I’m not old school or anything, in fact I’m only 30, but for some reason, whenever I see boxing, I just think it needs to be done in black and white. I’d actually really like to break out this RZ67 I have and get some frames with it. But, for now, what I can do to appease my desire is simply present my work in black and white.
It’s been a good while since I’ve shot boxing, and the scene in Phoenix, even Arizona, just isn’t as strong as it once was. I remember shooting the “retirement” fight for Julio Cesar Chavez (this was actually a tour, as he retired a few times), and even shooting the stunning upset of Sergei Liakhovich by Shannon Briggs, in the very last second of the very last round. The fights themselves weren’t amazing comparatively speaking when you consider the depth of boxing lore. But for a few fights, Phoenix was the place to be.
Back to the point: I love black and white boxing photos. You’re left with fighters and details when you remove the color. Tonality, the contrast of the image, works to great effect with a nice black and white conversion. A couple more photos, a small gallery, and an oldie but goodie link after the jump.
Because I hadn’t shot in so long, I tried to have fun with my shots. I tried using a fisheye, and like the effect with certain shots. In this one, the boxer on the floor is obviously in a bad way, and I like that you can see the other boxer, even if it’s a glove and some trunks. The distance, the expansive field of the ring, kinda makes the guy on the floor look lost.
I actually tried a few slow shutter shots, and I may post them sometime, but I just never got the boxers close enough and at the right speed to consider any of the images to have been properly executed, even though I consider it a small success. I say that because trying something different from the norm is always a good thing. Whether you got the idea from another picture, got bored and had a fisheye, or just hoped for the best, it’s good to try.
See, right here, I like the frame. I didn’t crop it much, so that I could get the full effect of the fisheye, but the guys look miles away. I actually like it more because of the judge in the back, looking intently. I sometimes wonder if they get surprised by a big punch.
Back to the point, AGAIN: Black and white. I’ve tried a lot of different black and white methods, but for the most part, I still stick with LAB mode black and white. Before I go to that, I’ll mention a few options, and my opinion on them.
First, the easiest method for Photoshop is the Desaturate command. This is the only time I’ll ever mention it. It’s that bad. Here’s why: If you took a bright red fire truck, and it was on top of the brightest, greenest grass you’ve ever seen, while the sky above was so blue you’d actually wonder what exactly you ate that you’re seeing a fire truck on a lawn, and then took all that and hit Desaturate, you know what you’d get? a boring barely above neutral truck, on a muddy looking lawn, with what looks almost like an overcast sky without clouds. It’s that bad.
Channel mixer is a pretty popular option, and with good reason. You can juggle the intensity of each channel, Red Green and Blue, to the overall mixture. That means you can select all, or most of one channel as the foundation for the whole black and white. It’s pretty cool, but I often end up with something that looks insane and unreal, or plain Jane average. Try it though, you may like it for your own work.
Lightroom has a nice Black and White tool. As with all their tools, the Tonal adjustment feature is a godsend. Simply select the image to be black and white, then pick areas of the image and click and hold with the mouse, moving up or down to brighten or darken areas. It’s almost like a cool version of paint by number. Like tone by number. I like it, but often the same ranges of color you want to drastically affect (say a background) ends up affecting something you didn’t want to touch (like a skin tone) and it goes awry. But it’s still cool.
Cool enough that Photoshop got it built into CS3, and it can be an adjustment layer as well (so can channel mixer, FYI). It’s about the same. Again, cool.
But my favorite method is still separating the Luminosity Channel (in LAB mode) and making it a new layer. This involves converting to LAB mode, copying the L channels, pasting it to a new layer, switching back to RGB mode, and so on. Of course, I have an action to do all this (even has a hotkey). From there, I tone the image, using Curves (you can use it as an adjustment layer) to do that.
I like it because it renders out a really nice range of tones. Curves accentuates that, to the point that you can get really inky black backgrounds with good tone on the fighters while the white of sweat/blood/anything shoots off a fighter as they catch a surprise hook/uppercut to the chest/face/groin.
So, here are the links. First up is my B/W tutorial. It mentions the conversion, has my Action Set link, and then also uses Curves.
If you don’t understand Curves very well, I also offer a Flash Video presentation on it:
It goes through Curves in both Lightroom and Photoshop.
Finally, here’s a small gallery of the boxing images.