Friday, April 10, 2009

Black & White

From capture to final output, there are many pieces to the puzzle for producing the ultimate black-and-white images

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Thanks to complex conversion processes, sophisticated programs and an overabundance of quality inks, paper types and printers, digital has brought so much flexibility to black-and-white imagery that the definition of a black-and-white image has become more complicated than ever before. Tonality, hue and saturation are no longer limited by darkroom processes, and the final black-and-white image itself is limited only by your imagination.
Black-And-White Conversion
There are a number of ways that color digital images can be converted to black-and-white, some of which are definitely better than others. The simplest methods provide the least amount of control, while many of the more complex operations require the sacrifice of time involved, as well as a steep learning curve.

You can open the image in Photoshop and move the saturation slider (Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation, or Layer > New Adjust-ment Layer > Hue/Saturation) all the way to the left. This generally results in a grayish rendering that only rarely is optimal for a specific image, though it will give you a quick and easily reversible view of your image in black-and-white. A second simple method is to change the image mode to Grayscale in Photoshop (Image > Mode > Grayscale). This also rarely produces the optimal conversion for most images.

Another simple Photoshop conversion method is to convert the color image to Lab Color mode (Image > Mode > Lab Color), then discard all but the Lightness channel by high-lighting that channel in the Channels palette, then change the mode to Grayscale (Image > Mode > Grayscale). You’ll get a window asking if you want to discard color information; click OK.

Photoshop’s Channels palette provides more control. Click on any of the RGB channels individually, and you’ll get effects equivalent to shooting a black-and-white image through a Red, Green or Blue filter, respectively. If one of these looks suits your image, go to Image > Mode > Grayscale with just that channel selected and save the resulting image. This method still is quite limiting, however.

Probably the most versatile ways to do black-and-white conversions in Photoshop are the Channel Mixer and the Black & White mode (in CS3 and CS4). To use the Channel Mixer, go to Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer (or Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Channel Mixer). Click the Monochrome box, and the image will change to black-and-white. You can then use the sliders to control the densities of the individual primary colors (Red, Green and Blue). There also are presets for Black & White Infrared, and Black & White with Blue, Green, Orange, Red or Yellow filters. Moving a slider to the right makes tones of its color lighter; moving it to the left makes tones of its color darker. Try to keep the cumulative percentages of the three channels around 100 for most natural-appearing results.

The Black & White tool is versatile and easy to understand. Go to Image > Adjustments > Black & White (or Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White), and you get a work palette with sliders to control Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues and Magentas, from -200 to +300. If you click on any part of the image, the Eyedropper cursor turns into a pointing finger and activates the slider for that color. Dragging the finger to the right lightens the color, dragging it to the left darkens the color—much quicker than trying to guess which sliders will affect a specific olive-brown. If you click the Tint box near the bottom of the Black & White palette, you can use the Hue slider to tint the image just about any color and the Saturation slider below that to control the intensity. There also are a number of handy presets.

RAW converters provide a means of converting color RAW images to black-and-white. Even the autoconvert features of newer RAW converters produce good conversions, with minimal tweaking needed. In Adobe Camera Raw, black-and-white conversions are done via the HSL/Grayscale panel, which is the fourth icon across the top of the ACR toolbar (or you can press Cmnd-Opt-4 to access it). If you check the Convert to Grayscale box, you’ll get a series of sliders that lets you adjust the lightness or darkness of Reds, Oranges, Yellows, Greens, Aquas, Blues, Purples and Magentas. But if you work on the color image first, you get to adjust these eight colors for Hue (warmer or cooler), Saturation (intensity) and Luminance (adjusting the brightnesses of individual colors)—more control. You then can convert the optimized color image to grayscale by clicking the Convert to Grayscale box.

There also are a number of dedicated black-and-white software products, generally in the form of plug-ins for Photoshop. These include Alien Skin’s Exposure 2, B/W Styler for Windows from The Plugin Site, Black & White Studio from Power Retouche, Nik Silver Efex Pro, Imagenonic’s RealGrain and Tiffen’s Dfx 2.0.

The plug-in converters provide effective conversions with a single click in “auto” mode and offer tremendous control over the process when you want it. Many also let you do things like produce conversions with the “looks” of real black-and-white films or even create your own “film” spectral sensitivity, add realistic film grain, simulate the effects of different traditional multigrade paper contrast grades and more.

For the hard-core black-and-white worker, it’s not a bad idea to have several of these products because one might work best with one image, while another delivers the best results with another image. Of course, the drivers with today’s pro printers provide good conversion capabilities, too. But most photographers will probably want to do their image editing and conversions in-computer rather than let the printer do it.


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