There is something about converting a color image to black and white that can be pure magic. Removing the distraction of color helps us to see tonal nuances more clearly and helps us appreciate form. I think that black and white can elevate the right photograph to “Art” with a capital “A”.
When I took this picture I knew before I started that ultimately I wanted it to be black and white. The color of the background, black velvet, and the choice of using yellow tulips, as opposed to red with a darker tone, helped to set a starting point for the tonal range that I wanted. Also, the tulips that I used were important in themselves. They were what the florist industry calls “field tulips” and they had very long, flexible stems. I laid the black velvet on the floor in our living room which had a wall of windows letting in the morning sun. I spent some time laying the tulips out in different positions and used a reflector to add light into the dark side of the composition. My tripod allows me to position the center post so that I could shoot straight down and I worked on filling the frame.
The image had a composition that I liked, so I took it into Photoshop. I always want my flowers to be pristine, and when I am working smart, I will start my Photoshop work by zooming in to 100% and navigate through the whole image to find any flaws. I found a couple of things that I felt were distractions in the color image. Where the stems were entering the vase, I smoothed out a few of the stems that I thought could be distracting by using the clone stamp tool. The other distraction was the stem going out of the picture plane at the top and I fixed that by creating a new layer above the image layer and painting the background color with a small soft brush over the part that was leaving the image.
Black & White Conversion
The next thing that I almost always do is to add a Curves Adjustment layer and click the auto button to see what happens. Sometimes I like what it does and sometimes not. In this case it lightened the blooms, which was good. Then on to a Black & White adjustment layer. Immediately all color is gone, but the magic happens while moving the color sliders to lighten or darken different colors. An alternate to using the color sliders, which I prefer, is moving the target adjustment tool around in the image and dragging it up or down in areas that you want lighter or darker. I added a couple of Curves adjustments after that by creating adjustments that either lightened or darkened and rather than affect the whole image, I filled their layer masks with black and painted small adjustments into the masks with a soft white brush. The result turned out to be an award-winning image for me which I titled, “Tulip Dance”.