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Thread: Please teach me BW conversion

  1. #1
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    Please teach me BW conversion

    Well I have seen some fantastic BW conversions here. But whatever I do, I just can't get that BW look and tone and my images look just pale, flat or just BW missing those tone.

    Here are some of my BW samples. I personally think these images could look much better if converted properly

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sagarjo...7624910544621/

    Please help me learn BW conversion and some tips.

  2. #2
    tokengirl
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    First of all, what software are you using to do the B&W conversion?
    IMO, Nik Silver Efex Pro is the best software out there for B&W conversion. It's "Control Point" feature is truly amazing for dodging & burning and selectively controlling contrast. The "vignette" tool is also unique in that it lets you place the center of the vignette anywhere you want it.

    I think that 2 of the 4 photos you linked to are wonderful photos and the B&W conversions that you did are not bad as a starting point. I am referring to "Path..." and "Rainy Evening in Paris". It would be helpful if we could see the original photos before cropping or conversion to judge how a B&W conversion might be handled for maximum effect.

  3. #3
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Some aesthetic comments:

    *signs of winter* is well-seen but too contrasty for my taste; the only reasonable detail is in the core background—the leaves burn out and the corners (burned?) are distractingly dark so the only texture in them pops out white.

    *Falling leaf...* has the sort of tonality I really like—that rich grey (that’s how we spell it in Australia) B/G with plenty of texture to keep the eye busy. I'd like to see a bit more richness and detail in the leaf though ...

    *path* is a little too grey and therefore a bit dull for me; I also find it a touch over-sharpened.

    *Paris* is much too soot-and-whitewash. The burned-put details on the buildings and the solid shadows of the people and their brollies do not provide sufficient detail to keep my eye on them. I find it pleasing only in the wet pavement.

    BTW, I made my first BW print in 1969, so I do have some experience, and I have taught the Zone System.

    The old BW adage of “expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights” is inverted with digital shooting.

    Digital is more like colour transparency film, where exposure is based on keeping the highlights from breaking and letting the shadows fall where they may (possibly using reflectors and lights to help—look at any pro movie shoot and there are lights/reflectors everywhere to make the shot look *natural*).

    A question; are you using RAW or JPEG? If you use RAW you have much more control over tonal range when converting.

    Interesting link about pulling detail from extreme under-exposure.
    Last edited by mediumcool; 18th November 2010 at 02:23. Reason: changed *dodged* to *burned* DOH!

  4. #4
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Also, most people do not calibrate their monitors (on this forum I suspect many more do so than elsewhere), so images can look very different on different systems.

    I use Macintosh computers which have reasonable calibration control built-in; Windows has utilities to do a similar job I believe.

    But hardware calibration is by far the best—I calibrate to a gamma of 2, a compromise between the old Mac standard gamma of 1.8 originally tailored for the print industry, and the video standard of 2.2 long used on the PC.
    Last edited by mediumcool; 18th November 2010 at 02:25. Reason: moved comma

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    Administrator Bob's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    My basic process for B&W conversions.
    disclaimer, everybody has their own "secret recipe".
    First, do a raw conversion to a 16 bit tiff. make sure that there are no blown highlights or shadows other than what is intended. The image might look a little flat at this point. That is ok, in fact maybe preferable.
    Second,
    Open in Photoshop and add a B&W conversion adjustment layer. Click auto and look at the relative tones of the different previously colored areas.
    Adjust these to taste until there is good tonal seperation in those areas of the image you consider significant.
    Third,
    Add a curves adjustment layer. Most classic film "looks" are due to a Hurter and Driffeld curve (density vs exposure) with a rather long toe and shoulder. Most digital images are more linear over-all than that and film curves are actually simulated. So now you get to emulate your favorite film curve. Forgive me for what some might consider toe and shoulder reversal, but it is to facilitate explanation.
    For a "normal" look:
    Start by shifting the black point so that you get some good deep blacks. Then add an adjustment point near the black point and drag it down and perhaps a bit to the right to lower the toe contrast and increase the mid-tone contrast.
    Now adjust the white point just to the clipping point of the brightest part of the image. then add a shghlight adjustment point and drag it up and a bit to the left to emulate the shoulder of the curve. this further increases the mid-tone contrast.
    Tweak these points to taste.
    Since these are all layers you can fiddle with them to fine-tune the result.
    Voila!
    if you would like some grain, then stamp visible to create a layer with all of these adjustments applied on top of the curve layer. then filter/noise/add noise to taste. Dial down the opacity of this layer to where you want it.
    That ought to get you in the ballpark.
    -bob
    Last edited by Bob; 18th November 2010 at 02:48.

