How I do my black and white conversions

Wondered why my black & white conversions aren’t the same as yours. Well I don’t deploy the standard B&W conversions as most people do. You can have your own style, not to say mine is better than yours. What I mean is that you should really find a B&W conversion style which is yours, simply so that it defines you.

I love B&W photos because your mind often sees more when you take the color element out from an image & leave one single tone. Some images are best left in color… where else some are better when the color is removed. It all depends on the mood that you want the image to portray & it’s sometimes trial & error.

Which photos are best converted into B&W?

1. It’s not very interesting in color – Sometimes the light is harsh & the colors are washed out.
2. Too bright with parts of the image blown – These can often be saved when converted to B&W.
3. Distracting colors or conflicting colors – You have a beautiful image of a warm evening shot… spoilt because someone left a blue pail of water at the corner of the scene.
4. None of the above – Sometimes… it just looks good monotone… so what the heck!?

Not that I condone the first 3 scenarios, your photos should not come out that way if you are in control of the situation. But at times, even the best of us screw up occasionally when we point the camera at something. It’s best to *previsualize* so that you don’t mess up the shot.

What am I looking for in the photo?

What I wanted to do was to create B&W pictures that has that authentic yet modern feel. If you’ve seen old photographs, the B&W images have a unique quality to it. They aren’t really black & white if you looked carefully. They have a tinge of sepia to it… not too much… just the right amount. I also intend to brighten up those dark areas & lessen the highlights so there will need to be some post processing involved, not just the B&W conversion.

How should I shoot the photo?

Technically you can use any camera. Shoot in jpg & shoot in your standard setting… in color! B&W conversion is best left off camera & in the digital light room. The reason for this is simple, if you want to keep the image in color, you can. If you set your camera to shoot B&W, you can’t go backwards (unless you shoot RAW). Also B&W conversions within the camera is limited & you will have little ability to “choose your style” when performing the B&W conversion.

The example

Here is an image of my ice blended drink, the canon lens cap for my *50mm* & a September issue of Digital SLR Photography I just bought from the news stand about an hour ago!

Open the jpg with your CS whichever version you have, it doesn’t really matter. Straight away press ctrl-shift-U to desaturate the entire photo.

Looks boring right? Well we just got started so don’t worry. Right click on the thumbnail image on your right & select duplicate layer. You can rename the layer, but I normally don’t care & just click OK. Just under the “Layers” tab, you’ll see “Normal” & a drop down menu next to it. Click on it & select Overlay.

Whoa!.. Nice eh? Suddenly the image pops out & the contrast is much stronger. Ok now press shift-ctrl-alt-E. This will combine all the layers underneath & flatten the image creating a new layer on top. Now click on Image > Adjustments > Shadows/Highlights. Immediately you will see the image lighten up because Photoshop automatically uses the value of 35% for Shadows. Depending on the image, I normally use between 0-35%. This setting lightens the shadows area (dark areas). You’ll need to use your better judgement & creativity for this, I can’t tell you what to use exactly for your photograph… but for the case of this particular image, I’m gonna use 5%. Use your eyes & see what looks good. Below the Shadows setting, there is the Highlights setting. Use this only if you see blown areas (white with no detail) on your photo. Adjust this anywhere from 1-25… I sometimes use up to 100 depending on the image I’m processing. Just don’t overdo it to the point the photo looks fake. In this photo I will use 5%.

Here is the result from the shadows/highlights tweaking. You may want to tweak the brightness/contrast a bit here… but in this particular photo, there is no need. At the bottom right corner of the application, you will see a “create new layer” button next to the “delete layer” button. Click on “create new layer”. Press shift-F5 to perform a fill. Make sure Mode is Normal & Opacity is 100%. Preserve Transparency should be unchecked. Under Use… select Color… A color library palette will appear. Now under Book, select PANTONE solid coated. By default the color PANTONE 463 C is selected. Leave it at that & click OK… then OK again.

If you see a solid color & your image disappears, don’t panic! Under the Layers tab on your right, again change Normal to Overlay.

You will see a really brown looking version of your B&W image. We aren’t finished yet!
Next to your Overlay setting, you will see a drop down menu for Opacity. Set it from 100% down to 20%.

Look better now? Ok before you do anything, press shift-ctrl-alt-E again to merge all the layers onto your top new layer. You can now deploy the resizing & sharpening technique I showed you in my earlier post on *getting sharp images*.

Here is the final image. Enjoy this new tip that you’ve just learned.


2 responses to “How I do my black and white conversions”

  1. choy says :

    can you put the photos side by side (such as using “photo scape”), can’t compare the difference by scrolling up and down to see these photos.

    interested in the B&W,

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