Fine-art B/W photography and digital post?


The one thing I’ve never been able to do in GIMP or similar is a good rendition in black-and-white. Have any of you delved into this? Here’s a nice example image by photographer Lukas Holas …

(Moisés Musashi Santana) #2

Did you play with G’mic and the film simulations?


Briefly. Something seemed to be missing from the tonal values. If I had to guess, I would say many of the best B/W images I’ve seen perhaps have something going on in the middle-tone values? Or maybe I’m seeing something like due-tone? Out of my depth so far…

article on duotone


Maybe, it would be more helpful to see an example of your own work?
Apart from that: Does it have to be gimp? Personally I love to create b/w in a non-destructive editing environment like darktable or RawTherapee. It allows to adjust curves quite easily and more precisely I think.



Might this give you some additional ideas ?

Also, read through Nik Collection’s lessons on Silver Efex Pro 2, which contain lots of interesting information (which can be aped in RT, DT, The Gimp, g’mic &c):


Both of those links are very good, and I had not seen either before now. I have been stumbling through the Nik collection just fiddling with knobs.

(Shreedhar Inamdar) #7

Here are some of my efforts using GIMP and GMIC

(Andrew) #8

Brilliant sky photo.


Those are all beautiful. Can you tell us anything about your workflow?


@shreedhar The clouds are like cotton candy :slight_smile:.

@okieman Likely a combination of planning, technique and vision with the camera, gear, setting and composition; and post-processing for clean up work and giving the subject(s) more oomph.

(Glenn Butcher) #11

Probably because I shot so much of it in film in what my granddaughters call the “olden days”, I just love a good black-and-white image.

Since I started digital, I’ve only once gone out with the intent of capturing images for b&w rendering. I usually find good candidates reviewing for that specific intent, sometimes years after shooting the picture. For what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve found:

  1. Some subjects just beg the treatment:

    I find steam locomotives to make great b&W subjects; most are already painted black! Steam makes for good tonal counterpoint. This subject category has one good general point, IMHO, that is rich blacks make a striking b&w image. Your zebra example illustrates it, too.

  2. Interesting light sometimes translates into interesting b&w highlights:

    Our kitchen counter gets great north light; this flower has some of it reflected off the left petal inward. This was a good color image, too. It helps there’s a dark background to highlight the subject.

My post-processing is simple: I usually increase contrast somewhat over what looks right in color, and I use the so-called BT.709 “luma” grayscale conversion, where each gray value = R*.72 + G*.21+B*.07. I use my own software, but I’m pretty sure GIMP has an equivalent option.

I sometimes “re-color” the grayscaled image with a blue-channel “linear” curve where the lowermost control point is just slid up the vertical axis about 5-10 (0-255 scale). This treatment makes the black tones look richer, in the manner of the old Ilford printing papers. You could probablyh get Agfa sepia by doing the same thing with the red channel, I think. Oh, when I grayscale my images, I keep them three-channel RGB just to do this sort of thing.

We used to shoot desert scenes with glorious cumulus clouds using a red filter; this made the blue sky just about black and the clouds prominent. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think you can do the equivalent in digital by changing the RGB proportions in the luma grayscale tool, e.g., R1.0+G0.0+B*0.0, or find the tool option that just selects one of the color channels to be the gray value. I don’t have a good cloud image with me to try it.

(Mica) #12

That’s dome great advice, @ggbutcher, I’m looking forward to trying these out!


I am so burnt out that this isn’t making sense… lol… Are you altering a channel using a curve to linearly lift up the shadows prior to doing a luma grey scale conversion?

(Glenn Butcher) #14

Ah, as I wrote that I thought it wasn’t that clear…

Here’s a screenshot:

You can see the order of processing in the upper-left pane, “Commands”. The first curve is a full RGB, for increasing contrast. After that, the gray tool does the B&W conversion. The second curve is highlighted (I hope that is readily discernible in the screenshot), and it occupies the Parameters pane. Note the channel selected, blue, and the lower control point is moved up the left vertical axis, in this case, 13 tones. What that does is to add a decreasing blue component to the pixels, so the darkest ones have a subtle blue cast, and it tapers off as the tones increase. You can see the shift in the histogram, maybe not so much in this PNG snapshot of the window.

By the way, the highlighted tool is the one shown in the Paramters pane, and the checked one is the displayed image. So, while you work on an upstream tool, you can see the end effect through all the tools.

That’s why I decided to not make my gray tool convert the image to one-channel; instead, code each pixel as R=G=B. That way, the three channels remain available after ‘graying’ for such shenanigans.


It does not have to be GIMP. I’m skeptical about having to learn multiple pieces of software. I believe the differences are most often just in the design of the user interface.


@ggbutcher Okay, that is what I read. I was just confusing myself with the 3-channel grey scale business. In the end, a 3-channel grey scale image is still a color image, just as a square is a rectangle. I might try rawproc someday, maybe after you sort out the color management :wink:.

(Shreedhar Inamdar) #17

Thank you @okieman . As @afre had said, there is nothing sepcial about my workflow. I just follow my nose, so to speak. Of course to get the general idea of what to do, I follow Joel Tjintjlejaar 's site

I really like his BW architecture photography. The first photo of building shaped like Rubic Cube was highly influenced by him.

(Glenn Butcher) #18

@shreedhar, good link. I spent some time reading his stuff; worth the time of anyone who wants to consider what making great digital b&w is about. Makes my chops look like casserole recipes.

I read a site sometime back (can’t find it now) where the project was to scrape the CFA off a digital sensor and put it back in the camera, intact, to achieve a grayscale camera on the order to what Mr. Tjintjlejaar ascribes. I can’t even think of doing that to my old D50… :astonished:


@okieman For the last few days, I have been thinking about your original question:
What is a good rendition of B/W?

I have to confess that most often, I can see if a rendition (be it color or B/W) is good or bad. But I can rarely tell why. Dynamics? Really black? Contrasts? “Oompf” (whatever that might be)?

I found a suitable photo to experiment on, a steam locomotive (CC0 creative commons): To my eyes, that photo could easily be developed in a better way – both as a color photo and for conversion to B/W.

Here is my first attempt:


Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

(Glenn Butcher) #20

@claes, you picked a good one. Steam/smoke grayscales well, IMHO, and this plume has some nice gradations. Also, the trees on the hills look almost impressionistic in shades of gray.

Not related to B&W, but this image does a good job of conveying motion. The slight tilt of the train, the billowing smoke, and the steam from the cylinders give the impression this 'set is making good time…