Monday, June 25, 2012

Classic B&W Portraits without Photoshop

Also in this issue:
  • Guess who's on the cover?
  • Colorado and London, here we come!
  • MyPublisher Books
  • Least likely place to license an image

Classic B&W without Photoshop

Once upon a time, back in the 1940’s, there was a “classic” way to shoot black-and-white portraits.  The Caucasian face was almost a pure white, like these pictures of Gretta Garbo and Shirley MacLaine above.  To get this effect, the photographer would shoot B&W film and place a red filter over the lens, light the subject well, and overexpose a tad.  (And of course makeup helped complete the look.)

You can’t get that look just by shooting in color and “desaturating” the image in Photoshop – the face will come out grey and look much less impressive.  Instead you have to use a Photoshop function called the “channel mixer”, where you can choose which original colors get highlighted in the conversion to B&W.  Below are some examples of color portraits converted to B&W by desaturation, and then by the Channel Mixer method.  Which conversion do you like better?  (Click on any photo to make it bigger.)

(And for those of you who want the detail, these are the settings I used on the IMAGE --> ADJUSTMENTS --> CHANNEL MIXER... control.  The settings will vary somewhat depending upon the image):

But is it possible to get the same effect in your camera, without needing to use Photoshop? 

Your digital camera has a B&W mode built-in.  It also has a means of changing the white balance, which actually DOES affect how the B&W image is rendered in-camera.  The more redder the white balance, the closer to this glamor portrait ideal you can get.  How much of a difference can it make?

In order to do these tests, I printed out the original picture and then took a picture of the printout in B&W using various white balance settings.  The closest I was able to get to approximating this effect in B&W mode was to manually set the white balance to 9900K and then add as much amber and magenta as I could (“M7 A7” in the newest generation of cameras).

Another option you have is to go find a red filter and place it in front of your camera in B&W mode.  Then use Exposure compensation to brighten the face until it looks the way you want and shoot. 

(Canon DSLRs for years gave you the ability to dial in different colored filters while in B&W mode to achieve this very kind of effect.  Us Sony folks have to settle for a white balance tweak.) (Of course before now I'm sure you never saw this as a problem... :-) )

Guess who’s on the cover?

Ever since my book on the A700, there has always been the face of a family member gracing the cover of my books.  I’ve run the gamut – my wife, the kids, my Mom, nieces, brother, sister-in-law, and even a friend from college.  (Never me.  Partly because I would think that it’s too much an exercise in conceit, and partly because I can’t roll my eyes that high.)

For the new NEX-7 book (which was released last week), I managed to land a special guest star – David Kilpatrick, legendary journalist, photographer, digital printing pioneer, editor of a dozen magazines (including Photoworld and Master Photographer), head of the Minolta Club of Great Britain since the 1960’s, founder of (at one time the 3rd most popular photo site on the internet), folk musician, runner of, and founder of an exciting upcoming project that I can’t talk about yet. 

David and his wife Shirley were visiting California (his first time) and they stopped by for some crumpets and coffee so we could finally meet.  We talked about a lot of things, and just before they left I said, “One more thing!” and dragged him up to the studio to shoot the cover.  He seemed to enjoy it, even though he demonstrated an unwarranted amount of self-depreciating humor when he talked about it on his website:

Anyway, there he is.  And the NEX-7 ebook is ready now, too, at long last!

The A37 / A57 book is next, on which Tony Phillips is helping me out.  Then the book on the NEX F3 / F5 begins.  Let me know if you want to be notified when these are ready.  Sony's coming out with cameras faster than I can write about them.  A good problem to have.

Colorado and London, Here We Come!

I fill my books with technical insights into all the features because, well, that’s what readers want.  But it’s a mistake to think that mastering the technical side of your camera is the key to getting “Wow!”-type images.  It turns out that something else is at play – something that’s so important that if you knew the secrets you’d be able to take great pictures regardless of the kind of camera you have.

Fortunately, when I put together my traveling seminars I had the freedom to structure them according to what I felt was important.  And that’s why I spend half of the seminar – the entire first day – talking about light and composition.  (Things that nobody seems to talk about any more.)  Based on the feedback we’ve received from attendees all over the world, it was a good choice.  So many report back to me saying how much better their pictures had become, seemingly overnight.  (Others tell me that they finally understand some of the fundamentals intuitively.)  There’s nothing more gratifying than hearing that from your students!

To keep a balanced life we now only do four seminars a year, and the two remaining for 2012 are:

1)    Durango, Colorado (south of where the fires currently are) (hosted by the Durango Photo Club) – July 14-15 for the seminar, and July 21-22 for the field workshop.  More info at

2)    (Drum roll, please) LONDON is finally open for registration!

Come join the fun!

I have had no time to plan for 2013, other than the vague goal of hitting a few cities in Australia and New Zealand.  The other slots are open, so if you are a member of a photo club have them contact me to learn how to get the Friedman Archives High-Impact Photography Seminars to your area!

MyPublisher Books

There are many companies producing print-on-demand photo books.  One of my favorites is  Yeah, they’re expensive, but the books look and feel like they came from an high-end publishing house (and not just a color Xerox process like many of the cheaper ones) and I’ve never seen a print-on-demand photo book of higher quality.  The photos from every family vacation we take ends up as a MyPublisher book.  You can browse my latest photo book here (I felt we should have a proper coffee table photo book on our coffee table):

The reason I bring this up is that you should never pay full price for these books.  Get on their mailing list (create an account, or just hit the “Special Offers” box on their website) and wait for the right deal to come along.  They’re always running some kind of promotion, giving you 50% (usually) or even up to 70% off in some cases.  Carol always has a book finished and ready to go, waiting for one of their deals to come along.  Highly recommended.

Least likely place to license an image

This shot of a dreary hallway I took while in China was used in a music video:  You can see it through the door at 3:45 and 3:48.  If you blink you miss it.  :-)

Until next time...

Yours Truly, Gary Friedman


  1. I think you will find that the correct term is "self-deprecating" rather than "self-depreciating" :-)

  2. I'd love to find out what the process was that arrived at your hallway picture being selected to appear composited into a music video. Of all the shots of hallways available, why that one?
    Also a good lesson that there are [generally speaking] no bad shots, only ones that you can't yet appreciate!

    1. I continue to be amazed at the lack of correlation between shots I like and the ones that get licensed. In this case the producers just did a google image search for "hallway" and mine came up. (This is how most people find my images.) -GF

  3. Thanks for the tip on Just curious if you have been satisfied with how the printed images look compared to the image on your (calibrated, of course) screen. Do you hard proof at all before committing to print?

    1. I had no expectation of color matching for anything but the most expensive services. (Clearly this doesn't fall into that category!) The images look amazingly close considering. MyPublisher doesn't offer proofs, so this company may not be for you.


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