  6. #6
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    The vast majority of the black and white conversions I do are done with a combination of Channel Mixer, Curves Adjustment Layers and doses of hi-radius, low amount USM. I've done enough comparisons to the B&W Adjustment say that in most cases the Channel Mixer just looks better. In addition, the B&W Adjustment has a fatal flaw. All too often it causes posterizations and rough tonal transitions that are not there in the CM conversions. Oh, yeah, it looks good at first glance, but zoom in on a high res image and you'll easily see how crappy the gradations are. Good idea. Not quite there in implementation. In my opinion, another tool that was added without fully being tested by people that really understood what to look for.

    For those who were raised on black and white film, and remember how filters afftected the tonality, the Channel Mixer will make the most sense.

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    All of these suggestion work and can even be combined. I don't think there's any one "right" way to do it. It does seem to help if you have a clear vision of what you're after though.

    And I think some healthy experimentation is a worthwhile investment of time. Crank those sliders all over the place to exaggerate effects and see what they do. For instance, if you're using the Channel Mixer method, you can manipulate the color to subdue or enhance portions of the image before implementing the Channel Mixer. Lots of ways to release your inner B&W!

  8. #8
    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    The most recent B&W adjustment layer in CS is essentially a channel mixer anyway, allowing you to adjust tonality in your B&W conversions based on colors. I do what Bob does. Here, I would reiterate that if there's a "secret sauce" it is the final output curve with a toe and heel that matches your favorite B&W film or your artistic vision -- and usually it's a much higher midtone contrast setting with flatter toe and shoulder than a typical digital file has. The only other secret suace tip is to boost the saturation of your color image by about 8 or 10 points before the B&W conversion, as this allows a more definitive separation of tones while tweaking the channel slider sliders in the CS B&W adjustment layer tool.

    Cheers,
    Jack
    home: www.getdpi.com

    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

  9. #9
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Jack - While I agree that the B&W is a sort of Channel Mixer, that fact that it adds more color options to the mix is also its weakness. The smoothness of transition between those added color tweaking options, and how they actually blend on a high res image, are the ultimate downfall. Add to that, that most users make there B&W adjustments looking at an image that might be displayed at 16.7% or less on screen, makes the artifacts impossible to see. Sure, everyone can and should use whatever method they want, but they should also be aware of the limitations of the method they choose as well. My first reaction to B&W was, WOW, this is freaking cool. That initial enthusiasm was soon tempered by reality and I move almost exclusively back to CM. It just looks better.

  10. #10
    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Like anything, one needs to learn to use the tools to maximum benefit while remaining non-destructive. Yes it is "easy" to impart artifacts in any B&W conversion that uses selective color channels, especially if you boost the Blue channel. Again, careful application will keep those to an acceptable level in the image.
    Jack
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    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

  11. #11
    meilicke
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    This is a great conversation, thanks all.

  12. #12
    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    and then there is the gold standard:





    (PS: Image is actually an in-cam B&W jpeg from my Panny G2 with 45 macro lens shot wide open. CS work includes curve per discussion above, slight edge burn, a little D&B here and there, and a slight perspective tweak... )
    Jack
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  13. #13
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Another technique I have adapted from my film days is dodging: because the PS dodging tool can be set to affect the highlights, mid-tones and shadows respectively, used subtly it can improve or simulate texture in shadows (I mostly use it set to highlight, and never to shadow).

