One of my favorite added benefits of shooting in RAW format is the ability to set my camera to Black and White and still have the color information preserved. To do this, all I do (on my Canon 20D) is pick the B/W Parameter setting. As long as I am working in RAW format, all I am really doing is “viewing” the picture in B/W on the LCD screen. I’m actually still shooting in color.
This really helps me to visualize what the image would look like if I were shooting in B/W. It helps me to see the differences in tone, and allows me to “think” in black and white. Later, if I decide I really needed a color image, I still have the RAW file and all is well.
Both Aperture and Lightroom (and I suspect a number of other applications) handle the B/W images from my 20D in essentially the same way. When I begin to import the images I see the thumbnails in B/W. Then after a bit of processing time goes by, they all turn to color. I don’t know exactly what is happening here, because, well, I never cared to ask. But, I presume the RAW file’s built in thumbnail is coming up first in B/W, and then Aperture and Lightroom are processing their own thumbnails and ignoring the B/W setting.
To be honest, I’m totally fine with this behavior. If I really did want B/W, all I would need to do would be to change them back to B/W in Aperture or Lightroom. This is where things begin to differ a little in the two apps.
In Aperture, I can convert an image to B/W in a number of ways. There is no obvious “Turn me to B/W” button that I know of, but I know from my experiences a number of easy ways to go grayscale. I can either turn my saturation down to zero, or I can select the Monochrome Mixer option (found in the + menu at the top of the Adjustments Inspector), or I could pick one of the B/W presets such as Sepia Tone. Once I have my first image set to B/W, I can use the Lift and Stamp tools to easily apply the setting to the whole shoot.
In Lightroom getting to this same point is a little more obvious. Select an image, click the Develop Module, and under Treatment, select Grayscale. Then, to apply this setting to the rest of the shoot, just hit Command-A to select the entire set, and hit Sync… at the bottom of the right hand Panel.
I’m going to stop here to make two observations. First, in Lightroom, when I click Grayscale, I get something very close to what I was looking at on the back of my camera. In Aperture, if I hit Monochrome Mixer, I get a pretty flat B/W image. Second, Aperture takes its good sweet time rendering the thumbnails back to B/W on my MacBook Pro. I’m not really sure why this is such an intensive process for Aperture, but it does take some time. What I notice in Lightroom is that there is a good deal of processing going on there as well, but LR seems to be just a little more graceful about it. When I scroll down in Grid View in LR, the color thumbs on the screen quickly convert back to B/W, whereas in Aperture it seems to be converting images with some unknown agenda. At first I thought it was going from the bottom up, but then it seemed to be processing them at random. I’m still not sure what is going on with that.
I told myself I wasn’t going to be doing any speed comparisons here, but I can’t help myself. LR is just faster in this regard, and for those of you who are wondering, I began the week with empty libraries for both Aperture and Lightroom and have added the same number of images to both libraries.
Okay, enough about speed. Lets move on to B/W processing. First I should say, I am not a real pro at making B/W conversions. I have been shown a thing or two by colleagues, and I have made a few B/W prints from digital files, but that’s about it. Color has pretty much dominated my work for the past few years. That said, I do love B/W and have been having a ball today, rediscovering how much fun it is.
So I began by importing an image set that I shot of a small party in my neighborhood into Lightroom. I shot the party with the B/W setting on my 20D (mostly for the fun of showing the pics on the LCD to the guests) and after the color versions showed up in LR I followed the steps to convert them back to B/W that I mentioned above. I also imported the same images into Aperture and applied the Monochrome Mixer to the set using the Lift and Stamp tools.
My goal here was to pick an image I liked and see what I could do with the various controls in B/W. Just like yesterday’s post, I am mostly interested in which program’s controls are more intuitive, and which seem to lead me down the path towards a nice image.
Lets begin with Aperture. First off, the picture I selected turned out to not be from the party at all, but instead a picture of our new puppy on our porch that I shot just before leaving for the party. What is interesting about this picture is that it was shot at ISO 800 for a half second. I just set the camera on the ground and hoped the puppy wouldn’t move too much. The second reason I thought this might make an interesting example is due to the fact that the lighting was all coming from a couple of overhead fluorescent tubes that had been covered in a green gel. So for all practical purposes, the light was already monochromatic. I don’t expect you will find yourselves in a similar situation anytime soon, but, one of the things I really like to work with is odd lighting, and I really enjoy trying to make the best out of a less than ideal circumstance. In fact it was the green lights that got me thinking in black and white to begin with.
In Aperture I have no trouble getting the image to a point where I am happy. I take advantage of the exposure, levels, and highlight and shadow sliders to make the image pop a little more than the original RAW shot. I also added some sharpness, and played around with the Monochrome Mixer. Because the lights were all green, the only slider that had any effect here was the green channel slider. So I bumped it up a little and it seemed to add a little brightness. I tried playing with the noise reduction sliders but I didn’t see too much of a difference, so I left them unchecked. I then cropped the picture a little and I was done.
In Lightroom I had a very similar experience. However, I did have some fun playing with the Curves tool. Also, I saw a fairly positive effect from the Noise reduction sliders.
Top image processed in Aperture, bottom in Lightroom.
After reviewing both shots I see that for whatever reason, I got a slightly (in my opinion) better result from Lightroom. Maybe it had to do with my working in full screen mode with nearly no surround vs. Lightoom where I had a gray surround and a couple of Panels open. I’m really not sure, but I do like the Lightroom version better. Could I replicate the Lightroom version in Aperture? I would think it would be no problem at all.
After I finished playing with the puppy picture I tried converting a color image of a horse to B/W (see the shot at the top of this post). I wanted to try out some of the color mixing capabilities. My results were good, but inconclusive. Both Lightroom and Aperture, in their own unique ways seemed to do the job. I was able to exaggerate the tones in the sky to mimic a red filter simply by adjusting the Blue channel in the color mixers. It seemed to work in both Aperture and Lightroom equally well.
So, that’s about it for tonight. It’s getting pretty late here in the Caribbean, so please excuse any grammar issues this time! Tomorrow, I am doing this restaurant shoot in the afternoon. It will probably involve some lighting setups for food shots, a few basic interior shots, and maybe some environmental portraits. I am just hoping they let me eat the food I shoot, and drink a couple of beers on the house.