Focusing on the best years of your life: high school, college, career, and (of course) family.

Why does my black & white picture look different than my photographer’s?

A few times a year I offer Holiday mini sessions which are shorter in length than a regular session but include the option to receive a 3 or 4 digital files for download (often used for holiday cards).  Since I normally include several black and white portraits in addition to the color portraits this brings up a very common question:  “Should we just order the color version of the photo and convert it to black/white ourselves?”.  I understand why this question is common – clients want to receive the greatest variety of photographs without purchasing extra files.  Here is my warning to them, as well as to all of you about making your own black & white photos:  Don’t do it.  It won’t look the same.

Here is why.  This is an example of a beautiful family portrait from this year’s mini sessions:

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and here is the black and white version of the same portrait that I included with their gallery:

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Finally, here is what it would look like if you ran the same color picture (above) through a typical editing program like Picasa:

Why do they look so different?  Well what is the difference between a store bought Hostess ( too soon?)  and a homemade cupcake?  Picasa and other 3rd party photo editing programs cater to the masses.  Pictures of birthday parties, prom dates, and Snuggles the Cat all get the same treatment.  By making their magic “black and white effect” perform the same action for every picture, you’ll get a predictable result . . . a color picture with all of the color sucked out of it (or as some call it “desaturated”).  The result, as you can see looks a bit like gray newsprint.  Whites fade to gray, blacks fade to gray, vibrant colors . . . fade to gray.

By contrast (pun intended), my black and white portraits are hand edited in Photoshop.  Through a series of steps I create separate layers in the image, adjust the tone curves, tweak the color channels with a specific formula, increase or decrease contrast and brightness to taste, and (if needed) increase the sharpness.  The result?  A custom piece of art.

So if you’re deciding between the black and white photo you love or just getting the color version and converting it yourself – know that there is much more to making a black and white portrait than clicking a single button.

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About My Friend Teresa

Teresa Porter

My Friend Teresa Studios is a boutique portrait studio in Cary, NC specializing in high school, teen, family and child photography that shows everyone from the camera-shy to the goof-ball at their best. Principle photographer, Teresa, has been recognized by Rolling Stone Magazine and published on The Huffington Post.

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