When I posted my recommended reading article about Ming Thein’s review of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, I got a comment from Bill Beebe about those super black colours in Ming’s photographs. I replied to Bill, but I thought that is worth an extra article maybe.
So, yes, I also am amazed each time I see some of Ming’s photos, and ‘favourited’ several of them on Flickr, like this one, or that one. I even asked him how he does get those blacks, and he kindly answered directly in his own Flickr stream, right on that first photo where I linked to above. He got me curious of course, so I wanted to try his recommendations.
I had taken a test shot of Zuleikha lately, where she holds my gray card in a way that you see all three of these cards – the white, the gray, and also the black one. So this time during my usual work flow, I tried Ming’s recommendation and set the white balance in post onto that black instead of the gray card. The result: a bit less red, a bit more yellow – these were my first impressions. But I wanted to get close to his blacks, so I didn’t care about that for the moment.
I knew that to get close to Ming’s results, I had to increase contrast, saturation, and the blacks, so this is what I did in RawTherapee:
For some photos, I have to increase both contrast and saturation even a bit more (like +15 and +10), and the blacks are three clicks higher than what “Auto Levels” would give me, with each click resulting in an increase of +50. The over- and underexposure warnings, should you have them turned on, should now show an almost completely “underexposed” (= black) black card. But that is what we wanted here, right? We wanted those blacks to be real black.
A quick check on the left side of the normal RawTherapee screen confirms that. If you “mouse over” that black card, this is what the levels are on it:
Luminance, and both a and b curves are a solid zero (and please don’t ask me about those RGB +3 values or the value (in the middle) of 3 – I have no idea. Maybe you can tell me that?)
If you hold the mouse over the gray card instead, you see that it’s gray (both a and b curves are zero), while the luminance is exactly in the middle (50). Again, RGB shows both a slight underexposure, and some differences in the colours. These values change a lot when moving the mouse over different spots of that gray card, must be the results of a different reflection on a not really flat surface (because in real life, that probably doesn’t exist).
So that way of working gives me an image like this:
Or, when converted to black & white in a quick & dirty way with just moving the saturation slider (the one in LAB mode) all the way left to -100, it gives me this:
Not perfect, but closer. It’s always a question with which images you can do that – the picture above was a bad example, because you normally don’t do this to young and pretty females. I think this one was actually quite good in black & white as it is:
Ming is a nice guy who answers questions fast if you should have some. And he even wrote an article about black & white conversion not so long ago. If you go there, you’ll see at once what Bill and I mean: his blacks are vastly superior to anything I could produce, and so I consider him a real master (an artist anyway; his photographic work is fantastic).
Maybe I should save some money, and next time I’m in Malaysia, I should go and visit one of his classes. At least I would learn from one of the best.