Black and White Images using Photoshop

From colour images out of the camera to processed Black and Whites
From colour images out of the camera to processed Black and Whites

From the end of November to early spring the British landscape becomes a bit more sparse, many of the trees are bare, the grasses are short and more often than not we have grey dull days. Fear not! as these grey, overcast, dull days are perfect for a spot of Black and White photography.

However it’s not really Black & White (B&W) Photography more B&W Processing, as you should always capture the original image be it RAW of JPEG as normal, and never use the cameras B&W function.

This post concentrates on using Photoshop (CS6) to convert your images, later on I will also post the Lightroom workflow too.

As we mention constantly throughout our workshops and on previous blog posts, the histogram and exposing the image correctly in the field is of the upmost importance, so ideally little or no clipping either side. Often the image can look rather dull on the back of the screen, but so long as we have colour information on every pixel, we can make a great B&W conversion.

Like everything there are several way to make a B&W conversion. First off, open your image in Photoshop (if you are using a RAW file, go through the Camera Raw program and make any small exposure adjustments as necessary) then the easiest way is Image > Mode > Grayscale but this doesn’t really offer much control over the image. The second way is slightly more complicated and uses Lab Colour. This method tends to be a bit flat to begin with, but gives tight shadows and very smooth tones. For this you need to go to Image > Mode > Lab Color and then bring up the Channels Palette (next to Layers, or go to Windows > Channels). Click on the Lightness Channel to select it and then go to Image > Mode > Grayscale a dialogue box pops up to ask if you want to discard the other channels? Click OK. For both these options, convert the file back to an RGB image via Image > Mode > RGB Color and then you can make the final adjustments of Levels and Curves to add contrast and finally Burning and Dodging which I will go through below.

My preferred method however is to use the Channel Mixer which gives you much greater control as you can change the brightness of different colour groups. So for example if you want to darken or lighten a blue sky or alter the brightness of the green foliage independently, its very easy. With your original image open, begin by opening the Channel Mixer dialogue box via Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer and make the image B&W by clicking on the Monochrome tick box in the bottom left corner.

From the Channel Mixer dialogue box, you can then alter the Red, Green and Blue channels individually to see which gives you the more punchy result. Moving the sliders to the right will brighten that colour and to the left to darken. Feel free to experiment moving more than one slider, and to get the best result, make sure the three values add up to +100%. Just check the Total value at the bottom.

Now that you have made the main conversion its time to fine tune your image. With B&Ws you seem to have a bit more artistic licence than you do with colour to add much more of a punch to your images. We do this by then starting our normal Photoshop workflow. Begin by adding a Levels Adjustment Layer and altering your Black and White Points and Mid tones if need be. Then add your Curves Adjustment Layer to make the image lovely and Contrasty.

Levels and Curves Adjustment Layers
Levels and Curves Adjustment Layers

Then add some Dodging and Burning. You do this by adding a new layer, Layer > New > Layer and give it a name like B+D, select the blending mode to Soft Light and tick the box Fill with Soft-Light-neutral color (50% gray). Select the brush tool in the left hand palette, and put the Opacity to around 15%. Lastly make sure the colours at the bottom of the tool palette is set to black and white. Then on the B+D layer paint over the image, using a black colour to darken areas and white to lighten them. Apply further brush strokes to build up the burning and dodging.

And there you have it, your photoshop layers file all converted to Mono and looking good. Then to print, flatten the image, re-size and apply sharpening according to the print size.

In future blogs I will show how to add tints to your B&Ws plus Colour Popping and also how to make the conversions using Lightroom. dfg

Lone Tree on Twisleton Scar by © Sam Oakes Photography
Lone Tree on Twisleton Scar by © Sam Oakes Photography

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