Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Making Your Best B&W
Conversions in the computer have become easier, allowing you to get better results than ever before
What your eyes and mind see is color based on lightness, contrast and color values. Most photographers would agree that to make a good monochrome image, you need to envision what you see as grayscale when you make the picture—but do you? For me, first I have to like the image as a color image and then evaluate the brightness and saturation of individual colors, as well as overall tonal value and contrast. Later, in-software, I experiment with a monochrome conversion, using the advantages provided by the software and my analysis of the screen display. That’s when I begin to intellectually and visually convert my color image to monochrome. If you shoot primarily for monochrome, you need to learn how your software and/or camera renders in grayscale so you can anticipate what you’ll get when you’re back at the computer. You’ll need to practice and hone your skills so that your subsequent renderings will meet your expectations.
In reality, however, I’ve found that even after I’ve adjusted exposure in-camera to make what I thought was a better exposure, those adjustments affected the entire image. It’s inevitable that you’ll either need to or want to make adjustments in-software, selectively tweaking highlights, midtones, shadows, disparate color values, dynamic range, black-and-white extremes and more. For me, the tweaking process begins with the original color file; I make adjustments as desired for a better color image, and sometimes make adjustments that will make the conversion to monochrome better, as well. The objective is to make an image that’s not necessarily identical to the original scene, but rather a complex combination of the original scene’s character, plus my creative adjustments.
Making individual colors lighter or darker will affect the rendering when you convert to monochrome—likewise if you adjust each color’s saturation level. Also, if you decide to change the color space of the image, you need to do this at the beginning of the process and not after you’ve done your monochrome conversion. The reason? When you change color space, you’re modifying the dynamic color range and, ultimately, affect any monochrome conversion you’ve done.
There’s A Big “But” In The Process
How you use your software for color to black-and-white conversion will vary, depending on which software program you’ve chosen.
Adobe Photoshop CS4 offers the opportunity to change from color to grayscale. When using this approach, I recommend that you thoroughly adjust the image’s color characteristics (saturation level for each color, brightness level for each color, dynamic brightness range and tonal value differences among
I also edit my image (in color) using Nik Software’s Viveza. This software, with Color Control Points, facilitates the fine adjustment of individual objects/areas within the image for brightness, contrast, saturation, hue, RGB colors and warmth. The ability to choose different objects within the image and to affect individual colors and color ranges helps me immensely as I work to achieve an ideal balance among the various areas and objects within the image.
Another useful and creative tool that can be plugged into Photoshop is Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro. This software provides you with the versatility of Nik U-Point technology and in a manner similar to what Color Control Points do in Viveza; you can apply many of Silver Efex Pro’s monochrome adjustments. It’s very powerful and versatile.
I also like to use Nikon Capture NX 2; using Nik U-Point Technology, NX 2 allows you to apply all of its adjustments and filters universally across an image and selectively among various objects and color values within the image. Together with a collection of additional built-in tools that work universally on an image, I can fully adjust a color image’s characteristics so that when I convert to monochrome, either within NX 2 using NX 2’s built-in tools or with Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro for Capture NX 2, I have the option to make monochrome images that meet my objectives.
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