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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Your Perfect B&W Print

Ansel Adams called the print “The Performance.” OP shows you, in-depth, how to use Photoshop to get your image ready for the best performance possible.

This Article Features Photo Zoom


Midtone Contrast
At Nash Editions, Mac Holbert and I have worked on countless images over the years. One common issue we find is a lack of contrast in the midtones. In the beginning, we added contrast to these areas by using a basic curve, locking down the lighter and darker tones and targeting additional contrast to the midtones. Although this worked to increase the contrast in the midtones, we knew there was a better, more direct way of accomplishing this. True story: As Mac was sleeping one night, he came up with what would later become called the Midtone Contrast layer.

This Midtone Contrast and Michael Reichmann’s local contrast enhancement were put to use in the Clarity adjustment found in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw.

Here’s an overview of the workflow. Create a Stamped Visible layer at the top of your layer stack. Select the top layer in your Layers palette. With the Option key pressed, go to Layer > Merge Visible. This creates a flattened version of your image at the top of the layer stack. Rename it Midtone Contrast (Fig. 9).

Now, let’s change the mode of the Midtone Contrast layer to Overlay and lower the Opacity to 20%. Once this is done, select from the filters menu Others > High Pass. In the High Pass Filter dialog, set the radius to 50 and press OK. We want to remove all colors if there are any from this Midtone Contrast layer. Use the Desaturate command from Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (Fig. 10).


This next step is very important. In the blending options of the Midtone Contrast layer, we change the values for Blend If. With the Midtone Contrast layer selected, go to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options. At the bottom center of the dialog box we see two gradated sliders for the Blend If option. Set the slider under This Layer to 54 / 76 for the black and 185 / 205 for the white. We have to split the slider to get the values we want. Splitting the slider is accomplished by holding down the Option key, then clicking on the slider and dragging it apart.

The Blend If setting fades the contrast out of both the black and white areas of the image, focusing the contrast to the midtones of the image. You can increase or decrease the Midtone Contrast by changing the opacity of the Midtone Contrast layer.

We now come to the final step in my workflow, and I stress this as the final step. It’s my firm belief that sharpening should be applied last, and I’ll tell you why. First, sharpening is based on the intended use of the image. Sharpening for the web is different than sharpening for inkjet output. Second, everything you do is a reflection of the previous step in any workflow. The color, contrast and overall tonality of your image will affect where and how much sharpening is applied. Thus, your final image is an expression of these three elements.

There are many third-party filters you can use to sharpen. If you want to stick with the base filters supplied in Photoshop, however, the High Pass filter is a good one. Similar to the Midtone Contrast layer, we want to select the top layer in our Layers palette. Hold down the Option key on the keyboard. Go to Layer > Merge Visible. This creates a flattened version of your image, placing it at the top of the layer stack. Name this layer Sharpen. Change the Blend mode of this layer to Overlay (Fig. 11).


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