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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

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Figure 3. A black-and-white conversion using the Black & White Adjustment Layer in Photoshop created from a single color image (left) and created from an HDR Pro color composite image (right).
Now that we're in Merge to HDR Pro, here's how to proceed. For this particular example, I chose a winter scene consisting of a frozen pond lined with cattails and stately cottonwood trees framed by the Mission Mountain Range in northwestern Montana, complete with an ominous stormy sky in the background. I used three bracketed exposures, as shown in Figure 1, to make the composite HDR image with Photoshop's HDR Pro, and I chose Superrealistic from the Preset pull-down menu. Holy cow! You may say to yourself, "Surrealistic can yield some pretty wild results!" While that's often true of the color image, once it's converted to black-and-white, the difference can be striking and quite pleasing.

For my images, I've found that Surrealistic gives me great results, and the only changes that I make (again, depending on the image) are to the Strength and Detail sliders. I do this if I need to recover any detail in blown-out areas like the sky or other brightly lit objects. For this image, I pulled back on the Detail slider (under Tone and Detail) to recover some of the detail on the tops of the tree branches, which were very bright, in this case, from 300% down to about 198%, and simply accepted all the other pre-set values. Make sure the default Local Adaptation is selected for Mode. It's also always a good idea to check the Remove Ghosts box, otherwise any subject movement between frames, including passing clouds, will affect the final composite image, giving objects a ghostly blur. Now, click OK to start the HDR process.

Note that each image is different, and the resulting effect may not be to your liking; therefore, it's a good idea to experiment to see what works best for your specific photo as far as presets or adjustment sliders are concerned. You also may ask at this point, and rightly so, why not just use one of the Monochromatic HDR presets? You can, and as with any other software conversion tool, the HDR Pro Monochromatic presets can offer some good results, depending on the starting images used and assuming they meet your desires and objectives. The big difference in the method that I use is that I have greater control over the final outcome. I have much more latitude for managing the tonality of the final black-and-white based upon the fine-tuning of individual colors in the HDR composite image. This isn't possible if the Monochromatic presets are used.

After the HDR composite image is created, add a Black & White Adjustment Layer. You can do this several ways. From the main Menu bar, select Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black&White, or select it directly from the Adjustment panel (half black and white icon), or from the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel (half black and white icon).

As seen in Figure 2, controlled tonal adjustments can be made within the Adjustment panel by moving individual color sliders. If you prefer to work directly on the image on a particular object or area, as opposed to using the sliders, simply use the Targeted Adjustment tool (TAT). To use TAT, click on the Hand with the Arrow icon in the upper-left side of the Adjustments panel to activate it; now, hover with your mouse or tablet pen over the area of interest on the image, then click and drag left or right while holding down the mouse button to darken or lighten that area (color), respectively. Note: Not only will the area picked be affected, but everything else within the image that is of the same color will be affected as well. On some images, this may not be desirable; however, it's nothing that can't be fixed through the use of layer masks, but then that's another story beyond the scope of this article.


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