Making a Photograph – Black and White Points

February 26th, 2012
by doinlight

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Posted in How To Articles, Lightroom, Photoshop | Comments (7)

  • Grandsnape says:

    Thanks so much for these helpful tips. Coming from Elements to Lightroom I was unsure what to do with the black and white points, and was tempted to always adjust them so the histogram reaches both sides of the grid. I believe I was even taught to do this in a photoshop class, but it’s very good to know that this is not always desirable. Thanks!

  • Brian Durfy says:

    Thanks again for the additional comments. I know a lot more than I did a year ago as a result of the generosity of folks like yourself, and hope to know much more a year from now. I’m an amateur photog on weekends, and an Engineer by day. I suffer a bit of OCD as it relates to processes. I’m always looking for standardization when it comes to process parameters, that extends to the histogram and all of the sliders that can impact it. I’ll keep plugging away.

    • doinlight says:

      Hi Brian. Thanks for your reply. I can appreciate your OCD comment. I’m an IT guy and a certain amount of that is necessary for a successful career where details matter. By the way, I prefer to call it OCA, the A standing for Advantage. You and I being technical have an advantage with complex software like Lightroom and Photoshop. And I find the workflow works best if there is a general framework by which one approached an image. I start with tonality adjustments, then hue and last saturation. But I also find that this is not a rigid nor a precise sequence. Because at some point the image itself cries out for an adjustment that is out of sequence. One of the things we technical people need to look out for is to become over-analytical. We need to back off of the analysis and let our right brains be heard. There’s plenty of problem solving in the making of a photograph from setting exposure and focus to deciding on whether to use Levels or Curves. But in the end a compelling photograph is one that comes from the right brain and where the left brain plays a supporting (albeit critical) role.

      Keep up the good work. Maybe you can join me on a workshop sometime. We could continue the conversation in greater depth. (We can continue it here too of course.)

  • Brian Durfy says:

    Thanks much for the instruction, much appreciated. I do have a question regarding workflow sequence. I know there are different schools of thought regarding creating a White Point, versus just using Exposure Adjustment. However in the above example you set a Black Point followed by Exposure. In the Workflow tutorial you do the reverse. Is there a difference? Also is there some redundancy with regards to using the Contrast Adjustment which would seems linear in it’s effect, verses curves?

    • doinlight says:

      Thanks for your Comment Brian. You raise an excellent point. But first, let me point out that the Black and White Point article was written in 2012 with an older version of Lightroom. With Lightroom 5 where we are today the controls are much different. So perhaps it’s time to do an update on black and white points. You also point out that in different blogs I use different approaches. I often think of workflow as an opening book in chess – there are any number of opening moves. And I must confess that I often start with different adjustments. For example, if I’ve ‘exposed to the right’ I’ll generally start with an Exposure adjustment to bring the intentionally overexposed image back to its ‘proper’ exposure before doing anything else. However, most of the time I begin with setting a black point and not often to I set a true white point, at least on color images.

      As for the difference between the Contrast and the Curves adjustments I tend to use Contrast in Lightroom which goes against what most people recommend. I’m not too fond of Curves in Lightroom (I much prefer Curves in Photoshop) although there are times when Curves is just what the image needs. When using the Contrast adjustment it’s important to understand that the histogram is stretched out from the midtone. In other words, tonalities lighter than the midtone are stretched to the right and tonalities darker than the midtone are stretched to the left. If you need to enhance contrast around a tonality other than the midtone than you need to use Curves. But the Curves adjustment in Lightroom doesn’t have near the power and control of the Curves adjustment in Photoshop. So I generally defer my tweaking with Curves to Photoshop.

      In practice, I also defer creating the final black point to Photoshop where I use Curves and Charles Cramer’s ‘sudden black’ technique or, I should say, a modification of it.

      I think the bottom line is that workflow is not a mechanical step-by-step process. One may usually start by setting a black point but there are exceptions. And one’s workflow will change over time as one gains experience with Lightroom and Photoshop.

      I hope this helps to shed some light on some of your concerns.


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