Dramatic B&W Photos

Create dramatic dark skies with simple tools

In black and white photography it is all about the light, shapes and lines. Such images offer a totally different appeal from their color photo counterparts. Dramatic dark skies are a hallmark tool for stunning images. Here are some tips for getting the most from your color originals using simple tools.

Let me start with a demonstration.

Men of Steel

This delightful sculpture showing workers taking a break on a steel beam gleams in this photo. The dark sky and deep shadows bring life to this image.

It was derived from a rather ordinary color photo. The normal process is to use a color-filter conversion when making it into a B&W image. Pretty much all the photo editors provide such tools.

In PaintShop Pro you can pick the exact filter color from a color wheel as illustrated below. PaintShop Pro - Black & White Film tool

Similarly, Picasa has a “Filtered B&W” effect and the filter color is picked from a palette. Picasa - Filtered B&W


Windows Photo Gallery offers a selection of B&W effects with several filter colors. Windows Photo Gallery - Effects

With all of these tools the reddest filter does not provide that dramatically dark, almost black, sky for a normal blue sky in a photo. There is an added trick to achieve the deep dark sky: Adjust the color saturation to a very high level. The image below shows the results. The outside (left and right) portions show the normal photo with the normal result through a red filter.

The inside pair shows a deeply saturated sky and the the resulting dark black and white image.

Lunch break

One note of caution: The resulting black and white image will show a good deal of mottling in the formerly blue areas. A uniform sky will make this even more noticeable. So make the conversion in the largest image that you have. Make any size reductions afterwards to maintain a clean sky.

This post was also published at Photography Notes and Tips.


© 2013 Ludwig Keck


Color Temperature and White Balance

As I looked at the photos from a short walk in the park I realized that I had inadvertently illustrated a lesson on color temperature and white balance. Four of my snapshots are shown here.

CT WB-01We all know about color temperature. From the orange-y glow from a candle, the warm light of incandescent bulbs, the cool of fluorescents, the brilliant white of sunshine, to the steel-blue light in open shade under a blue sky outside. Us humans have no trouble at all recognizing a white sheet of paper as such under any of these lighting conditions. Modern cameras are clever enough  to automatically adjust to do the same – and they do a good job of it.

There are occasions when a camera might not get the automatic adjustment right on. I was photographing food items last week under warm incandescent lights. LK_000746-C-400I wanted to make sure that the “white balance” was good – that the white plates were indeed white in the photos, so I used the manual setting. D3100Mode-C2-400Most cameras have a group of manual settings in addition to a number of automatic modes. The manual settings are typically labeled M, A, S, P, for completely Manual, Shutter speed selected, Aperture selected, and a manually definable Program mode (shown in yellow in my illustration).

In the manual modes on most cameras a variety of settings can be specified, like white balance, and the camera will remember those settings. I had done this, as I mentioned, for my “food shoot”. So now to my afternoon walk.

With my camera either on AUTO, Camera-mode-AUTO, or “close up”, Camera-mode-CU, I can take photos without much fuss. The camera takes care of the work – including setting for color temperature. On this walk there were several scenes where I wanted more depth of field so I switched to “A”, aperture preferred, and set the lens to f/11. I did not notice that on the manual setting the camera remembered the white balance setting for “incandescent”. For that setting, since there is a lack of blue light coming from lamp bulbs, the camera multiplies the amount of the blue signal many times (and also the green to a lesser extent) in order to render white objects as white in the photo. Under daylight now, with plenty of blue light, resulting photos, were, let’s say, worthy of being called “cyanotypes”. Since the camera was still compensating the exposure there was precious little information in the reds.

imageThis much color temperature error was way more than most editors can handle. Lesser error are easily compensated for in imagePhoto Gallery.

Picasa has a neat eyedropper control that lets you pick an item in the photo that is supposed to be white, gray, or black, and and corrects the color temperature with a single click.

As for my beyond-correction photos – why, I just turned them into “art”!




© 2012 Ludwig Keck


More than a stitch

Assembling panoramas with Photo Gallery

There was a time when panoramic pictures were laboriously assembled with straightedges and knives and sticky tape. Then came photo editing software did not do much more than help you align the edges. But all that was long ago, it is amazing what today’s tools can do. The one I reach for first is Photo Gallery. It is impressive to see how well it works.

