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For the annual OP Black-And-White Special issue, it’s fitting that we look at software that will help you take the most control over your black-and-white images. Despite all the advances of digital photography and imaging, photographers, and particularly nature photographers, are still drawn to the special look of black-and-white. The software companies have taken note, and they’re producing better and better tools for controlling your black-and-white images.
While Photoshop offers powerful and flexible tools for creating and fine-tuning black-and-white images from your color originals, there are many other options available. (For a look at how to use Photoshop to create the ultimate black-and-white image file for producing fine-art prints to be framed and hung on the wall, see Ming Tshing’s article “Your Perfect Black-And-White Print” in this issue.) Each of the software packages we cover in this article offers a unique set of options and controls to enable you to produce a beautiful result.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
The tools available in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (www.adobe.com) are quite similar to those available in Photoshop, and in particular, within Adobe Camera Raw, including the ability to adjust the luminosity based on color values within the image. To make the process even easier, you also can work directly on the image. Simply turn on the on-image adjustment feature and point to an area of the image you want to lighten or darken. Drag upward to brighten areas defined by the color value you clicked on and downward to darken.
In addition to these relatively basic controls, Lightroom includes split-toning controls that allow you to add individual color tints to the image based on luminosity, with one color affecting the brighter portion of pixels and another color affecting the darker portion.
To make your work in Lightroom even easier, it can be helpful to install (or create) presets that produce effects you like. Many presets are available from a variety of sources, but author Jack Davis created one of the better collections for black-and-white; it’s available as a free download from onOne Software (www.ononesoftware.com).
Alien Skin Exposure
Exposure from Alien Skin Software (www.alienskin.com) is primarily focused on enabling you to simulate the appearance of a wide variety of films (both color and black-and-white) with your digital images. So while it isn’t presented as a black-and-white tool, per se, it can most certainly be used effectively for that purpose.
In terms of adjusting the black-and-white conversion, the controls provided by Exposure are relatively standard, representing a fair degree of control over the specific tonality of the final result. For those looking to mimic the look of film, the options for adding grain to the image can’t be beat. Besides simply allowing you to adjust the size of the grain structure, you can alter how much grain texture is visible in the highlights, midtones and shadows in the image. You also can adjust the “roughness” of the grain structure, which creates a more gritty appearance, if desired. In addition, a push-processing control allows you to simulate the additional contrast among the grain structure that would be achieved when film is push-processed.
The controls for simulating infrared are solid. Going beyond the simple notion of increasing the luminosity of areas of the image that were green (and yellow), Exposure includes controls for boosting color contrast from the underlying image in order to maximize tonal separation in the final infrared version, as well as controls for the opacity and spread of the halation effect (the ethereal glow visible in many infrared images).
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The controls offered by Apple Aperture (www.apple.com) for black-and-white conversion are less robust compared to what’s available with other software. The only options for an actual black-and-white conversion include the ability to apply a color filter effect that alters contrast and to adjust the luminosity of the individual red, green and blue color channels. Beyond that, the only available controls for fine-tuning the effect are the general tonal adjustments that can be applied to any image, including color photos. So, while Aperture is a powerful tool for image management, it really isn’t a professional-level tool for creating and controlling black-and-white images.
Auto FX Mystical Tint Tone Color
The Mystical Tint Tone Color package from Auto FX Software (www.autofx.com) is aimed at providing a wide variety of interesting effects to your images, including black-and-white images. The software doesn’t overwhelm you with too many controls, and the controls that are available enable you to apply a creative black-and-white conversion and exercise a decent amount of fine-tuning to the image.
Once you’ve selected a preset to use as the basis of your adjustment, you can go about fine-tuning the controls that affect the black-and-white conversion. The Enrich and Deepen controls are of particular benefit, allowing you to add density to the darkest areas of the image in order to improve the richness of the overall effect, while at the same time preserving fine details in those areas.
Mystical Tint Tone Color also allows you to add multiple layers in order to stack effects onto the image, in addition to utilizing masks to apply your adjustments to specific areas of the image.
Nik Software Silver Efex Pro
Silver Efex Pro from Nik Software (www.niksoftware.com) is a powerful tool for creating and manipulating black-and-white images. The software’s only mission is black-and-white. To get you started quickly, there’s a series of styles included. These style presets go beyond the more pedestrian options, mimicking the effect of a black-and-white film capture using a Holga camera, the effect of a pinhole camera, solarized effects, film push-processing and much more.
Silver Efex Pro offers tremendous control over fine details of the black-and-white conversion. For example, the Structure control allows you to increase or decrease local contrast within the image to enhance or suppress fine details, respectively. You also can refine settings to help preserve details in the extreme highlights or shadows so those areas will be protected from any aggressive adjustments you may apply.
The Color Filter controls will be particularly appreciated by photographers who have worked with colored filters, either with black-and-white film captures or when printing in the wet darkroom. Not only can you apply a red filter to enhance contrast, for example, but you also can select a specific hue and strength for the filter, providing considerably more flexibility than was ever possible with black-and-white film photography.
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Silver Efex Pro also offers advanced targeted adjustments through the use of Control Points. When you add a Control Point to a specific position in the image, that area is analyzed for color, tonality, detail and location. When you adjust the size, brightness, contrast or structure for that Control Point, it’s operating intelligently, affecting only areas that match the appearance of the point you identified and within the range you’ve specified.
For the photographer who wants to exercise maximum control over the process of converting a color image to black-and-white, Silver Efex Pro is well worth a look.
onOne Software PhotoTools
The PhotoTools package from onOne Software (www.ononesoftware.com) can be thought of more as a tool for applying a preset appearance to your image, rather than as a tool for fine-tuning a black-and-white conversion. However, the software includes a wide array of presets that produce excellent effects, including a great simulation of a platinum print appearance, which many photographers can appreciate.
Dfx from Tiffen (www.tiffen.com) provides a wide range of filters and special effects, among them effects that allow you to create a black-and-white version of your image. The various comparison preview displays are particularly helpful with Dfx, but for the black-and-white aficionado, the real power lies in the seemingly countless sliders in the Parameters control after choosing a black-and-white preset as a starting point.
The adjustment options start with basic controls that include the ability to custom-tailor a color filter that simulates the effect of just such a filter you might use in the wet darkroom, with much more flexibility.
Dfx includes extensive controls for altering the diffusion glow on the image, the color effects you can add after the black-and-white conversion and special effects such as bleaching that simulate processes available in the wet darkroom. You also can apply targeted adjustments to your image through the use of masks.
Dfx offers a large array of excellent effects that will be of interest not only for producing black-and white images, but also for many other creative pursuits.
Tim Grey has authored over a dozen books on digital photography and imaging for photographers, including the best-selling Photoshop CS4 Workflow. He also publishes the Digital Darkroom Quarterly print newsletter and the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter. Details can be found at www.timgrey.com.