Here's my play with my typical adjustments. I did a gradient map layer.
Then added a levels layer and slid the right RGB slider to the bottom of the histogram. Next I moved the middle slider a little bit to the right to add some contrast to the darks. His hair got a little too dark with that, so I masked the hair back in.
Then I added a brightness/contrast layer. Here are those adjustments.
And the result.
How does that look to you? I don't think anything is blown. I didn't check the numbers (and rarely do, since they're just for my own use).
Steph, that looks very good. I can see that part of the issue is that you simply add more contrast. I used to do that, but got scared away from it when I was repeatedly being told I'd clipped my blacks or blown my highlights. But if I look at our two images in GIMP, I can see from the Threshold info that our highlights are pretty similar, but the contrast between the highlights and the blacks is less.
I didn't really mean this to be a thread just about my conversion issues, mind you, because I would really like to hear some discussion about great black-and-white photos in general, and what makes them so. I know about the light, and I guess I'm seeing from Steph's conversion of my image that part of it is related to contrast as well. Anything else?
Yeah, I think that if you could do a little masking with your blacks, you will be able to add in the contrast that you are wanting.
Whenever I look at a B&W, I like to see the way the light areas and shadows work together to form shapes. That's why directional lighting works so well in conversions; the shadows create a nice 3-D effect that flat lighting can't.
I also love amped-up contrast. A good B&W has white whites and black blacks, as previously stated.
I know my siggy isn't a good B&W; it's flashy and bright and some flash areas are completely blown, but I think it kind of adds to the chaotic snapshot photojournalistic look I was going for.
Oh, and I once saw a gorgeous B&W portrait of a musician where the photographer left in some grain (or maybe added some; I don't really know), and it looked fantastic. So I guess grain adds grit and grunge.
Although I don't know a whole lot about the technical details, I have made several "successful" b&ws in the past couple years (based on feedback here) and aside from good sooc exposure, I find when I'm converting, the contrast is a major key, often taking the highlights/darks up a lot more than you would if it was staying in color.
I'm not technical when I convert. I just adjust things until I like them. I usually use a preset and then adjust it to my liking for the particular shot. I do, however, try to only convert to b&w when the lighting is right. I'm so in love with b&w, that I end up deleting a lot of photos that don't work well in b&w....oops. It's a bad habit and I'm trying to stop! :)