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Working with Black and White Photos

Posted By On August 18, 2006 @ 3:15 PM In Digital Photography | No Comments

Taking black and white pictures with your extra slick digital camera is no easy art. Digital images don’t have the punch of images taken with a film camera, especially when it comes to black and white images. It’s not possible to replicate the film effect using a digital camera. However, we are going to try and do that using Photoshop. First of all, just desaturating an image in Photoshop won’t give you the perfect black and white film picture replica. There’s a lot more to an almost perfect black and white image taken with a digital camera than meets the eye. If you look carefully, you sill see that the tone of a black and white image taken by a digital camera is usually pretty dull. This is especially true since most people would just desaturate a color image or run the inbuilt black and white preset present in most decent digital cameras. For our purpose, I am going to use the image given below, which is a street scene.



Start with duplicating the layer and desaturating it. To desaturate, go to Images, Adjustments, Desaturate. It should look pretty lifeless and dull now. Duplicate this layer again and run a high pass filter. To run a high pass filter, go to Filter, Other, High Pass.



Don’t get scared off by the weird effect the high pass gives to your image. We use this high pass filter to improve contrast and sharpness. Play around with the slider to see what it does. I have used a radius of 2.2 since this is a small image. For a bigger image, one would go for a bigger radius. The trick is not to overdo the high pass as it will give the image an undesirable halo effect. Once you are done, change the opacity of the high pass layer to about 20 to 35 percent and set the blending mode to hard light.

The last step involves playing around with curves. Here we are going to tackle the dull tones of black and white images shot from a digital camera. The idea is to dampen the shadows and pull out the highlights, which is how it works when you take black and white images with a film camera.



You can create a curve adjustment layer by going to the icon at the bottom of the layers palette or by going to Layers, New Adjustment Layer, Curves.



The curves popup window might be intimidating at first, but like you should do with any other Photoshop tool, you should also play around with the settings. If you drag around the curve in the middle for awhile, you will easily be able to figure out how it functions. If you don’t have the patience, just use the settings I have used in the image above. You should see a fairly pleasant effect happening on the image now. If you want to experiment further, you can play around with the opacity of the high pass layer, as well as, the curves layer. By reducing the opacity of these a little bit, you can throw in a bit of color too from the base layer, which has the original image on it. Try different effects to get a grasp of how the specific layers affect the overall image. This is what I ended up with:



Compare this to the original and the desaturated version of the image to see how it fares. Try this on different kinds of images as well. For instance, portraits, street scenes, city images, close shots, etc.

You can stylize this black and white image further by toning it. To do so, we are going to create a color balance adjustment layer. To do that, go to Layer, Adjustment, Color Balance or do it using the icon at the bottom of the layers palette.



The color balance adjustment layer settings box should pop up.



Here we are going to play around with the highlights and shadows and a little bit of the midtones too. First of all, you have to decide what color tone you want to give your image. You have six colors listed right there. If you have never played around with the color balance option, now is the time to do it. As you fiddle with the sliders, you will see the color tone changing immediately. Remember, overall you have three options. Make sure you select all three of them one by one and tweak the sliders. If you want just a subtle effect with just a bit of contrast and shadows, uncheck the “Preserve luminosity” checkbox.

In the image that I worked on here, I went for a cyan-magenta-yellow combination. My exact settings were:

Shadows: 20 -17 -28

Midtones: 22 +32 -7

Highlights: +19 -6 -19

This is what I ended up with finally:



If you head back to the top of the page to take a look at the image that we started with, you’ll realize that the difference is night and day. This is a pretty nifty trick to have in your archives and as you can see, it’s worth the trouble. As I have said numerous times in this tutorial, the best way to master the individual components and effects is to play around with the settings and grasp what they do to the image. All these things brought together will result in giving you the perfect image that you long for.

~Yogesh Bakshi

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