I was photographing a wedding for a friend. She picked June because it’s typically a nice sunny month in Seattle. Unfortunately, the Sun didn’t get the memo and was in hiding. The outdoor lighting was terrible. I had all my strobes set up in the church and was outside taking a break when I spotted this cute little ring bearer. I knew the light sucked, but made the shot anyway and came away with the first image.

Great pose – great look on his face – terrible light. Here comes Photoshop to the rescue.

I imported the RAW file into Photoshop and quickly realized I had little to work with, so I decided to make the image a black and white photo. I used the Channel Mixer to create a monochrome image on a layer. Channel Mixer gives you far more control over your image than simply converting via IMAGE > MODE > GRAYSCALE. After a bit of tweaking – the image came out greatly improved. See picture two.

But it was still missing something that made it sing. Aha! I made the correction on a layer so I simply grabbed the eraser and erased the top layer over the boy’s boutonnière. ( I just did it freehand – no need to make a fancy mask or selections.)

The final result is the last image.

The ultimate judge as to whether or not this little exercise was successful was the bride. Fortunately, she loved it. She paid it the ultimate compliment by crying when she first saw it. The boy was her little brother. She said it was her favorite picture of him of all time. What’s better still, even though I’d offered to shoot the wedding as my gift to the couple, she demanded that I accept my usual rate for more than a dozen enlargements of this one image.

The lesson is simple. Don’t be too quick to throw away that so-so photo. If the pose and expression are good, you may still have a money maker.

Join the conversation! 30 Comments

  1. I love this three-photo progression of how one so-so, “I hate this, blech!” type photo for the photographer can still be made to stand out and make the viewer new to the photo really love it. I have noticed that so often those moments of time where I take a shot just to grab the action at hand or some unique view of things is often the type of shot that says more to someone viewing my photos than when I’m working with the photo and trying to get all the technical details “fixed.” The flaws somehow fade away if it’s still a compositionally decent or memorable photograph.

  2. I like the old slective colour once in a while. Definitely B&W saves the day every time with bad light. I got called to cover a ballet show last Friday, “when is it?” “Now. Our photographer has let us down”. I got there and long story short, I had no setup time, portraits on stage, group shots and then show shots all using available light…. Mixed light, colour casts all sorts of stuff going on. Some look great in colour but there are a fair few that I’ll only offer in B&W. The more I look at it the more I like your shot here.

  3. Great result. It’s a trick I use all the time when a shot has the basics, but needs something extra to save it from the Recycle Bin. As well for photos shot in poor light, I find it useful for photos shot with a poor camera, or by a poor photographer! Too much noise or poorly exposed – Photoshop can rescue it. I ended up with a pleasing (to me anyway) photo yesterday by retaining the one spot of colour, turning up the contrast and tuning the brightness a little. Took just a few seconds.
    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2001/2429602604_8f53df26fb_b.jpg

  4. Scott,
    Why do you say that this image is “not-so-good”? Is it the shadowless face? I don’t think it has much wow, but I would say that it is quite nice. I know many people (non photographers) who prefer the even lighting of an overcast day.

    Now I do like number 3 much better, even though it reminds me a bit a greeting card.

    Merely trying to get a professional take on it because I make alot of images like number one.

    Jeff

  5. Jeff the first image is flat – lacks contrast – lacks pop and is just not all that inspiring – when you shoot in good light most of the time – and I do – then you get to learn the difference. It’s all about the light. I was at this same location a week later 90 minutes before sunset and everything came alive.

    I am glad you like it – but for me, it’s not up to my standards and hence – the workaround.

  6. Scott,
    I agree with Jeff. I don’t think a handsome little chap like that could make a bad picture. Although I love #3, I was sold at #1. There is something about that smile that capture that moment.
    SHAZ.

  7. Scott,
    I agree with Jeff. I don’t think a handsome little chap like that could make a bad picture. Although I love #3, I was sold at #1. There is something about that smile that capture that moment.
    SHAZ.

  8. Great shot, Scott. [m]

  9. Great shot, Scott. [m]

  10. Cool, I didn’t know people still used selective colour, thought that went out in the late 90s. Bringing it back I suppose.

  11. The grayscale pictures look a little too washed out of here on this laptop screen. For example, I think we’ve lost detail in the white elements like the bow tie, and I’m a little spooked by the white face. it probably comes out quite a bit different when printed.