    Worth trying if a large and distracting shadow area seems completely filled in.

  14. #14
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Thank you folks, this is indeed very helpful discussion. Here is the original color image of one of the photos. If you don't mind, would you please play with it and help me show how it would look in BW if you did the conversion with your methods.


  15. #15
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Just whipped this up (bit of layering/masking going on)

  16. #16
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    How I did it.

    Opened image in PS2.

    Quickly inspected each colour channel (Command-1, Command-2, and Command-3). Often Green looks great, but here RED and GREEN were about equal (BLUE tends to look dark and also noisy)

    Opened Channel Mixer dialogue, set to mono output with 50% each of RED and GREEN, based on preliminary inspection above — changed to 30% R and 70% G to make up 100%.

    Wanted more detail in highlight up the top so selected all (Command-A) > copy to new layer (Command-G) and set its transmission to multiply, but gave it away when I couldn’t quickly mask out the effect on the darker areas (using the image itself as a layer mask). Wasted those seconds.

    Next, duped layer again, and used dodger to brighten blurred brollies and tried to separate the legs and feet from the B/G (fun aspect of this shot). Used this new layer so as not to destroy original.

    Then duped the dodged layer again, applied 3 pixel Gaussian blur and set its transmission mode to lighten.

    Then put a Levels adjustment layer on top and pulled the middle slider down to 0.90.

    This is on a Mac, so substitute the Control key on the PC.
    Last edited by mediumcool; 21st November 2010 at 19:12. Reason: added space and clarified keystroke differences across platforms

  17. #17
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    A variant with a gradient layer mask applied to the blurred layer so the foreground glint (?) is not haloed.

    Subtle but there.

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    Administrator Bob's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Attachment 37688
    My version.
    B/W adjustment layer, auto
    Curves adjustment layer - brighten mid tones, masked out some background areas
    Curves adjustment layer, increase midtone contrast, long toe, long shoulder
    Stamp visible
    selective sharpening to lady near car to help visual point of interest and some foreground reflections
    -bob

  19. #19
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Bloody interesting (Australian adjective) how you can use so many different techniques to solve problems/create your own vision. Bob, I like what you’ve done, but find it a wee bit contrasty for my taste (at least on my monitor—I do love zones 4 to 7!).

    Like what you did to the woman in centre BG with brolly; I just dodged to brighten it a bit but the sharpening is another way of creating attention. When you think about it, it’s quite a busy image.

    Just googled B+W adjustment layers—CS3, the version after mine, was the first to get it.

    What time is it over there? 11.18pm on a humid late spring night here in South Australia.

  20. #20
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Bob

    I’ll have to modify my contrast statement after another look at both our attempts; the romantic ghosting I have engineered pushes grey out from the highlights so much that I think if it wasn’t for that, our contrast ratios would be much closer.

    I was trying for a fin de siècle look (hey, it is Paris!).

    Too late in the evening; too much inexpensive domestic chardonnay! Hic!
    Last edited by mediumcool; 22nd November 2010 at 03:26. Reason: added Hic!

  21. #21
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Quote Originally Posted by mediumcool View Post
    Opened image in PS2.
    .
    Typo City here; meant PS CS2!

  22. #22
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    So, no comments from the original poster?

    All that work from Bob and myself!

  23. #23
    tokengirl
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Quote Originally Posted by mediumcool View Post
    So, no comments from the original poster?

    All that work from Bob and myself!
    Not everyone has access to the internet 24/7 - maybe he is traveling or working? Give it time, I'm sure he'll be back.

    My attempt:



    I imported it into Lightroom and did the following:
    a) set the blacks level at 3
    b) increased the vibrance to 20
    c) added some low (0.7) radius sharpening
    d) applied some noise reduction
    e) applied a correction for the chromatic aberration

    Then I exported it to Silver Efex Pro and did the following:
    a) selected the "High Structure" preset
    b) applied a green filter
    c) added a slight vignette
    d) added the gold tone preset (because it's Paris, right?) and decreased the intensity a little

    Then I opened it in Photoshop and did the following:
    a) added the border
    b) applied a slight curves adjustment

    The B&W conversion took all of two minutes at most. I spent more time making corrections to the color image in Lightroom. The point I am trying to make is that before you convert to B&W, you really need to have the color file looking as good as possible, and that is what often takes the majority of the time.

