Converting colour images to monochrome can be a relatively straightforward process, if you want it to be, and if you’re happy with ‘neutral’ looking, technical results. Or, you can use it as a vehicle for your own creative interpretation (which is probably why you’re working in black and white to begin with).
One-click image desaturation usually produces bland results. Compare the original colour image, the ‘before’ (below) with the basic desaturation carried out in Lightroom. While the strong contrast in the original colour image has carried over, the monochrome ‘after’ (below) still feels ‘grey’ overall, and lacks as much punch as it could have:
You can direct the viewer’s attention by bringing out or toning down areas of an image. In the ‘after’ image (below), the basic image desaturation (‘before’) has been boosted with more intense blacks in the foliage, and lighter whites of the building. This helps to focus on the Pavilion, and increase the sense of drama:
Visual communication is about building a controlled aesthetic balance, usually to create something that is visually dynamic. This means that the viewer’s attention is forced to move around the picture without allowing it to rest and get bored.
Deepening the blacks has increased drama in the Brighton Pavilion image, but lost some of that dynamic energy. The shadow detail has gone, making the picture look flat.
In the ‘before’ version below the whole tone has been lifted, bringing back life into the surrounding plants and giving the building a light, ethereal quality. It communicates a different message. The ‘after’ shot is a compromise incorporating drama and shadow detail. There’s no absolute right or wrong, it’s a question of interpretation; the tone you wish to convey.
And finally, in the ‘before’ (below) an image with increased colour saturation gets compared to an ‘after’ version that combines the original colour photo with the final monochrome image (from above).
The merged colour / monochrome offers the instant appeal of colour, with the tonal subtlty of monochrome. Although the muted colours might not provide the aesthetic ‘answer’, it does nonetheless provide an interesting alternative to the oversaturated candy colours of the ‘before’ image:
The great thing about working in monochrome is that black and white offers so much scope for creative freedom, controlling what you want to say – where you want the emphasis.