is so superior to color photography. I know that this is not your case, no worry there, but at the same time I know that this post will certainly fuel the discourse of the B&W fanatics! ;-)

    So, coming back to my original question, what do you think? I would also love to read your thoughts about the whole post-processing issue, precisely because we all know that you are not particularly biased or member of any fanatical camp. ;-D What is "your relation" with color processing versus monochrome processing? Seems to me that color has to be a lot harder to manage... Anyway, this is food for thought, and perhaps a subject for a separate post!

    All that being said, that is indeed a beautiful image, congrats.

    All the best to you.

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    1. I have the same thought as you. Sometimes colour can be as powerful if not more powerful than monochrome. But not this shot. The orange/red wall behind the man is a real distraction and neutralize the focus on the man's face/expression. The monochorme picture focus squarely on the face and non of the noisy distraction behind. Plus, Robin post process to blur the background a little more, thus focus is stonger on the man's face. Also, the vignett effect brings out the smoke from the cigaratte which was otherwise lost in the colour photo.

      There are some photos of mind in which i feel that with colour it tells a more compelling story. It all depends on the shot taken. :)

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    2. Hey Bert,
      I have optimized my processing for the color photo, but as you have pointed out, of course it could have been better if someone else can further improve it. However I have this rule I impose onto myself (not necessarily applicable to anyone else) that I do not alter the image until it is entirely different from what my eyes saw in the first place. The original color balance, or exposure can be manipulated to a certain extent, but I would not go too far until it becomes unfamiliar to my memory. This applies only to color processing.
      Some people may add hey why not selectively de-saturate the red walls in the background so it will be less distracting. Or balance up the uneven exposure on the face, since the cap casted heavy shadows on the forehead and the eyes. Oh yes, those portraits fanatics would say increase the brightness and add even more dazzling catchlight to the eyes !!
      The list goes on and on and the next thing you know HDR processing comes in, and I think that is a stretch too far !!

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    3. Hello Calex,
      Yes, completely agree with you, there are many examples that color would surely work better. It depends on the message that the photographer is trying to convey.
      Blue skies and ocean water will never look the same when presented in black and white. The calmness and serenity are lost.
      Photographs with a lot of energy will lose its vibrancy when the color is lost. I somehow believe color has plenty of useful information, but not necessarily suitable for all situations. It depends on the photographer to decide what to show, and what to throw away.

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    4. I hear you, Robin, thanks for the reply, it does shed a light on the color vs. B&W post-processing issue. Your answer is so elegantly simple that I feel I should have known! The notion that B&W is, for lack of a better word, "fake" in its very essence (that's simply not how we see) and therefore more permissive as a medium when manipulating the image pretty much says it all...

      Take care.

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  7. Replies
    1. Jom shooting, all black and white !

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  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  9. Hello Robin,
    I was drown and now I am started to swim back to the shore. I thought it's over with the hectic time but yesterday, I almost lost my camera (Body with 50mm f/1.8G lens attached) as I swing it out of my backpack and it fly onto the gravel road. At fisrt, I thought someone throw me with a stone and I turn back. It's my dear buddy laying on the road. Thanks Nikon for it's tough camera body. My dearest buddy (the camera) just suffered a bit of scratch nothing more.

    Black or Colour on your image?
    On this particular image, I would say Black & White as the BW really brings out the the texture and the intensity of the character. Beside as in the smoke, it's more appealing and dramatic.
    As for the software Snapseed, I believe in your hands everything will turn to gold because you always have a special way to make it work as you want it to be. For me, I am still struggling with Lightroom. Maybe in future, I will give it a try.

    Christmas is coming and more events will come by. Enjoy your shooting and have a great evening.




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    1. Hey John,
      I am very sorry to hear about the accident. I hope there was nothing more than a few scratches.
      Thanks for the feedback. Snapseed is easier to use than you think !! Much simpler than lightroom, but surely less powerful.

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  10. Noob question here: Is Snapseed free?

    Anyway, black and white looks nicer... The detail which appears looks more contrasting, yet the image is focused. Just my humble opinion lah.

    Cheers!

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    1. Hey Cyril,
      Shall get back to you through FB soon. Thanks !

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