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Gadget Bag: Convert To B&W

The era of complex maneuvers with the channel mixer has given way to a bevy of software solutions that give you control and make it easy to transform color to evocative, dramatic black-and-white images
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Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2; onOne Software PhotoTools 2.6

To create the best bold black-and-white images, you used to have to know the ins and outs of Photoshop’s channel mixer. It could be daunting, especially if you weren’t that fluent with Photoshop to begin with. Today, however, a number of powerful options are available that make the process dead-easy, and best of all, many of these options are oriented more toward photographers than toward graphic designers.

In this brief roundup, our goal is to point out the available options. We don’t have the space to provide complete guided tours of each of these software solutions. You can learn more online, and a quick check of YouTube will provide a number of free tutorials that delve into the nitty-gritty of these applications.

ArcSoft PhotoStudio 6

Beyond quick conversion, all of the programs here also give you more extensive controls when you drill down into them. Some offer more options in this area than others, but each lets you craft your images beyond a single “convert to monochrome” click. Whichever software you ultimately use to convert and fine-tune your photographs, spend time experimenting with the fine controls. You’ll be amazed at the tonal information in your photographs and how you can coax that out.

Nik Software Silver Efex Pro 2
Like all of Nik Software’s products, Silver Efex Pro 2 is photographic in its layout and functionality. By that we mean the software seems like it was created by photographers, not computer programmers. You’ll feel at home working within the interface. Silver Efex Pro offers a number of presets that create various black-and-white looks. You can simply pick one and apply, or you can fine-tune the various effects using Nik Software’s U Point system. Drop a U Point on the image, and you can increase or decrease the amount of adjustment through slider controls. The process is intuitive, fast and easy.

Adobe Lightroom 4

onOne Software PhotoTools 2.6
onOne Software makes some of the most useful tools for photographers, and their PhotoTools package lets you apply a number of black-and-white presets (among
others) to an image. The collection of black-and-white presets is extensive. PhotoTools 2.6 lets you take detailed control over an image, and new in v2.6 is a lighting effects tool that works well for black-and-white photos.

Alien Skin Exposure 4

Alien Skin Exposure 4
The Exposure software versions have long been a popular solution for photographers looking to get specific looks from their black-and-white conversions. Exposure 4 lets you choose from a variety of specific film emulsions so you can convert and mimic your favorite films. For photographers who never used film, this capability still offers a lot of creativity and gives you a chance to experiment with grain, contrast and even subtle black-and-white tonalities. The software works as a plug-in for Photoshop or Lightroom, as well as a standalone application.

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Tiffen Dfx 3.0

Tiffen Dfx 3.0
Besides making a conversion to black-and-white point-and-click simple, Tiffen Dfx has a huge number of Parameters controls that lets you use sliders to fine-tune the image and the effects you apply. Like working in a traditional darkroom, you can create the look of bleaching or soft developers and add color filtration to alter contrast and tonal relationships. You can target your adjustments. The upshot is that this powerful package gives you a lot of control over converting your color to monochrome and then taking off from there.

Auto FX Mystical Tint Tone Color 2.0

ArcSoft PhotoStudio 6
ArcSoft has been making software that fits the needs of nature photographers since the earliest days of the digital revolution. PhotoStudio 6 lets you convert an image to black-and-white quickly, and the Magic-Film feature lets you emulate the look of a particular film. If you were a film-and-darkroom kind of photographer, you’ll enjoy the ability to give your modern digital photos the look of Kodak TRI-X, for example.

Alien Skin Software
Auto FX
Nik Software
onOne Software

Auto FX Mystical
Tint Tone Color 2.0 Auto FX’s Mystical Tint Tone Color package lets you add a number of effects to your photographs, black-and-white effects among them. You can take a fair amount of control over the black-and-white images through presets that can be fine-tuned. The Enrich and Deepen controls let you add density to the darkest areas of the image to make the overall effect all that much more rich-looking while preserving detail.

Adobe Lightroom 4
The newest version of Lightroom gives you several ways to convert a color photograph to black-and-white. As in previous versions, one of the best things you can do is create or download presets, which automates the process. Lightroom lets you convert to monochrome in a few different ways. You can simply click black-and-white in the Basic Panel, or you can desaturate the image by sliding Saturation to -100. You also can click B&W in the Hue/Saturation/Luminance panel. Any of these options makes for a great starting point, and from there you can start the process of manually tweaking the images.

Apple Aperture 3

Apple Aperture 3
Like some other software, Aperture began life as a robust organizing program, but it has blossomed into a powerful image-editing tool. Many photographers feel that Photoshop is less and less necessary on a daily basis because software like Aperture has become more and more useful. To convert to black-and-white in Aperture, you go to the Adjustments tab where you’ll find the black-and-white tools. You can adjust color sliders, which act as though they were color filters on a film camera shooting black-and-white film.