I’ve been experimenting with architectural photography and converting the images to monochrome lately.
But before I go further, I just want to clarify the term monochrome versus black and white. Why did I call it monochrome instead of black and white?
If you look up the definition, monochrome is the different shades of the same colour. This can be different shades of grey or different shades of, for example, blue.
Black and white, on the other hand, is pretty much self-explanatory.
Technically, both terms are separate entity. However, photographers have often used them interchangeably. I chose the term monochrome simply because it sounds sleeker. 🙂
I have put both black and white (left) and monochrome (right) image side by side for comparison. As you can see, both look almost identical. If you take the image on the right and click the shadows with a colour picker in Photoshop, you’ll find that it’s actually dark blue.
The Beauty of Monochromatic Images
I’m sure every photographer, be it beginner or professional, has done monochromatic images before.
I did some in the past but wasn’t entirely happy with the result. The images were convert from colour to monochrome in Adobe Photoshop using the black and white adjustment tool.
Looking back at these images, I realised something.
There was no subject, no main focus and no purpose.
Yes, no purpose.
It did not have a theme. You couldn’t find a subject for your eyes to cling on. The composition was too busy.
I didn’t understand how to create monochromatic photography back then.
Have A Main Subject
After doing a lot of reading and studying other photographers’ work, I found that a good monochromatic image has several characteristics.
The composition is simple, there is a subject, which is the story or the purpose of the image and the use of light to direct attention.
Forget about including every single object you see into the frame. Once you’ve converted it to monochrome, a busy image may ended up looking cluttered and uninteresting.
Sometimes, less is more.
Instead, try to see the scene differently. I find knowing which image you’re going to convert to monochrome even before shooting helps a lot in post-processing to create something meaningful. A carefully planned image will definitely paid off in the end.
The Roof of Armadillo
The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC), one of the most iconic buildings in Glasgow and Scotland.
I walked around and closer to it after I’ve taken this shot. The shape of the roof and how the structure is built have always amazed me. I had to take a good look at it as I didn’t know when I’ll be back in Glasgow again.
My initial plan was to take an image head on in front of the building with my lens tiled up towards the sky. I used this technique to shoot the Leeds Broadcasting Tower. After a few test shot, I didn’t like how it looked so I abandoned the plan and kept walking around to find another angle.
It was about 8am in the morning and the sun was already bright in the sky. The roof of the Armadillo looked bright as it was reflecting off the sunlight. Weather was windy with the clouds moving against a blue sky.
I thought this was a good opportunity. If I could darken the sky in post-processing and leave the roof bright, I could create focus on the architecture of the structure. The moving clouds were a bonus.
Eventually, I found a spot on the side of the Armadillo with the sunlight coming from my right. The clouds were moving diagonally from the left and this could form an interesting pattern with the structure of the roof.
I setup my tripod, framed my shot and took a couple of long exposure images. I also did exposure bracketing in case I need it but didn’t use it in the end.
I mentioned earlier in addition to the long exposure image, I’ve also taken 3 bracketed exposures. I didn’t need to use these images because the tonal values were mainly midtones.
Histogram is the tool I used to decide if I need more than one exposure. This helps me to capture the whole dynamic range of the scene and merge them together in post-processing later on. Click on the links to learn more if you’re not familiar with using your camera’s histogram.
The image straight out of camera was good enough by itself. For that reason, there wasn’t a lot to be done in post-processing.
Here are my post-processing steps in Photoshop and Lightroom:
- Removed chromatic aberration and lens profile correction in Lightroom.
- Opened up image in Photoshop from Lightroom.
- Applied motion blur filter and gaussian blur filter to accentuate the long exposure effect for the clouds.
- Colour balance adjustment layer to remove the colour cast, especially the magenta on the corners of the image (I’ll explain that more below).
- Adobe camera raw filter to increase the temperature and vibrance a little.
- Converted it to monochrome by creating 2 pixel layers with the TK Infinity Masks and blend both together.
- Added vignette using the Darken/Lighten Centre in Colour Efex Pro.
- Saved the image back to Lightroom.
- Applied sharpening.
- Applied 2 radial filters to accentuate the light in the middle.
TK Infinity Mask
One of the features of TK Infinity Mask is to create a pixel layer based on the selection you create with the tool. Tony Kuyper has explained this in detail is his post here.
If you remember, I mentioned at the beginning that I wanted to make the sky dark and the structure bright. To achieve this effect, I created a pixel layer targeting the structure and the other one targeting the sky. This was then blended together using layer mask.
Light leak was still a main issue. Despite taping all the sides of the filter holder with a black tape, you could see a tinge of magenta on the corners of the image. And yes, I did cover the viewfinder 🙂
It may be that I need to get a more robust 100mm filter holder. The one I have at the moment was bought off eBay and it’s made of plastic.
Also, Formatt-Hitech has recently released Firecrest 100mm Filter Kit, which suppose to have a complete seal from light leak. I’m really interested and hoping to get it in the near future.
Overall, I like the result of this image as it really created the focus and attention on the geometry of the structure.
On a different note, I’ve decided to write a post on every image I post on my Flickr site, detailing the story behind and how I created them. I plan to get these up every Monday or Tuesday depending on my schedule.
For more tutorials on blending, please check out the exposure blending resource page!