There is a favorite barn that I like photographing under various light and in different seasons. Walking by recently, I thought I would see how wide a picture I can get with my smartphone. The 24mm equivalent wide angle was not wide enough. So I also took a shot toward each end. Before I show you my originals, here is the uncropped result from Photo Gallery.


Photo Gallery warps the images, matches and blends them together. For those who are interested in the math and science, here is some if the metadata Photo Gallery writes into the resulting image file.


What is not at all obvious from the picture above, is that the individual photos did not match in exposure. Take a look.




Digital Pictures Basics - 2012No corrections were made to the images before submitting them to the panorama tool in Photo Gallery. The left shot was more than a stop underexposed compared to the others. That was no problem for Photo Gallery.


In all fairness I must admit to being a big fan of Windows Photo Gallery. Enough so that I have written my second book about it.

You just might like to take a look.



© 2012 Ludwig Keck


A peek into the “café art” atelier

Atelier – a studio or workshop, esp. one used by an artist” – Artist? Oh, well, I will use the term anyway.

Here is an actual glimpse of my “atelier”, of course, LJK_5255-Pthe real workplace is inside that black box on the right, my computer. And my tools are a collection of software programs. In this article I will tell you a little about how I import, manage, and organize photos, a bit about “café art” post-processing and some of the tools, and lastly about presentation and sharing of the images.

But this article being about “café art”, I must show this view this way:


Importing, managing and organizing photos

My AutoPlay is set to start the import process when the camera is connected and turned on. imageOver time I have collected a ton of programs that, either as their prime task, or as an added feature, provide photo management operations. The program I settled on for that task is Windows Live Photo Gallery.

Photo Gallery is what I use to do the importing. blog-120629-01In fact, this is my go-to program for most photo organizing and managing tasks.

The default setting for most programs is to use “My Pictures” as the location and that is what I use. The import routine creates a new folder with the date when the photos were created as the name. That is already a giant step to keeping photos organized.

Right after import, Photo Gallery opens. I rename all the photos in the new folder to replace the “DSC_” prefix, that my camera insists on providing, with my initials. This is a two-second operation, see How do I replace the DSC prefix on my photo file names?

imageThen I select all the photos in the new folder, right-click, and open Properties. I add some “boiler-plate” tags, and fill in the Authors and Copyright fields.

Most of the specific tagging I do in Photo Gallery, as well as assigning titles, “Caption” as PG calls them.

My photos are now organized. In Photo Gallery I can find them by folder location – or by the date they were taken. But most importantly, I can find photos by tags.

imageSome photographers keep a careful system of tags, but I don’t make a project out of it. Occasionally I discover that I have assigned similar tags like “Athens” and “Athens GA”. I have not visited Greece, so it was easy to select all “Athens” photos, assign the “Athens GA” tag to them and then delete the “Athens” tag.

Finding photos by date or tag is easy. It does not matter where on my computer the photos are, and indeed they will be in different locations. To keep the “My Pictures” folder from getting too messy, I periodically move older folders to an “archive” location on another drive. There the folders are in tear and quarter sub-folders.

That’s pretty much it for organizing and managing, but I must add one note: Other photo managing programs see the same file structure, hence in Picasa, for instance, the organization looks exactly the same.

Editing – post-processing – creating the “art”

Editing or post-processing is what you do to the photos after they are taken. Some cameras provide editing tools. The only one such camera tool I use regularly is “delete”. I prefer to do the editing in my computer when I can see the images on a large screen. A bit of touch-up can benefit just about every photo. This article will not go into enhancing photos by adjusting the exposure, doing some judicious cropping, retouching and other “tweaks” to bring out the best in pictures. This is about “café art”.

It stands to reason that I should define “café art”, so here goes:

Café art – playful, pictorial, or decorative work derived from or based on photographs. Such images do not imply deep philosophical meanings or make profound statements, they are meant to simply provide a fleeting moment of visual pleasure

Actually there is a bit more to café art: It provides a lot of fun in manipulating photos and creating totally new images. Photos that otherwise are suitable only for the “recycle bin” are often my best sources or “substrates”. On occasion I will take some pictures with the specific intent of manipulating them in a specific way. I did so for this article.

