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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Software For B&W Image Control

To get the most out of your black-and-white images, try these software packages

This Article Features Photo Zoom

For the annual OP Black-And-White Special issue, it’s fitting that we look at software that will help you take the most control over your black-and-white images. Despite all the advances of digital photography and imaging, photographers, and particularly nature photographers, are still drawn to the special look of black-and-white. The software companies have taken note, and they’re producing better and better tools for controlling your black-and-white images.

While Photoshop offers powerful and flexible tools for creating and fine-tuning black-and-white images from your color originals, there are many other options available. (For a look at how to use Photoshop to create the ultimate black-and-white image file for producing fine-art prints to be framed and hung on the wall, see Ming Tshing’s article “Your Perfect Black-And-White Print” in this issue.) Each of the software packages we cover in this article offers a unique set of options and controls to enable you to produce a beautiful result.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
The tools available in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (www.adobe.com) are quite similar to those available in Photoshop, and in particular, within Adobe Camera Raw, including the ability to adjust the luminosity based on color values within the image. To make the process even easier, you also can work directly on the image. Simply turn on the on-image adjustment feature and point to an area of the image you want to lighten or darken. Drag upward to brighten areas defined by the color value you clicked on and downward to darken.

In addition to these relatively basic controls, Lightroom includes split-toning controls that allow you to add individual color tints to the image based on luminosity, with one color affecting the brighter portion of pixels and another color affecting the darker portion.

To make your work in Lightroom even easier, it can be helpful to install (or create) presets that produce effects you like. Many presets are available from a variety of sources, but author Jack Davis created one of the better collections for black-and-white; it’s available as a free download from onOne Software (www.ononesoftware.com).

Alien Skin Exposure
Exposure from Alien Skin Software (www.alienskin.com) is primarily focused on enabling you to simulate the appearance of a wide variety of films (both color and black-and-white) with your digital images. So while it isn’t presented as a black-and-white tool, per se, it can most certainly be used effectively for that purpose.

In terms of adjusting the black-and-white conversion, the controls provided by Exposure are relatively standard, representing a fair degree of control over the specific tonality of the final result. For those looking to mimic the look of film, the options for adding grain to the image can’t be beat. Besides simply allowing you to adjust the size of the grain structure, you can alter how much grain texture is visible in the highlights, midtones and shadows in the image. You also can adjust the “roughness” of the grain structure, which creates a more gritty appearance, if desired. In addition, a push-processing control allows you to simulate the additional contrast among the grain structure that would be achieved when film is push-processed.

The controls for simulating infrared are solid. Going beyond the simple notion of increasing the luminosity of areas of the image that were green (and yellow), Exposure includes controls for boosting color contrast from the underlying image in order to maximize tonal separation in the final infrared version, as well as controls for the opacity and spread of the halation effect (the ethereal glow visible in many infrared images).


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