Happy 2012! I hope the new year proves to be a happy and inspiring one for each of you. If you’re looking for a good resolution that won’t take up a lot of time—or forbid you from eating cookies—why not join the monthly PET Photo Challenge? It’s a great excuse to get out with your camera, exercise the creative side of your brain, and practice your shooting skills. (Just be careful not to get cookie crumbs on the lens!)
For the January Photo Challenge, we’re focusing on the basics: Capture and process a beautiful black-and-white image. That’s it! The subject matter of the photo is up to you, as is the method you use to process it. (I recommend shooting in color, even when you plan to create a black-and-white image. The extra image data will give you more options in the post-processing stage.)
Keep in mind that there’s more to creating a compelling black-and-white photo than just taking away the color. Once you remove the distraction of color, elements like composition, contrast, and focus become all the more important. You’ll want to pay particular attention to the interplay between light and shadow in your photo.
Elements offers several ways to convert a color image to black and white, including the Convert To Black And White command (under the Enhance menu), desaturating the image (via a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer), or a gradient map (Layers>New Adjustment Layer>Gradient Map). Each will produce different results. It may take some experimenting to find the right approach for your image, but that’s part of the fun.
To help you get started, here are some video and magazine tutorials we’ve done on converting to black and white—as well as a few links to get you inspired. These are great techniques to have in your toolkit, even if you don’t participate in the challenge.
- To kick the year off with a bang, our first video is Matt Kloskowski’s Get Better Black & White Images. Matt’s technique is an easy and quick alternative to Elements’ stock conversion—which he’s not a big fan of, and he shows us why.
- In his article Strategies for Better Black & White Photos (March/April 2009), Ben Long explains how to convert images in Elements using a couple of different methods. He also shows how to fine-tune the results by adjusting the tones in different parts of the image independently in his companion piece, Advanced Black and White Editing.
- Liz Ness demonstrates an alternate method for controlling the tones in your black-and-white image in this handy video tutorial. Liz’s method combines Gradient Map and Hue/Saturation adjustment layers—with wonderful results.
- The Digital Photography School website offers some helpful tips for shooting black-and-white photos, including an explanation of why you shouldn’t use your camera’s grayscale mode when shooting black-and-white JPEGs.
- If you’re in need of a little inspiration, check out this Flickr pool or Smashing Magazine’s Beautiful Black and White Photography collection.
Any subscriber can participate in the monthly P.E.T. Photo Challenge. In addition to photographs, you can also submit collages or other images you’ve created in Photoshop Elements. Submissions must follow a few simple guidelines:
- You must take the photo within the challenge month (after all, there’s not much challenge in digging through your library to find an old photo).
- You must own the rights to any image you submit. (If you use third-party frames or embellishments, please make sure this usage is allowed under the sale terms.)
- You are encouraged to interpret the theme creatively, but keep in mind that photos that seem entirely unrelated may get overlooked.
You can submit your entries to either the P.E.T. Gallery or Elements Village Gallery as you would for Subscriber Showcase. When uploading your image to the Elements Village Gallery, please enter the phrase “Photo-Challenge” exactly as shown (without the quotes) in the Keywords field. For the P.E.T. Gallery, please enter “Photo-Challenge” in the Description field when uploading the photo.
When the month is over, we’ll showcase our favorite entries on the website. A few entries may also be featured in the magazine. Our selections for the December Lights Challenge will be online around the 15th. You can also see the top picks for all of our past photo challenges.
By the way, if you have ideas for fun photo-challenge topics, feel free to suggest them in the comments below.