Most photo editing programs, as well as some unexpected applications, provide some “art effects”. Windows Live Photo Gallery is somewhat of an exception, imageit only offers some recoloring effects, unless you count some of the color or exposure adjustments.

imagePicasa provides a richer selection. I often use the “Pencil Sketch”, “HDR-ish” and “Neon” tools.

These Picasa tools are simple to use and provide a nice range of the effects.

A neat set of tools is provided in several of the Microsoft Office 2010 programs. imageI often use Word 2010 for its “Artistic Effects” in the “Picture Tools” ribbon. There are some delightful tools. These programs are not intended as photo editors and getting the pictures in and out is not as easy as with the photo apps, but some effects are just not available elsewhere.


Another tool I like is FastStone Image Viewer, it has a couple of nice effects that I use often, “Sketch” and “Oil Painting” and offers a rich selection of “Frame Masks”. You saw one of the masks at the beginning of this post.

There are many other art tools and I use several. Photo editors also include extensive manipulation tools. My long-time favorite is Corel PaintShop. This is a professional strength photo editor. Others are Adobe Photoshop and Gimp.

One of the effects that I love to use is what I call “plaster paint” and what PaintShop calls “Topography” (in “Artistic Effects”). In fact I specifically went out to get some photos to use for this article with this effect in mind. Here is one of them:


This is “Sunlight on Leaves 2012”. This gets me to my final section:

Presentation and Sharing of images

Photos, and especially “art”, is more satisfying when it is shared and presented to others for their pleasure. In this time of the Web, sharing is online. You are seeing these images on the Internet.

There are many photo sharing sites and many other places on the Web where pictures can be viewed. I use several, the menu at the top of this page takes you to most of them.

The sharing service I like the best is not even a good photo sharing site – although it was a couple of years ago: SkyDrive. Microsoft is trying to make SkyDrive the ubiquitous sharing tool for everything, everywhere, and everyone. For sharing photos it is not in the league of Flickr, Picasaweb, Shutterfly, and the many other sites specifically designed for sharing pictures. The reason is that it is much more private, it does not provide an  easy entry “front door”. It is more like a “private club” than a “public house”.


Once you construct a “Grand Entrance” to your SkyDrive albums, you have a great way for sharing photos. I like to use blogs as the “front end”. You can see this at Gallery Ludwig, and specifically for “café art” at Silver Canvas.

SkyDrive is easy to use. Uploading to SkyDrive can be done right from Live Photo Gallery, directly in a browser, “skydrive.cm”, and most recently, with a SkyDrive desktop app.

Here are some quick demonstrations.

Uploading to SkyDrive from Photo Gallery

Since I use Live Photo Gallery for organizing and enhancing photos already, using it to upload to SkyDrive is just a click away. The process is simple enough: Select the photos you want to upload, click SkyDrive and the process is underway.

A dialog opens showing your SkyDrive albums along with an option to create a new album. One small downside: You cannot upload to sub-folders this way. But that is easily fixed by creating a temporary album, uploading, then moving the photos to the sub-folder where they should be.



Moving the photos is done at “skydrive.com”, that is, online using your browser. It is quick and easy as you can see in the two illustrations here.

One other note: By default the photos will be resized to 1600 pixels (max dimension). There are other options, 600 pixels and “Original”, whatever size the photos are.

Uploading to SkyDrive using the SkyDrive desktop app

atelier-CL-01The SkyDrive desktop app replicates your SkyDrive on your computer and automatically keeps the contents of SkyDrive in synch with the local folder. The local folder is just like any other folder and you manage it with Windows Explorer.

Using the desktop app is just a matter of dragging photos to the folder or sub-folder. The size and other properties of the files are not affected. Note of caution: Be careful that you copy the photos and not move them, unless that is where you wish to keep them.

Uploading to SkyDrive online

Almost as easy as the two methods discussed is uploading to SkyDrive when you are signed in using your browser. You navigate to the folder and click Add files.