  12. The grayscale pictures look a little too washed out of here on this laptop screen. For example, I think we’ve lost detail in the white elements like the bow tie, and I’m a little spooked by the white face. it probably comes out quite a bit different when printed.

  13. @ulrc there’s no way I can calibrate my images to look good on your screen – everyone see’s every image online differently – they look fine on my monitor – and remember they are merely low-quality jpegs. (This is why photo buyers almost always prefer to see an actual portfolio to judging images on a web site.)

    The point is not whether or not these pictures look perfect but that there are ways to improve poor shots. Thanks.

  14. I was definitely sold at #2. Instantly the boring ugly background became a less distracting and more beautiful backdrop. The highlight details on the shirt and tie look blown-out on my laptop, also, but I didn’t notice because of how great the face and eyes looked, which are the main focus of an portrait anyhow. Great tip!

  15. I was definitely sold at #2. Instantly the boring ugly background became a less distracting and more beautiful backdrop. The highlight details on the shirt and tie look blown-out on my laptop, also, but I didn’t notice because of how great the face and eyes looked, which are the main focus of an portrait anyhow. Great tip!

  16. I think the black and white images look fantastic. Scott, I am not all that familiar with the channel mixer. Two questions, 1) did you use the channel mixer to adjust the colors before switching to monochrome, or convert to monochrome then adjust, and 2) why do you prefer the channel mixer over the new black and white feature in CS3?

    Thanks!

  17. I think the black and white images look fantastic. Scott, I am not all that familiar with the channel mixer. Two questions, 1) did you use the channel mixer to adjust the colors before switching to monochrome, or convert to monochrome then adjust, and 2) why do you prefer the channel mixer over the new black and white feature in CS3?

    Thanks!

  18. Jeff when you convert to grayscale using the first method I described you throw away two thirds of the data. By clicking the monochrome box in the Channel Mixer you retain all the RGB data and you have complete control over where the contrast range lies. You can use the new B&W feature in CS3 but I am old and old habits die hard so I still use Channel Mixer since I have a series of formulas that work well with my images using Channel Mixer.

  19. Jeff when you convert to grayscale using the first method I described you throw away two thirds of the data. By clicking the monochrome box in the Channel Mixer you retain all the RGB data and you have complete control over where the contrast range lies. You can use the new B&W feature in CS3 but I am old and old habits die hard so I still use Channel Mixer since I have a series of formulas that work well with my images using Channel Mixer.

  20. Scott… any chance you could do a video or talk more on a future episode of TWIP about making nice B&W images from color shots? I’ve never been able to figure out how to make my B&W’s “POP” like one you did above.

  21. Scott… any chance you could do a video or talk more on a future episode of TWIP about making nice B&W images from color shots? I’ve never been able to figure out how to make my B&W’s “POP” like one you did above.

  22. Thanks for your reply Scott, that is helpful. I also second Derek’s suggestion about a video on making B&W images. Your “actions” video was excellent!

  23. Convert to grayscale is a blunt instrument. I like channel mixer for when I have plenty of time to play but if I’m batch processing I find lab mode gives me the best results (playing in CS2).

    image>mode>lab color
    In the layers box (bottom right corner of your screen) you have a channels tab, click it. You’ll see lab, lightness, a, b. Single click ‘a’ then click the dustbin at the bottom of the box to delete it. You’ll now have alpha 1, alpha 2. delete ‘alpha 2′.

    image>mode>grayscale
    image>mode>rgb
    …and you’re done. This is NOT a lossless process although if you only do it once to each image you won’t have any problems. I have it set as an action so I can batch process a whole photoshoot at a time.

    Hope that helps someone! Cheers.

  24. I will third Dereks’ suggestion.

  25. I will third Dereks’ suggestion.

  26. Ok folks I will work on a screencast this week on turning color photos to B&W. But back to the topic – making salable images from stuff you don’t love…

  27. Ok folks I will work on a screencast this week on turning color photos to B&W. But back to the topic – making salable images from stuff you don’t love…

  28. Thanks Scott… looking forward to it!

  29. Thanks Scott… looking forward to it!

  30. [...] understand what Photoshop can do, I started playing around with adjustment layers. Following a tutorial on the “This Week in Photography” blog, I sort of figured out how to create a black and [...]

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