Monday, November 30, 2009

Secrets Of Black & White

In recent years, black-and-white has gained new attention and appreciation.
By Rob Sheppard Published in Shooting
Secrets Of Black & White

Translating Color Into Black-And-White

You easily can convert or translate color images into black-and-white in the digital darkroom with an image-processing program. Translate is exactly the right word, too. You need to be able to make the shades of gray respond well to the original colors. Just as translations in language can be good or bad, so can black-and-white translations.

In general, I can’t recommend the straightforward “grayscale” or “desaturate” commands. These are quick and easy ways of dealing with images that don’t need a lot of adjustment, but on many photos, they may tend to make the image look too gray without enough contrast. Grayscale discards all color information, and Desaturate gives a black-and-white image in a color space.

Here are several good ways of making the color translation to black-and-white tones—not an all-inclusive list, but a group of programs that have worked well for me:
1. Photoshop
Photoshop includes an excellent black-and-white conversion under Image > Adjustments > Black&White, but I recommend you do this as an adjustment layer for more control. The neat part of this is the ability to go right to the photograph and adjust there. You can move the cursor onto the image, click on something, and Photoshop automatically finds the right color to adjust to a gray. Then you move the cursor right or left to make that tone lighter or darker.
2. Lightroom
In the Develop module, Lightroom has a similar control to the Photoshop Black & White adjustment. In the Grayscale section of the right panel, click on the small button to the top left of the Grayscale Mix slider panel to activate the cursor. A great feature in Lightroom is the ability to create virtual copies where you can do all of your black-and-white conversion and still keep the color version.
3. Photoshop Elements
Elements has a simplified black-and-white conversion that does work, but you may be better off using the plug-ins below.
4. Nik Software Silver Efex
If you’re serious about black-and-white, check out this software plug-in from Nik Software. It will function as a processing plug-in for Photoshop, and as an export plug-in for Lightroom and Aperture. This is one of the most advanced and versatile black-and-white programs I’ve ever used.
5. Nik Software Color Efex
This plug-in offers several excellent conversion tools. It’s available in the Color Efex Pro complete collection as well as in lower-priced bundles of effects. It has some features that Silver Efex has (though not nearly the range or ease of controls) along with a whole group of well-designed color adjustments.
6. Selections
Using selections (or layer masks) can really set your black-and-white adjustments apart. Select parts of the image and make the black-and-white conversions separately. For example, you could use one translation on the bottom of the photo that had flowers and grass and something completely different for the top sky and clouds. That’s impossible to do when shooting directly to black-and-white.
7. Grayscale versus RGB color for black-and-white
A grayscale image is a photo without color except black, white and gray. It’s a smaller file than a color image. All of these techniques can be converted to grayscale, if needed. Having a black-and-white photo in RGB color, however, allows you to color or tone the image with a color-toner effect such as sepia or cool selenium tone.

Visit Rob Sheppard’s website at for more helpful tips and techniques.

« Prev 2/2 Next

Login to post comments

Popular How-To

  • Always Be Sharpening

    Always Be Sharpening

    Raw image files are great, but they come out of the camera half-baked. If you’re not sharpening your RAW image files, your images won’t look their best.

  • Gear For The Soulful Photographer

    Gear For The Soulful Photographer

    Shooting with equipment that complements your individual aesthetic can lead to images with more depth and meaning

  • Creativity Unleashed!

    Creativity Unleashed!

    10 simple techniques to develop your photographic vision

Popular Gear

Subscribe & Save!
International residents, click here.