There is something incredible about a good black and white photo, and these photos have a universal appeal. Not every photo will be suited to a black and white conversion but those that are suited can work really well. The important thing to note with Black and White photos is that; although there is clearly an absence of color, black and white photos can be highly complex and are far more than just taking a photo and removing any color saturation to convert to Black & White. That said, there are a range of tools that can help you create Black and White Images but in this post I am discussing Silver Efex.
Black and white images can be captured many ways; they can be captured direct from most digital camera(s) in monochrome / black and white mode however, in this article I generally recommend capturing the image in color and conducting a conversion later on using a tool, in this case Silver Efex as this offers the greatest amount of flexibility.
Unfortunately, There is not a formula for which photos will suit black and white conversion however, generally speaking if your photo has strong colors which add appeal to the photo then this may not be suited for conversion (e.g. A colorful sunset). When considering which photos to use, you should consider that one of the impacts of the black and white conversion is that of course you are removing any of the colors that a photo might lean on, so it is important that your images have other strengths to draw appeal. This can be emotion, lighting, the subject matter or composition.
Once you have your image for conversion you want to look at creating an image that has soul. This is where Silver Efex comes in, this tool is a dedicated black and white plugin which assists in conversion by offering a range of presets (around 50), but also offering a huge range of flexibility through the manual adjustment tools and the powerful algorithms that can recreate classic black and white film looks and incredible monochrome images.
I was lucky enough to come across an Echidna wandering through some gardens recently, and thought this might be a good example to demonstrate de-saturation vs black and white conversion. This image was captured with a Nikon D610 and a Tamron 150-600mm lens. The first image (Image 1) is the echidna which was edited in lightroom however, I simply de-saturated the colors and exported.
In the second image (Image 2) I took the color image from Lightroom and edited this in Silver Efex Pro 2 (part of the Nik Collection 3), I used one of the presets within the Silver Efex Pro 2 package, and then used the U-Point technology to darken the background, and to lighten up the face of the animal (to direct attention towards the face).
Images are below;
Image 1: An echidna which has been edited in Lightroom, in this image I simply de-saturated the colors rather than doing a proper Black and White Conversion (Image 2) to show that Black and White Images are far more than just De-saturation or an absence of color.
Image 2: Same image of the Echidna but instead of De-saturating the colors I edited this one using a dedicated conversion plugin (Silver Efex Pro 2) through one of the presets and then darkening the background a little bit more to bring focus onto the face of the echidna.
Whilst this may not be the best image for an example, it does show that whilst the first image is black and white, it does not have the punch or soul that the second image has which is because as I mentioned black and white is much more than just removing colors. The second image which was edited using a dedicated black and white conversion plugin improves contrast, has a much greater level of tonality, and in my opinion is a more appealing image than the first.