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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

B&W Transformation

Go from a weak color photograph to strong, dynamic black-and-white by taking advantage of HDR technology along the way

Final Image

The technique that I'm about to illustrate will take your photos to the next level, creating killer black-and-white images. The method is fairly straightforward and utilizes the HDR Pro functionality already built into Adobe Photoshop CS5 and CS6. Best of all, it doesn't require any special add-ons or plug-ins either. I've never been too crazy about high dynamic range (HDR) images and had never done much with HDR, until recently, that is. Much of the color HDR work I've seen often appeared to be way overworked, unreal and sometimes actually rather garish, but that's just my personal opinion and shouldn't influence anyone's creative efforts in this regard. This viewpoint set me to wondering, however: What could one of those over-the-top color HDR images look like as black-and-white? Well, much to my surprise, the outcome was, to say the least, astounding! The resulting contrast and range of tonalities were something that I certainly would be hard-pressed to achieve through hours of dodging and burning, and layer masking. Let's see how it's done.

Example 1: HDR Pro Image
In this example, I'll create a black-and-white image using an HDR composite for the background image. The first step is to pick three or more image frames taken at various bracketed exposures, just as would be done to create any HDR image, and open these selected files in Photoshop. If you're not familiar with the HDR process, here's how to do it.

With the individual images opened in Photoshop CS5 or CS6, select File > Automate > Merge to HDR Pro from the Menu bar. The Merge to HDR Pro Dialog panel will open. Accept the Files default under the Use option, and click on the bottom-right option button to Add Open Files. You'll then see the files you opened listed. Make sure the Attempt to Automatically Align Source Files box is checked; click OK.

Figure 1. HDR Pro Dialog panel. Figure 2. An HDR Background layer with a Black & White Conversion layer added. The tonal adjustment is affected by moving individual color sliders or using the Targeted Adjustment tool (TAT) to make adjustments directly from the image.

At this point, a Script Alert may open, telling you that files converted from the Camera Raw format may lose detail, i.e., that it's best to use RAW images. Don't panic; just click OK to proceed. Assuming you're already working with RAW image files (which is what I always work with), you can ignore the warning and simply continue. If you're using files other than RAW files, you either can carry on and see how things work out or cancel the operation and start again with RAW images. Depending on the images used, you may need to experiment a little to see what works best. A second warning Dialog panel may open advising that a loss of dynamic range may occur when merging files converted from the Camera Raw format—another reason to work with RAW image files. It's obviously apparent now that it's best to work in RAW. As with the previous alert, click OK to proceed.

If you use Lightroom to catalog and manage your images, the process is a little simpler and faster. From Lightroom, highlight the individual images to be used and from the Menu bar select Photo > Edit in > Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop, or simply right-click on any one of the highlighted images and select Edit In > Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop from the drop-down menu. If you're working from Lightroom, you won't get the Photoshop warning dialogs regardless of the file format used.


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