A window opens with a message “Drop files here…” (see illustration, you must have Silverlight installed for this option). Just drag the photos over into this window.

imageThe upload process starts right away. Of course, there is a catch. At the bottom of the dialog is a checkbox and the text “Resize photos to 2048 px”. The checkbox is checked indicating that your photos are already being resized. image

If you want the photos to be uploaded in their original size, click the checkbox to uncheck it. There will be another dialog that says “Change photo size”. Click the Yes button. The upload will be restarted and your photos will be uploaded in their full size.

A little bonus

Uploading by way of the online SkyDrive features was illustrated above with a file named “Triptych-5388.jpg”. This is indeed a rather large file and cannot be easily viewed in SkyDrive.


You can see in the illustration that the size is 12000 x 2800 pixels. Larger than your monitor, I bet.

Here is  “Leaves – triptych” presented in a neat Microsoft service called Zoom.It, just click the image.



© 2012 Ludwig Keck

Perspective correction using Microsoft Image Composite Editor

A prior post here showed how to use Microsoft Image Composite Editor, “ICE”, to make perspective corrections to panoramas (Perspective correction for panoramas). How do you make a perspective correction in a single photo? ICE, after all, is a compositing, stitching program and will give an error message when you try to load just one photo.Perspective distortion

If you do not have access to a full-fledged photo editing program, you can still use the free Microsoft Image Composite Editor to do that job.

ICE requires a minimum of two photos to operate. For stitching photos together, it’s primary purpose, the images must overlap so it can find the matching areas and combine the photos into a large composite.

Can it handle photos that overlap completely? Yes, it can. So a photo plus a copy of that photo fulfill the requirement of two images. It just so happens that there is 100% overlap. ICE can handle that.

loading photos into ICE

So, starting in Live Photo Gallery, make a copy of the photo you wish to correct. Select both the original and the copy. On the Create tab click More tools, then click Create Image Composite.

(If you do not have ICE installed this will not work, of course. Download ICE from the Microsoft Research Image Composite Editor download page.)

Live Photo Gallery starts ICE and loads the selected photos.set camera motion

In ICE the two photos will be recognized as “Planar Motion 1” for camera motion in the Stitch box (lower left). Set this option to Rotating Motion, see the illustration here.

Once this option is set, the menu bar above the image will show a little cube. Click that cube. An additional control will be added, “Projection”. In this control you can select how the image is to be translated. It will already show “Perspective”. The other projection options, cylindrical and spherical, are not applicable to this use. We want to make a perspective correction.

set projection

When a photo is taken of a building, or other subject, with the camera titled up or down to get the whole object into the frame, the resulting photo will show strong converging lines. The building, see photo higher up in this article, looks like it is falling in on itself. We call it perspective distortion, but it is how the camera sees the world.

This is a natural consequence of how optics works. Things farther away look smaller, hence the result. This also happens in our eyes. But we humans have a powerful built-in computer – our brain. We know the flagpole stands up vertically and that the walls of the building are vertical. When we stand in front of the building we do not perceive the converging lines, although we see them exactly the same as the camera.

In a photo, however, these converging lines look all wrong. Hence the need for perspective correction. The Image Composite Editor makes this correction easy. Just drag the image up or down, even side to side.

Microsoft Image Composite Editor

As you drag the image, ICE “distorts” it to modify the perspective. Moving the image up stretches the top out. You can move it sideways and the image area will be stretched appropriately. You can see this in real time so this process is very easy.

When you are happy with the result, click Apply.  You can then select the output file format and other parameters in the Export block. The Export to disk button initiates the file save procedure.

One bit of caution: You can make the perspective correction “perfect” so that all vertical lines will be truly vertical. When you look at that picture, however, it may not look perfect at all. It may, in fact, appear that the building is now out of proportion and “growing” outward at the top. Here are a couple of images of the building shown at the top. One is completely corrected, the other still has some converging lines. You will likely agree with me that a bit of under correction produces the better result.

Full perspective correction some perspective under-correction

Click on the photos for larger views.


© 2012 Ludwig Keck