This is certainly not a new topic for me but is certainly well worth revisiting. Black and White conversion is always a challenge because the image itself has to be captured in a way that supports that conversion. It’s not like every image looks good in black and white. So the question comes down to what does the image need to be a good black and white. The answer often falls down to the basic “what is the background and how does it affect the subject.”
This is a C47 that i photographed at Oshkosh this past July. It was at the end of the row of B25’s and DC3’s. That particular evening the clouds sucked to the east. They were just grey. To the West the clouds were pretty nice with god beams coming down. But I didn’t want a tail shot so i stuck with the nicely lit front and grey skies. This wasn’t a bad thing in the least. At least not for what i wanted to do. The C47 was a cargo plane, troop carrier and launching platform for paratroopers. There are a lot of historic shots of squadrons of C47’s flying dropping cargo or men. Well all of those great shots are Black and White so this was a great time, knowing what the background was, to shoot with that in mind.
With all this in mind i started shooting. Now with a grey sky, unless you are using flash, it will just be bright. It’s going to be this ugly grey yuck that doesn’t do anything except get darker or lighter in post. The only exposure therefore to achieve is that of the plane. In this particular case the sky had no valuable information to keep so letting it go didn’t matter to me. The information was all in the plane. The blacks and the whites were all there. Now obviously i played around with the angles, composition, and the amount of the plane to keep framed up. The whole time the idea of this being some European base was in the back of my mind. Knowing the subject, knowing its history is crucial.
One last important thing to bring up, is dust. Something i found out that might be useful to you is that when converting to black and white be careful that you got rid of all the dust because if you don’t it will show up. It is easy to miss a dot when working with the image in raw in color. As soon as it is changed it pops out. This can be a very frustrating thing to deal with, especially if you spent lots of time finishing the image in photoshop after going through your raw processor. It may sound like a, “No Duh” scenario but it is seen published more often then most realize. Spend that extra time finishing, it’s all worth it in the end.
Images captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 200-400 Vr, AF-S 70-300 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film