  24. #24
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Quote Originally Posted by tokengirl View Post
    I imported it into Lightroom and did the following:
    a) set the blacks level at 3
    b) increased the vibrance to 20
    c) added some low (0.7) radius sharpening
    d) applied some noise reduction
    e) applied a correction for the chromatic aberration

    Then I exported it to Silver Efex Pro and did the following:
    a) selected the "High Structure" preset
    b) applied a green filter
    c) added a slight vignette
    d) added the gold tone preset (because it's Paris, right?) and decreased the intensity a little
    Then I opened it in Photoshop and did the following:
    a) added the border
    b) applied a slight curves adjustment

    The B&W conversion took all of two minutes at most. I spent more time making corrections to the color image in Lightroom. The point I am trying to make is that before you convert to B&W, you really need to have the color file looking as good as possible, and that is what often takes the majority of the time.
    Have not used LR or Silver Efex so an interesting tale (and conversion). Thanks for joining in!

  25. #25
    Sr. Administrator Jack's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    One thing to note is some images do look better in color; corollary is not all images make great B&W subjects. I think this one does however and I took a slightly different approach than is typical:
    Jack
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    "Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence."

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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    It's certainly 3 years ago since I did the last BW conversion… so I took the chance to play around with this image a bit. It's fun after all :-)

    Some thoughts about the "why" …
    - the scene shows a lot of light sources so I thought the image should be a bit "shiny" and not too dark overall as this would be a kind of a discrepancy
    - I wanted to maintain the motion of the peaple… so again: too bold blacks make the motion of the walking people almost disappear
    - I wanted to accentuate one main point of attention… which is obviously the man in the center of the image (naturally, as it is the only person that is sharp)
    (…)

    Here's the "how" …
    - assigned a Phase One BW profile to the image in Photoshop (in this case the neutral standard BW profile). I do like the 3 Phase One profiles (neutral, panchromatic, yellow filter) as they provide a good starting point. There's also quite a neutral BW profile made by Uli on outbackphoto.com which I also like to use as a starting point. Of course all these profiles are RGB profiles so that you can further fine tune the color chanels.
    - slight fine tuning of color chanels (mainly to balance the tree trunks, the facade in the background and the banner in the middle ground)
    - curve to balance blacks, midtones and highlights
    - slight glow on the highlights (in this case with Focal Blade)
    - high pass sharpening layer, overall layer opacity reduced, erased at the edges (so that it is actually only applied to the center of the image… and to the car on the left hand side that is in the same plane of focus as the man in the center)
    - layer with grain
    - slight warm tone

  27. #27
    Senior Member mediumcool's Avatar
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Quote Originally Posted by thomas View Post
    It's certainly 3 years ago since I did the last BW conversion… so I took the chance to play around with this image a bit. It's fun after all :-)

    Some thoughts about the "why" …
    - the scene shows a lot of light sources so I thought the image should be a bit "shiny" and not too dark overall as this would be a kind of a discrepancy
    La Ville-Lumière!

  28. #28
    tokengirl
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    It is interesting (but not surprising) how five different people have interpreted this scene in very different ways.

  29. #29
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    Everyone thank you so much and my apologies for not able to respond earlier. But I have learned so much in this single thread.

    I am subscribing to this thread as a reference

  30. #30
    Wolfman
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    You might want to check this out in your area at Calumet.... there are 2 that day: http://www.cvent.com/EVENTS/Info/Sum...5-075be813fa96

  31. #31
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    Re: Please teach me BW conversion

    http://cyanjack.com/blog/retouch/230...white-mastery/

    This is the best technique I have yet to find, it is also the most intuitive.

    CyanJack, thank you.

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