A High Contrast How-To

I've always really enjoyed black & white photography where the subject (usually an animal) was in high contrast against a completely white or completely black background. My recent "Cow Lick" photograph was my first attempt at that style. Apparently some of you liked the result because you asked me how I did it.

Here you go...

I'm not going to be too detailed because you may have different tools/methods. Feel free to make this process your own.

This is what we started with.

Using Viveza 2 by Nik Software, I made some adjustments to darken the background and increase the contrast of the giraffes. You don't have to use Viveza. You can accomplish the same result using masked adjustment layers in Photoshop. Viveza just saves us some time.

Then i did a little cleanup. There was one piece of hay on the calf's forehead. It needed to go away.

Now to convert things to black and white by using a Black & White adjustment layer...

...increase the contrast...

...and do a little dodging and burning.

There are several ways to do this. I went with an Exposure adjustment layer, adjusted the Gamma Correction and started "painting in" the effect by using a white brush on the black adjustment mask.

I did largely the same for the "burning" adjustment.

It was finally time to finish getting rid of that background. Depending on the photo and how things went with the contrast adjustments, this step doesn't have to be particularly exact.

And voila'!

I made a few other adjustments after this step. Things like a curve adjustment, some selective sharpening, a crop and some vignetting at the base of each neck bring us, at last, to the final piece.