the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Thinking of Black and White

I love black and white photographs. I think black and white photographs may have been what really started my life-long passion for photography. In my pre-digital days, I had a wet darkroom in the back of the pantry of our kitchen. Though I did a little color processing, it was black and white processing that I truly enjoyed. I loved watching those pieces of photo paper magically transform and reveal an image when soaking in the developer bath. Those days are now long gone; I sold most of  my old darkroom equipment for pennies on the dollar and even just threw some of it away when I moved to Tacoma.

But I still love black and white, though I don’t do much of it. I want to change that. Recently I downloaded a copy of Silver Efex Pro. I was excited to give it a try, since so many photographers make great black and white photos with it. Today I tried it out. Today I failed. It causes Photoshop to crash on my computer. I think I may have a video card issue. Luckily, I am planning a computer upgrade in the near future, and that may solve the problem.

But I still had the urge to make at least one black and white image today before getting to my other pressing work – fun before work, right? So I tried using the black and white adjustment layer in Photoshop and was not happy with the results. It caused some of my brush strokes applied in Lightroom to show and pixelated the sky. So I resorted to Lightroom for my black and white conversion. Though it is powerful, it doesn’t allow the type of targeted black and white adjustments I was hoping for that one can make with Photoshop or Silver Effect Pro.

The image here is the result of my efforts today. It is of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse; a 30-second exposure taken after sunset. I like the color version; I really like the black and white version. And I think I could love the black and white version were I to go back and fix some of the defects that my earlier color processing caused that are only visible with the black and white conversion. It seems that black and white conversions, at least the way I like to make them, amplify mistakes in images. Sensor dust spots become more visible; halos from imprecise brush strokes are more obvious; etc. After my computer upgrade, I think I will come back to this image, start over fresh with the RAW file, fix those mistakes and process it specifically for black and white, and again try Silver Efex Pro. Until then I’ll enjoy this slightly flawed image and keep thinking of black and white.

Cape Disappointment Light

19 responses

  1. She_Who_Hears

    There is something nostalgic about a black and white photo.

    March 22, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    • Yes, there certainly is. But then, perhaps I’m just showing my age by talking about having a wet darkroom. That is something many photographers these days have no experience with.

      March 23, 2014 at 8:26 am

      • She_Who_Hears

        I remember doing it at school. I never got the hang of it. I wonder what that photography class is like now it’s all digital.

        March 23, 2014 at 3:49 pm

  2. perspectivethink

    I was talking to someone recently about all of my old darkroom stuff: I used Ilford for practically everything. It was inexpensive and (as far as papers went) it was comparable to the “higher” end papers. I used Lustre for the finish because it was what pleased me. Black and white photography was my joy. I pushed film ALL THE TIME and even went so far as to buy 3200 film because I wanted to see how grainy I could get! I enjoyed using my enlarger filters (also by Ilford), dodging and burning was my tool because (as our instructor told us), it was what Ansel Adams did. Those were the days. I’m glad you found a love for black and white photography. I hope you make some place for it in your portfolio.

    March 22, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    • It does have a small place now, I just want to make it bigger. I also used Ilford paper. I had their filters as well, but rarely used them since I had a color head on my enlarger. I especially liked the variable contrast paper, because unlike Ansel Adams, I was never quite sure exactly how I’d print a particular negative.

      March 23, 2014 at 8:29 am

  3. Hi Joe, for me colors vs black&white is still a dilemma, especially for landscapes and nature. Anyway, I’ve been using Silver Effects Pro for one year at least and made several comparison with lightroom’s bw tools. I have to say that, in my opinion, there’s no game, Silver Pro is much more effective and the final result is much more satisfying to me. Hoping not to bother you, here is a sample of photos taken from my bw blog where you can find some application of this amazing software. I hope you like them.

    March 23, 2014 at 7:09 am

    • Thanks for your input. I think I will really like Silver Efex when I finally get it working on the computer. I did look at your black and white shots by the way. They are quite wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

      March 23, 2014 at 8:34 am

  4. Sorry, Joe, the correct name of my app is Silver efex pro. My little mistake.

    March 23, 2014 at 7:13 am

    • My mistake too, it is Silver Efex Pro (now correctly spelled above). I knew that too, somehow my fingers just typed the wrong thing!

      March 23, 2014 at 8:24 am

  5. lifelifedeathdeath


    March 23, 2014 at 8:29 pm

  6. Ernie Misner

    Hi Joe! Thanks for the thoughtful input on your b&w journey. It reminds me so much of my first darkroom that was in my bathtub back in the ’60’s, shooting tri-X, and learning how to load the film processing cans in the dark! A very nice image you have here, and such dedication, 30 sec… I am looking for a black, black somewhere (Ansel thought that was important anyway) to anchor my visiion. It might be improved ever so slightly if the black point were set at very low opacity. Your nice rendition is probably more true to the original though. Thanks so much for sharing. I am in Lakewood, Oakbrook area right behiind the Albertsons’s store. We definitely should get together! My flickr page:

    March 25, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    • Hi Ernie, Indeed, the image does have a black, black, at least according to the histogram. Perhaps when exporting to a jpeg for the web, that zone is made less black? On most of my images, color as well as black and white, I try to get a black, black as well as a white, white – ie covering all Ansel’s zones. Setting black and white points is one the first things I do in my digital workflow. I spent a few minutes looking at your flickr site – some very nice work there. I’d like to talk to you about your processing of images sometime. Thanks for commenting, and you are right, we should get together sometime.

      March 26, 2014 at 11:51 am

      • Ernie Misner

        You are so right Joe, I do see some black blacks especially in the bottom left area. It will be fun to see more of your b&w work in the future too. Where in Tacoma are you located? Send me an email (Ernie Misner if you would like to chat about the processing for now. Thanks for the reply, blessings – Ernie

        March 26, 2014 at 11:17 pm

  7. Ernie Misner

    PS – do you have a web page going? Flickr is still free and they have it working well. Tons of traffic there too.

    March 26, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    • Hi Ernie – yes I do have a website ( and a Flckr site as well, though I haven’t keep the Flickr site current and don’t update my website that often. I have been concentrating on the blog.

      March 30, 2014 at 8:48 pm

      • Ernie Misner

        Hi Joe, your web page looks great. Lots of nice fine art and professional portraits there! You have a keen eye. I viewed it using three different browsers on my 27″ NEC monitor. The images did not open too large for some reason; don’t know if it’s your resolution or what. I enjoyed the portraits as well. The dog (who was not watching the dancer) is an Australian Cattle Dog. They are part dingo, wild, and smart as can be. I had two of them. You have a great variety of work there and it should be selling. I am retired now, just shooting for fun mostly, and do enjoy that. Thanks for the link. Check out my new mountain picture taken from just north of Buckley. If you have not seen this location you must; it is spectacular.

        March 30, 2014 at 9:23 pm

      • Great shot of Rainier, Ernie. And thanks for your kind comments on my website photos. I do sell a few, but very few unfortunately. They don’t open large because I limit the resolution so they are less usable if used without permission (which has happened more than once). Also, when I started the website, most people still had relatively small monitors (not like your 27-incher).

        April 2, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      • Ernie Misner

        PS – your blog information is superb. It is good to see how generous with your knowledge, and that is definitely refreshing. I am just beginning to get a handle on your overall mastery of photography!

        March 30, 2014 at 10:03 pm

  8. Pingback: Back in the Saddle | joebeckerphoto

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