Monday, January 21, 2013

Black & White Processing

© Greg Clure

What images make good candidates for black & white (B&W) comversion? Any image with tonal contrast. What is tonal contrast? Tonal contrast are those areas of different luminacity. The best B&W candidates have many of these alterating tonal areas repeated throughout the image. This image of a water filled pocket in the White Pocket area of the Vermillion Cliffs has such characteristics. The white sandstone rock (a light tone) is broken up throughout the image by the darker shadow areas of the cracks (a dark tone) running between the rocks. The same thing is happening with the blue sky and white clouds and we see both repeated in the pool's reflection of rock and sky. The pool's concentric rings also has alternating light/dark tonality.
When converting images to B&W use an optimized color image in a RAW format for maximum control and detail. Since RAW images contain more information they can be pushed further than others. Once you have your color version looking its best, you can now convert to B&W. I have found that there is not faster and easier way to do this conversion than by using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2. I also like to access Silver Efex from Photoshop which allows the use of Smart Filter technology which is a non-distructive means of applying changes that can be re-accessed at any time to make changes starting with all the controlls in the last place you left them. The presets available in Silver Efex make it fast to select a starting point, simply browse the presets and select the one that works best for your image. In the case of this image, I choose the Full Contrast & Structure preset. This however was a bit to contrasty for the sky area but not quite enough structure and contrast for the rock area. Using the global adjustments I brought down the brightness and bumped up the contrast and structure. I also added a red filter to futher enhance the sky by darkening the blue areas. Still wanting more controll over each area in the image I created a group of controll points for both the sky area and rock areas and further tweeked my contrast in the sky and structure in the rock. This conversion took me about 2 minutes to complete, thanks to Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. Nik offers a free 15 day trial version of any of their plug-ins and you can download (use download button in right column) it and give it a try on some of your images. If you like it, and I am sure you will, you can use my discount code, gclure, to recieve a 15% discount on your purchase at Or equally impressive is Black & White Effects from Topaz Labs who offers a dozen plug-ins for Lightroom, Photoshop and Aperture. The good news is you can download a free trial copy at and compare it to Nik's and purchase the one that you find works best for you! The same discount code, gclure, will save you 15% on any Topaz product as well.

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