Photography and Art

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Making Black and White Photos Like Ravilious

One of my favourite photographers is the late James Ravilious. I reviewed his book, An English Eye, earlier this month. However, try as I might, I just couldn't get my black and white photos (converted from digital colour) to look anything like the photographs of Ravilious.

Let me show you what I mean. Here's a nice photograph of the Bell of Skenfrith on the Welsh/English border.

It's a pretty photograph with a lovely old bridge and a lot of green pastures. Just the sort of countryside that Ravilious would have liked. Here's what I got when I converted this photo into black and white using the default photoshop settings (I used a black and white adjustment layer and didn't touch the settings).

It's an OK image, but most of the pizazz in the colour version has disappeared. For example, the bushes in the foreground have totally lost the highlights that dot the coloured version. In addition, the photo has taken on a dark, gloomy aspect, conveying just the opposite mood of the coloured image. You could swear that it was just about to rain, when it actually was a very nice day (for a change)!

After reading the part of the Ravilious book where the author discusses Ravilious' techniques, I had an "ah hah" moment. It seems that Ravilious just hated black and white photographs with too much drama and contrast. Not only did he seek out older, uncoated lenses that rendered images with less contrast, but he often photographed WITH A YELLOW FILTER on his lens. The light went on for me. I went back into Photoshop and, sure enough, when you use a black and white adjustment layer, you have the option of applying a filter to get the effect that you want. Most people are looking for ways to increase contrast, but I was looking to the yellow filter to do the opposite. I wanted that lovely Ravilious continuous grey toned image that makes you yearn for the days of yore!

Here is the same image with the yellow filter applied:

Hey presto, what an improvement. The bushes in the foreground have their little sparkly bits, the overall tone of the image is less forlorn and dark and the pastures have that lovely milky grey tone to them that I love in the pictures of Ravilious. The image still needs a little adjustment to make it perfect, but it shows much more promise with the yellow filter applied.

Here's the final version with some small adjustments applied in Lightroom. I've lightened the mid-tones a little and I've applied a gradient to darken the sky and bring out the clouds.


  1. Hi Huw,
    Many thanks for sharing your discoveries about Ravilious's techniques in creating his b/w pics.

    I have long admired their 'silvery' tone.

    Now I just have to find the subject matter to match!!

    Kind regards,


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