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Tag Archives: Black & White Conversions
Thanks to Black & White artist and authority Cort Anderson for the inspiration for this article
Now I guess that is understandable because people do like the color pop that HDR can provide and it has become a staple of “That HDR Look”. But HDRs can make an outstanding Black & White image. Of the 1,000 HDR images in my portfolio 1/3 of them are a B & W conversion.
If you are ALL about detail, B & W will bring that out to its finest. When we loose color it becomes all about Tonality and Textures. I have to say I love Black & White images, HDR or not. There are times an image and color just does not make sense to the mind and images I thought were toss-aways ended up being brilliant B & W images.
So I urge you to give B & W a try on your HDR images.
The B & W HDR
So what is the best method for converting your HDR to B & W? Should I do the conversion before or after I merge the image?
B & W Conversion Methods
There are many different ways to achieve a black & white image
From Pixel editing programs (Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Gimp etc.)
- Convert to Grayscale (just remember to convert back to RGB if you want to use other filters)
- The Channel Mixer
- Gradient Maps
- Photoshop’s new B & W (CS6)
In Lightroom (or ACR) you can convert to Black & White and adjust the tonal balance with 8 different color channel adjustments (yes you adjust B & W with color channels) or use some of the presets built into Lightroom or available from or people/companies.
And finally there are some outstanding B & W conversion Plug-ins such as:
Without a doubt don’t use desaturate, it looses too much tonality in the image and you end up with a big gray blob. My preferences are: Convert to Grayscale because it converts tones correctly. But I have to say there are times I use the Channel Mixer or Gradient Maps because they just get a certain image right. I even have a slightly new method that I use often that is the subject of a magazine article but I can’t discuss it yet because they have the exclusive rights to the story. (Coming January 2013)
And finally I am impressed with using Lightroom or the Black & White in Photoshop (you can use it in Adobe Camera Raw or inside Photoshop) because they allow for some interesting changes in tonality.
All of these conversions are very straightforward methods. If you want to get conversions that mimic the effects of B & W film you are better off using one of the above software makers plug-in. They all allow you to simulate certain film types and add film grain. They also allow for “Toning” of you images such a sepia and cyanotype. There are also presets for making an image look like an old time photo with borders and plate emulsion looks.
Most times I just convert my final color HDR to Black & White. It saves me processing two images separately. I get great results in less time which sometimes is very important to me. I don’t just convert the image though, I will need to go in and do a final Curves adjustment because without color we may need to make some contrast adjustments to get everything in place.
But suppose you want to experiment with preprocessing your images into B & W before the HDR Merge.
A very simple way to do this if you use Lightroom is to make Virtual copies of all your exposures. Simply select all your exposures, right click them and say “Create Virtual Copies”. Virtual copies are great because they don’t take up more disk space since you are still using the same base RAW file; you are just applying another set of instructions (developing) to those RAW files.
Once you have those Virtual copies created, with them selected go into the Develop Module One image will come up and do a straightforward convert to Black & White Which can be done either by Pressing Black & White in the Basic tab or down on the HSL/Color/B&W tab. Don’t get fancy here and try to manipulate each image because we don’t know the final effect that will have in our Merge.
Once you have that image converted, at the bottom of the module, press sync. This will convert all the selected images. With that done, returning to the Library module it’s an easy step to right click again and export those files to your favorite HDR Program
As you can see in these examples, One converted before the HDR Merge, one after; there isn’t a huge difference in the two but it may be something you want to experiment with
If you don’t use Lightroom or Aperture you will need to make a Tiff or Jpeg (I prefer 16 bit Tiffs for HDR) Black & White conversion copy for all your exposures and then bring those into your HDR Program.
One thing I wouldn’t do; If you choose to use one of the dedicated Black & white programs, I wouldn’t use those for a pre-conversion especially if the add film grain or make for a contrasty conversion. Since noise multiples with HDR Merge the final HDR image may not be as pleasing. If you choose to use those I would stick to converting post HDR Processing.
This isn’t an everything and end all on Black & White conversion, rather it’s just an encouragement to try Black & White on your HDR Images. You may be pleasantly surprised how much you like it.
Hope that helps,
As we saw in some of the readers versions of the Automotive Image, Black & White was chosen as a very viable alternative in processing. Most of my images I do in both Color and Black & White versions. But many times people aren’t sure what the best methods or even how to convert your color image to black and white So today we will cover what I think are the best methods and then also a couple Programs that can do all the work for you.
First we will look at some methods in programs you may already have
Here is the original image we will work with. I chose it because we have a lot of different colors from Blue to Yellow to Green to Brown and also White, Black and Gray itself. I believe the true test of a good black and white conversion is how well the brightness of a color transfers to the brightness of a tone. Sometimes we want to shift that for effect or pop but usually we want the tonal balance to remain from before to after the conversion. I’ll talk a little further about this later
In Photoshop there are three main methods I use to convert my images to Black and White. The Color Mixer (which sounds counter-intuitive), Gradient Maps and Convert to Grayscale. Some of you may mention what about just Desaturate? Actually that is the least desirable method which will leave you with a flat and lifeless image so I don’t even include that on my list.
