Exercise 16: Strength of Interpretation

The objective of this exercise is to explore the idea of pushing the tonal range of black and white compared to a colour images. Removing colour elements and rebuilding reality, just with grey tones can be really creative. For this, one needs to understand the tonal range of the scene. As per the exercise, I am required to treat 2 sets of images with two different processes.

  • Making strong increase to the contrast (S-curve)
  • Low key or High key treatment

I plan to try both low key and high key versions; hence there will be 3 sets of processing for me. I have selected 2 images from my archives to complete this exercise. First I made virtual copies for both the images so that I can give desired treatment to the images and later compare them.

  • Making strong increase to the contrast (S-curve)

For this, I have selected a portrait of a mother and a child that I had captured on my visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand. This image was taken around 4 in the evening. With the sun low in the sky and a golden reflector reflecting the light on the subject, the portrait is well lit.

Original image details
  • Exposure: 1/80 sec @ f/10
  • EV 1/3
  • ISO: 800
  • Focal Length: 105mm


After correcting the white balance, I tweaked the “Tone Curves”. Even at this size the image looks highly processed, at many places there is loss of detail in the highlight and shadows. When viewed at 100%, the image looked totally unusable. The cheeks (already crack due to lack of protection form the weather) looked burned after the curves adjustment.


I applied the same value to B & W version of the mother and child portrait. Now both the versions (colour and B&W) have exactly the same S-curves. The B & W version also has some blown out highlights and loss of details in the shadows. However, I actually like the B & W version and would not discard it straight away. It looks more appealing in comparison below.

EX-16-color-scurve.jpg EX-16-BnW-scurve.jpg
  •  Low Key and High Key treatment

I have selected an image shot in New Zealand for this purpose. I am going to use the same image to see the high key and the low-key treatments. I have followed the same basic process of making virtual copies and correcting the white balance.

Original image details
  • Exposure: 1/4000 sec @ f/9
  • EV -1
  • ISO: 1250 (forgot to check the ISO, surely did not need it to be so high)
  • Focal Length: 36mm

a. High key colour:


In the original image, the histogram shows minor underexposing. In the above screen shot, one can see that I have pushed the levels to the right hand side to achieve the high key feel. For this, I adjusted the exposure to +0.80. I also shifted the brightness slider to +138.


In colored the high key version looks washed out and has lost details in many places where as the black and white version has retained more details and look more pleasing to the eyes.

b. Low key:

EX-16-colour-lowkey.jpg EX-16-BnW-lowkey.jpg

In “Low key” treatment in the both the versions, there is a significant loss of details in the bush areas. At the same time, the B & W version has retained the details in the clouds beautifully and adds a dramatic effect to the scene.


It is true that B & W has more tonal range to play with. Here in all the above examples, I realized that I got more flexibility with black and white compared to the colour images. Distortions in tones for the colour images started to appear much faster. In a situation when there is no option of retrieving tonal range of a colour image, it probably makes sense to convert it to a black and white and salvage the situation. However, to me if is more of an artistic decision than the technical one. I do see a creative opportunity in the grey tones and would like to explore the subject much more.

At times, I try showing the experimental black and white images to my friends and family. Most of the times reactions to the colour images are more exciting, though the awareness of the black and white images is gradually increasing. I see that in general the mass is more reactive towards the colour images. After these readings I start wondering what is more marketable:

A unique “Black and white” style?


A style with colours? That is common but highly popular.


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