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We have a thread for links people come across for Black & White photography, and I thought maybe a thread on how we go about processing Black & White digitally might be useful.
It needn't be a particularly 'techy' sort of thread, although I would see it as pointing people in interesting directions. It would be interesting to find out about how some people get the effects they're after.
Obviously some of it will include various software and plug-ins, although it would be helpful if why you chose a particular piece of software was included - what did it do that you wanted.
I also thought it might be a longer running thread as people try different approaches and comment on them - I have tried various approaches for working in Black & White since I went digital.
So.......... what are your approaches to creating a Black & White image from a digital file?
(Obviously there is the film approach, but there is a film group where this could be discussed.)
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my approach is usually to put the image into Silver EFX these days, though previously I used Channel Mixer in mono mode, then in CS3, used the black and white adjustment layer
Pretty simple really
I also do a bit of selective sharprning which really makes things stand out on a mono
I'm pretty much the same - I used to just use the built in "monochrome" function in aperture but since I tried out Silver Effects Pro there is no way I'm going back. With SFX there is so much control and variety that the different types of B&W you can create is almost limitless. I can also save presets which is pretty cool.
When it comes to shooting I'm now looking a scenes in colour and I try to imagine what it would like in B&W. Mainly I'm looking for patterns, textures, strong elements, all the usual things a B&W photos need.
Before I used to take a photo and if it was poor in colour convert it to B&W to see if that helped it out. I find overcast days the best for B&W as it can really bring out the sky - esp. in landscapes.
Every image is different. But I usually use the channels (not channel mixer) then combine the bits I want from each of the R G & B channels. But that is only part of it, I also adjust tonality with levels, curves, selective colour adjustment layers and gradient maps, with a bit of dodging & burning thrown in for good measure. This is an example of the method
To complicate things for some portraits I use the Rob Carr method, which is a variant on LAB processing, as used here , still one of my favourite images in my PF.
I find the one size fits all approach you use with Channel mixer, or plugins to be less than satisfactory, in most cases. By combining channels you can create contrast by how a colour appears under the different channels.
Open in PS RAW editor, click on Greyscale, adjust the exposure if needed, blacks, fill light and change to strong contrast. Takes no more than 5 minutes. Read it in a Scott Kilbey CS4 book I think, works well for me.
Quote: I find the one size fits all approach you use with Channel mixer, or plugins to be less than satisfactory, in most cases.
I can see your point (lovely examples in the links) and would have tended to go with that approach, but I found the SFEX very flexible and could get similar effects with more convenience (laziness?).
I do think SFEX is very expensive if you use mono occasionally, but since I do a lot in mono I decided it was worth it for me (having tried the demo version).
The presets often give good starting point, the colour filters are good and you can vary the strength and I like the control points for working on different areas of the image.
The other effects, toning, film emulation and grain are flexible and reliable as well.
I tried various other plug-ins before that and was never really satisfied with the results.
Quote: The presets often give good starting point, the colour filters are good and you can vary the strength and I like the control points for working on different areas of the image.
The other effects, toning, film emulation and grain are flexible and reliable as well.
This is exactly my thought on SFX. All the different starting points are pretty good and then there is so much that is customisable - least thats how feel about it.
All my B&W photo in my gallery and website have used SFX - Love it
well before SFX and Exposure Fusion, I'd spend ages on my mono arhictecture shots - I did a series from the City with lloyds and the gherkin, each one of those took ages, mainly down to controlling the HDR side of things, then getting the contrast and detail I wanted.
I can now get the detail from the "structure" slider in SFX and the contrast comes from "Constrast" slider. Also, it's so fast just to try different coloured filters in it. You have tone curve tool, you have vignetting, you have really nice toneing options and presets - basically many of the steps I'd do in PS are done in SFX
Once out of SFX, I will apply selective contrast with curves and selective sharpening with smart sharpen on a masked layer.
I have tried many methods of doing most things in photoshop, mono and sharpening seem to have more methods than any
Quote: works well for me
No better recommendation for any method.
Quote: I have tried many methods of doing most things in photoshop, mono and sharpening seem to have more methods than any
I thinks that's why I've settled for SFEX - having spent ages on trying all the other approaches it seemed to work straightforwardly and well.
If you don't want to spend out on it, though, you can mostly achieve the same result without it. It's just a more direct way of getting where I want to go.
Whilst my description above sounds complex, its not really. They have been recorded as a set of actions.
I do like SEFX - and have been experimenting with it, but from what I can see it only applies the settings across the whole image. Using the seperate channel approach you are in effect builing multi RGB areas for different parts of the image.
This tutorial outlines it
It may sound strange but you have to think in terms of colour. Red under the red channel comes out white, Blue under the Red channel comes out Black, and visa versa. Green in Green channel comes out white, whilst Violet (or close to ) comes out Black.
(Note its not exact Cyan is the opposite of Red and Yellow the opposite of Blue, I used to also use the CMYK channels but I kept on getting the layers mixed up)
What it represents is the colour wheel and the opposite side of the spectrum. So by blending the channels you can get more detail where its needed, or more contrast. Using this method has reduced enormously the amount of dodging / burning I do.
Images take from 20 mins to a couple of hours to do. But Monos are the way most of my private work has gone, and for me I love seeing the print, which is far, far better than a screen.
Dont forget the Green channel has less noise, followed by the red channel then Blue. Its often why in cloudy skys using channel mixer, which often has a high Blue amount you will get a lot of noise. Its to do with the Bayer pattern on the sensor, and the 2:1 ratio of Green sites to Red/Blue, but then I'm getting too teckie ..
But all the above said, its more to do how you see the image in your minds eye. I dont stop until I get the contrast & tonality just right. I sometimes scrap an image countless times before I get it right (The What the Feck took about 4 attempts - but that involved many many other things to get the local contrast just to my liking, without introducing too much noise as it was an image at ISO1600) - I always work with 16bit layers trying to work non distructively if at all possible.
Quote: We mono and sharpening seem to have more methods than any
Ididn't even start on the sharpening bit, thats for another day ... maybe
Excellent explanation, Nick - and thanks for the tutorial link.
I think it's useful to understand more, even it it gets teckie, as I think the more you understand the better able you are to work with the image to get what you want, by whatever method.
Quote: I always work with 16bit layers trying to work non distructively if at all possible.
This is something I always go for as well. I found that in Black & White especially it was easy to introduce artifacts, such as banding, into images at 8 Bit.
The non-destructive side is also important until I get near the end of the process, and this is where the first part of my workflow is important to me. I use ACDSee for the raw processing and other basic teaks, and that is very good on the non-destructive side - as well as having excellent tools for getting the best out of the dynamic range.
I bought the whole Nik Software suite last month - excellent plug-ins. They're pretty expensive, but I use them all the time now, and some of the effects you can get are great. Silver Efex is awesome. Before then I used to use the Gradient Map tool (black to white), then selective curves adjustment layers. Gradient Map provides quite a good starting point with the contrast, though it can be too harsh if the lighting you've used is quite hard to begin with. I don't personally like CS3's b&w function - I don't find any of the presets to be very good starting points to be honest.
Quote: Gradient Map provides quite a good starting point with the contrast, though it can be too harsh if the lighting you've used is quite hard to begin with.
I found when I was trying different approaches to B&W processing different approaches suited different shots.
This method works for me in Lightroom though I should imagine it works in PS also, its simple, intuitive and doesnt involve buying expensive plugins.
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