The Color Mixer
This method can give you results similar to what we used to get when we used color filters on our cameras to shoot Black & White Film in the “Olden Days” We would add a Red Filter or Green or Blue (Most times it was red). To highlight certain color tones and make the more pronounced in our black & white image. So using this method is similar except that we have a lot more control over the final result. We can choose red, green or blue OR even mix those colors (Hence why it is called color mixer) in any combination we desire.
We enter this method by going to the menu in Photoshop Image> Adjustments> Color Mixer. This brings up this dialog box.
We can Select a channel and then click monotone and it will turn our image Black & White with that channel as 100%, we can then vary the amount of all the channels to get the look we want but it is best of the combinations of percents all add up to 100%.
If you want to preview what each channel will look like at 100% before you actually use the channel mixer, On your layer palette, switch to the Channels Tab and then click on each channel ( Red, Green, Blue) and see how they each look. That may give you a better starting point.
For this method we have
Pro: very diverse amount of looks to an image that can be used to add a lot of drama
Con: May not remain true to tone transfer from color to black and white
Here are some examples of our image using Channel Mixers and Each Channel’s look
Now I didn’t mix any of the channels because I wanted you to see the effect that each color channel has on the outcome of the conversion.
In reality I would have mixed diifent amounts of each channel and got a result something like this
The next method uses what are called Gradient Maps. Basically what that is is a Gradient from Black to White and it “Maps” certain tones to certain levels of brightness or luminosity of a color. A Color that has a Luminosity closer to 100% will be mapped as white, one with luminosity close to 50% will be mapped as Mid Gray and so on.
Notice how the tone of yellow and blue seem to be about the same, one isn’t a pale pastel and the other a deep dark color but look at how differently they actually relate in B & W
We get to the Gradient Map by clicking Image>Adjustments > Gradient Map. This is what the Gradient Map dialog box looks like. If the colors of the gradient are not Black and White, Click on the gradient and it will bring up a box where you can choose your gradient. Gradients themselves can be highly modified. But let’s keep it simple for now. This lesson may be getting out of hand already
I like this method, for the most part gets the tonal part right though not perfect and can add a little drama to the image.
Convert to Grayscale
Finally we get too my favorite conversion method: Convert to Grayscale. This also happens to be the favorite method of friend, fellow photographer and Black & White Guru; Cort Anderson. Check out Cort’s latest piece on Black & White in the Nov/Dec issue of Photo Technique Magazine
It’s the only method that truly keeps the luminosity of any color the same when it is made a gray tone. And it’s the simplest process. You do it by going to Image>Mode> Grayscale. Now you could just leave it at that but I like to then make the conversion back to RGB because not all adjustments or filters are available to grayscale images so I go Image>Mode> RGB.
Here is the image with Grayscale conversion
Finishing the Image
Just like Cort suggests, I like to finish off all my black and white conversions with a Curves Adjustment layer we just may differ on how we do it or the look we want. I want to establish a clear Black Point and a White Point so using the shadow and the highlight eyedropper in curves, I will click on an area that should be pure black and an area that should be pure white with the highlight dropper to establish those ends. Then I may make a midrange adjustment to change the contrast. Then I will finish off as I usually do with some Dodging and burning to get everything how I want it.
This is what I would probably get for a final image
Give me a Break!
Peter, you’re killing me here. It shouldn’t have to be this much work and I shouldn’t have to know this much just to get a decent Black & White image. Well everything good takes work and knowledge. But I and the software manufacturers will let you off the hook.
If you are looking for some simple and quick solutions, the software manufacturers have you in mind
If you are a Lightroom 3 user there are presets in the develop Module for many different styles of Black and White. The nice thing is, through the use of virtual copies, you can always go back and change what you did and try another effect and maintain a Color and Black & White virtual copy witho9ut actually using up more disc space
If that doesn’t suit your needs or you don’t have Lightroom, I have two other solutions
Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
From Nik Software comes the highly acclaimed Silver Efex Pro 2. Nik comes with 36 Factory presets for all types of Black & White conversions including Sepia and other color toning. If that’s not enough the adjustments are endless.
Here is Nik Silver Efex Pro 2′s “Neutral” preset
Topaz Labs BW Effects
Another possibility for you is Topaz Labs BW Effects. Again, couldn’t be easier, stroll through the presets till you find what works for you AND your image, no muss, no fuss
This is their Classic Preset
Okay, I know that was a lot. But Black & White can be a blast and add a ton of drama to your already dramatic HDR Image. Properly printed these can be some of the most outstanding images in your collection. So give it a try. It may seem long-winded but in the end is really not that difficult to do especially if you take advantage of some of the software tools out there.
Hope that helps,