I’d often wondered how people did those black and white photographs with ONE item in color.  Last night, I found out just how easy it is …

Lamp Layer We were having breakfast … OK it was 1:00 pm Sunday, but it was still breakfast … at The Galley, which has become pretty much our favorite breakfast place, with David Gano, Tom Wilson, and John  Bryan.  I’d noticed on David’s Flickr photo stream that he’d started showing some photos with this effect, so I asked him how he’d done it.

Turns out it’s not as difficult as one might think.

If your photo editing software supports layering, you simply create a black and white layer and paste it over the color layer.  Now you’re basically working with two photographs.

Using the erase tool, just erase the black and white layer where you want the color to show through.

Jen Layer

I picked some shots I thought would be interesting to show off the effect … and that I liked.  I thought it was really interesting how much color there was in the “black” band uniform in this shot … and how little color where is in the “white” gloves.  If I’d have wanted to go overboard, I’d have let the brass of the sousaphones show through, but I think the impact of this effect is to only colorize one item  you want to highlight.  It might not always be the primary subject of the photograph …

Tounge Layer You might remember this young gent from our trip to Abaco this summer.  He and his mom were also friends of Brendals’ (but on the island, who isn’t), and he was only too pleased to mug for the camera.  I’m not sure what kind of a kiddie cocktail his mom had bought for him, but it turned his tongue as red as red gets.  That artificial “red dye #2” red that always makes you wonder what you might actually be eating or drinking.  But for the purposes of this exercise, it was the perfect highlight.  Bold, brassy, and yet innocent and very childlike.  The kind of thing you can only get away with when you’re 6, I suppose.

blfy layer

My final example comes from our Labor Day trip to North Carolina.  The butterflies working the thistles in the autumn sun were photogenic enough on their own, but when shown against a monochrome background, it becomes a very stark contrast.  The only think you lose here, and only because I sized the original down a tad too far, is the detail of things like the compound eyes that show up in the original.  I also did a little cropping on the photo I originally posted to Flickr back in September, but I wanted to leave a big more background here for the contrast with the color.

I’m not sure this could have been done back in the days of analog photography … developing film, sitting or standing in a small darkroom with the unmistakable aroma of chemical developers and fixers in the air.  I’ve logged a few hours in darkrooms, and I really, really like digital better.  I’d much rather manipulate my photos on my screen porch than in a darkroom.  But a brief discussion came up about whether it’s legitimate … a discussion that was cut short by the arrival of breakfast … er … lunch … whatever.  As a journalist, I’m opposed to the digital manipulation of any photograph that will be used as news, other than the same kind of cropping and contrast manipulation we used to have to do by “dodging” a print under the enlarger.  I don’t think colors or contrast should ever be used to change the feel of a photograph if it’s intended use is to illustrate a news story.  Show the reader or viewer what you’ve got.

But as art?  When it’s just fun stuff like this?  By all means, it’s a very legitimate technique for creating interesting, compelling work that a viewer will enjoy … or not … based on his or her preference.

I think it was fun, and something I’ll use again should the right subject arise.




Filed under Art, Black and White Photography, Layering, Photography, Thoughts

2 responses to “Layering

  1. kaseybartley

    Is it hard for you to be both journalist and artist? I was a journalism major for a while and, while I never fabricated the truth, I found it really difficult to not describe beautiful or interesting things around me when I wrote. I’ve been told that’s a bad thing since it just adds to your word count and makes your story more likely to hit the bin.

  2. tcpatton

    Kasey, I don’t find it particularly difficult to be both, though I think I’m a better journalist than artist.
    I primarily wrote for broadcast, which by its nature is short and to the point, at least in spot news. But I was also in PUBLIC radio, and in that was encouraged to take the time to set the scene for a listener that was unable to see what I saw at a story. Editors will always cut your story, but I honestly didn’t (don’t) have a lot of problem switching back and forth between the two. My art, such as it is, is a hobby … journalism has been my life, and one I hope I can get back too. Thanks for commenting.

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