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The Colours of Black & White Part I - Introduction

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Victor W. is a group administrator Victor W. says:

Introduction - Circumventing the issues that surround digital black and white imagery, namely the problems with limited shades, (256 of them).
You will need an edit suite than utilises layers such as Paintshop or Photoshop. Unfortunately I have not managed to port these ideas to free software such as GIMP due to the restricted layers tools.



First of all let me apologise to all you 'flickerites' out there for firstly spelling 'colours' wrong, (we English like the 'u' in colours), and for appearing completely barking mad. "The colours of Black & White? - Victor's definately lost it!"

Well read on for a little while and you'll soon see what I'm talking about.......

I've had some recent discussions with other flickr members regarding digital black and white - for starters it's in colour, (OK shades of grey - there I go again, 'gray' for our 'over the pond' cousins), and there's only 256 shades at that! (That was part of the reason why I stayed away from digital for so long.)

With film black and white photography, (which I've had a passion about for many years), it was literally black and white - Nice black specks on nice white paper. You could often see this as 'grain' from larger 35mm prints, but as you moved up to 120 format roll film the 'grain' turned into great shades of grey. (The grain's still there and still the same size, but bigger negatives have to be enlarged less for a same size print - so you don't see the grain you see shades of grey!)

As you moved up to large formats, 5 inch by 4 inch negatives and larger, the shades of grey are phenominal, a true 'creamy' range of grey tones!! (If you ever get the chance to see 'real' large format B&W negatives printed on 'real' silver B&W papers, go for it, they are truly magical.)

Anyway, back to the digital black and white.....

With digital we get shades of grey and only 256 of them - Why?

We have the Red colours, the Green colours and the Blue. With an 8 bit system we get values of 0 to 255 for each colour component. So 256 of each colour, (remembering that 0 is a number - the Indian continent gave us that piece of mathematical genius centuries ago!)

With each colour component added in their various values we get:

256 x 256 x 256 = 16,777,216 colours

More than enough for most of us! Except when we get to black and white.......

For black - Red = 0, Green = 0, Blue = 0
For white - Red = 255, Green =255, Blue = 255

For each shade inbetween we increment each value the same for the Red, Green and Blue. So (1,1,1) , (2,2,2), (3,3,3), (4,4,4) and so on to white, (255, 255, 255) - easy, only 256 of them.

For some of us 'clicking' on the greyscale button is more than enough to convert an image into black and white - I however was unhappy with the almost deadness of this conversion. It became even worse when you tried to boost the contrast of images by utilising such tools as the 'curves' layer. You start to lose some of the colours you started with and we've only got 256 of them! (Noticeable by highlights 'clipping' and shadows 'bleeding'.)

Also the 256 shades of grey may not be all implemented in your image, as you adjust the image, (or depending on it's original content), you often land up with less than 256 colours.

Even when you start using tricks like colour shifting, (Blue shift in the shadows to appear more contrasty), you've still only got 256 colours!
I tried 'altering' the contrast of the images in colour before converting to 'greyscale' but this was harder than it looks, the channel mixer often helped here, but 'yup', still only 256 colours.

So I started looking at that 16,777,216 possible colours we can get in the original and I found lots more 'greys'..........

Colour Chart

The above image shows what I found after having a look at the shades of colours available.

The row on the left shows 'middle' grey, (128,128,128) at the top. Underneath this are five shades of grey from (126,126,126) through to (130,130,130) - 5 Shades, (just to simplify things.)
The next row marked by the red colour, is what I got by shifting the grey toward the red by 1 bit, (129,128,128) and the next five shades. I continued this with blue, green, then the cyan, magenta, yellow and even did a double bit up/bit down process for the last three colours, (129,128,127).

Well I was more than surprised that I'd now gone from 5 shades of grey to 50!!!

If I could get that many greys into my digital black and white images things would start to happen - No issues with curves, contrast control or clipped highlights and bleeding shadows

"Now how the hell am I going to do this?", I thought to myself.

Stay tuned for Part II to see how I managed to do it.

That's probably more than annoyed most of you, but I thought it would be better to split this into two 'longish' posts, rather than one huge one!!

Here's Part II
Originally posted at 12:27PM, 14 January 2009 PDT (permalink)
Victor W. edited this topic ages ago.

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Em0312 says:

For a split second I thought this was the tutorial - darn! Lol. Still, it's good of you post this up first. Oh btw Victor, we Scots like the u in colour too ;-p
ages ago (permalink)

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The Laddie is a group administrator The Laddie says:

Must know how now!!!!

Even though I am Scottish too I use Color... Maybe cause I am in Germany and they English here is American not British
ages ago (permalink)

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Yamaneko_ says:

"Maybe cause I am in Germany and they English here is American not British"

Naananaaana, not listening, not listening! I hate American English it's so... so... as if you had cotton balls in your mouth. I learnt British English at school, however since grade 8 we learnt both versions of some words. My visits in England did the rest of the job ;)

Great tutorial, Victor. However, is there anything wrong with me if I can't see a difference in all those grey boxes? In fact I see little grey boxes at the junctions of the grey boxes, like an optical illusion. I saw your next picture, and I can see a difference there, but not here :(
Originally posted ages ago. (permalink)
Yamaneko_ edited this topic ages ago.

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Victor W. is a group administrator Victor W. says:

Oops! Sorry Em'. I should have said English speaking, but that still would have caused confusion.

Laddie - Second part should've been posted now. I had a few issues uploading. I've got a '3' mobile phone modem and unfortunately one of the girls mobile phone keeps interfering with it, and of course she's never off the bl**dy phone!

Philip - that's pretty much the whole point, there is no discernable difference in the colours. When you start making changes to curves and contrast though it makes one hell of a difference. We can't see the different colours, but the computer and software do!
ages ago (permalink)

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Victor W. is a group administrator Victor W. says:

Oh yes, for anyone that is seeing the optical illusion of grey blobs at the intersections, it's quite normal. (Common optical illusion, just don't ask me why.)
ages ago (permalink)

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Em0312 says:

British would've done - but I forgive you, hehehe. Away to study this tutorial now *prays she will be able to do it* lol
ages ago (permalink)

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Victor W. is a group administrator Victor W. says:

Sorry Em'. British - sort of sound old fashioned though? Don't think we've got anything else - 'United Kingdom-ish'?

Hopefully everyone should be able to follow and understand the process, if not just ask - I'll do my best to answer.
ages ago (permalink)

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