Some scenes just say Black and White to me. My first clue is contrast. High contrast situations with well defined shadows are a natural for monotone, so on bright sunny days in a town like this I shift my brain to B&W. The next clue that B&W might be the way to go is when the scene has very little color in it. Duh, you say! But I’m sure we all pass by great situations because we’re thinking in the "color" mode.
The South of Italy has tons of sunshine can be pretty colorless in the towns because of the mostly white and gray plasters. Whit that in mind, I recently spent a week in the Puglia region with friends Ray Ownbey and Luigi Barbano "thinking in B&W"
Here’s an example of a scene it would be easy to miss. Harsh sun and colorless walls... but in B&W, the shadows become the image and it becomes interesting to me.
Because of the impossibly high-contrast light on this stairway, I used HDR to bring together a 5-shot bracket, one stop apart. There’s no way I could have covered this contrast range with a single exposure.
I used HDR Efex Pro by NIK, a plugin for Lightroom and Photoshop.
You have to be gentle with the HDR. It’s so easy to over-do it, but NIK lets you really fine tune it to your own taste and the program seems very intuitive to me, unlike my first forays into HDR with other programs.
Moonlit nights are great in B&W using HDR, because the moon can be a pinpoint source like the sun and produce the same high-contrast light and shadow. Here there’s a little diffusion by the clouds and the shadows are not quite as well difined. However, the scene is still impossible to capture in one exposure
Here I did a 5-image bracket, one stop apart. Then, launching NIK HDR from Lightroom, I combined them into what at first was a terribly garish color image, because of the mixed light sources.
My B&W conversion began in Lightroom in the HSL Panel, where I can convert to BW, then tweak the luminance of each separate color. I like to warm the shadows using the Split Toning Panel in Lightroom 4. My recipe is Hue 40, Saturation 20. Finally, I take it into Photoshop for some burning and dodging, and sharpening.
A personal note: As the son of a photography studio owner, I was practically raised in a B&W darkroom in the 1970s. 40 years later, here I am again, only without the chemical smell. Thanks, dad, for the great Black & White tradition.