Black and white photography and Long exposure tip of the week #1- B&W Advanced Level: Luminance and Luminosity

By Joel Tjintjelaar

This is the start of a series of short photography tutorials on either Black and White photography post processing or Long exposure photography that will consist of a short tip on how to improve your Black and White Post processing or Long exposure photography skills. It is meant for Beginners, Intermediate or Advanced Photographers. The title will indicate the level. Starting off this week with tip #1 for Advanced Black and White photographers: The importance of creating presence (depth or luminosity) in your Black and White photograph.

One of the differences that separates a great black and white photograph from a good or average black and white photo is that a great B&W photograph has presence. What is presence? author George DeWolfe says this about presence in a great little article that you can read here: ” Luminosity creates our world as photographers, and it is this understanding and portrayal of light that ultimately produces presence. The authentic portrayal of presence produces a masterpiece.”

Presence is luminosity. So what is Luminosity? Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is by demonstrating it visually. Have a look at the  two detailed outtakes of my The Salk Institute in La Jolla California photograph:





Photo #1 (luminance) is a straight forward black and white conversion using a preset in Silver Efex Pro 2, very similar to any black and white processing method using Photoshop. While photo #2 (luminosity) is  the result of an advanced self developed method of black and white photography post-processing called iSGM. The real difference though is not the difference in black and white post processing methods but the way  the scene is interpreted by me.  Notice the separation of the walls of the building and how the edges are defined in photo #2 and how much more depth photo #2 has in comparison with photo #1. Photo #2 has real volumes while photo #1 has a composition of various grey zones. Photo #1 represents luminance or what we see, while photo #2 represents luminosity or what we perceive. What the human eye can see has a far greater dynamic range than the most expensive camera can capture. Add to it that what the mind can make of what the eye can see and this results in perceiving a situation, an object or a location, in a very different way than what a camera could ever do. The act of perceiving is a human act and it’s a culmination of personal experience and individual physical and emotional processes in combination with and as a response to what the eye sees. The camera can only record and ‘see’ but cannot perceive, that is something reserved to the human mind only and it’s the citadel from where art originates. Creating presence therefore is something we can only do in post-processing, whether this is in the conventional darkroom or in the digital darkroom, doesn’t matter.

The complete photo and final result of The Salk Institute in La Jolla California.


“The basic physical difference between the two states – Luminance and Luminosity – is largely one of defining edges and altering contrast” 

– George DeWolfe

Creating great black and white fine art photographs is a matter of individual artistic interpretation in combination with the right tools and understanding of light during the post-processing phase. Not so much a matter of having an expensive camera or using advanced Black and White post processing techniques (although it helps enormously if you use a B&W method that gives you complete control over the end-result like my ISGM method).

If you want to know more about the concept of creating presence and luminance and luminosity then please read this article on the Rule of Grays from the book From Basics to Fine-art, a book on B&W Architectural Photography & more by Julia Anna Gospodarou and yours truly. If you want to know more on how to create images with presence and luminosity then you can purchase my B&W Masterclass video tutorial.


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