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Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Try these steps to bring more detail and expression to your black-and-white imagery

This Article Features Photo Zoom

While technically not a black-and-white photo, desaturated images can make an impact. Try creating this look by making a black-and-white layer and reducing the opacity to around 70%.
At this point, if I know for sure I want to eventually end up with a black-and-white shot, I alter the tone-mapping to enhance the textures, lighting and depth of shadow. I'm aiming for a color version that will work well in black-and-white.

Once the image is tone-mapped, I save it as a new JPEG or as a 16-bit TIFF when I'm particularly excited about a shot. I pull that JPEG or TIFF into Photoshop, where I reduce the noise further. This is almost always necessary with HDR. Most tone-mapping introduces noise because you're combining multiple images and noise is additive. I currently use Nik Software's Dfine noise-reduction plug-in for this, but any method you like should work. Then, I generally use Curves to alter the image contrast further, and I may use Content Aware to remove any dust specks that may not have shown up on one shot, but do now after the image has been tone-mapped. This happens more often than you might expect.

Next, I save the color JPEG or TIFF, then I go to Nik Silver Efex Pro, which creates an adjustment layer automatically. This plug-in is my favorite method of converting a color image into black-and-white because it provides a lot of options and precise levels of control in addition to preset film emulations. That being said, you can use the Black and White adjustment layer in Photoshop, or Topaz Labs' B&W Effects plug-in, or just about any other color-to-black-and-white conversion method you like.

After adjusting the image in Silver Efex Pro (a process that deserves an entire article in its own right), I have my black-and-white image. At this point, I suggest you try one more thing. Since you have the black-and-white image on an adjustment layer, try reducing the opacity of that layer to around 70% so part of the color background layer shows through. This gives you a "desaturated" look that can be incredibly powerful for some shots, so much so that you may actually prefer it to the black-and-white you were going after.

If you still prefer the black-and-white, set the layer opacity to 100%, merge down, and save, and you now have your black-and-white HDR image. This workflow required several different software packages and a fair amount of patience. Here are the steps, broken down:

1) Import each RAW into your preferred software and use a preset on each, then save as separate files.
2) Pull each file into your HDR rendering software, tone-map, then save as a new file.
3) Pull the new file into Photoshop, denoise and clean up, and save the color file.
4) Create an adjustment layer.
5) Run your favorite color-to-black-and-white conversion method.
6) Save the black-and-white file.

These steps require the use of Photoshop (or the equivalent), an HDR tone-mapping package and, if you follow what I do, software for denoising the image and more software for changing the image to black-and-white:

1) Lightroom and/or Photoshop (for RAW processing and cleanup of the HDR image)
2) Photomatix, PhotoEngine or HDR Efex (for tone-mapping and creating the HDR image)
3) Nik Dfine or Topaz DeNoise (for noise removal)
4) Nik Silver Efex Pro (for black-and-white conversion)


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