Monochrome Methods

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There are many ways to create a black and white image from a color image.  These are only a few of the many.

(Handout given at the August 23, 2011 Monochrome Workshop)

  1. Desaturate a color image in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), Photoshop, elements or other program.  Fast and easy.  Leaves the image looking a little flat and lifeless to my eye.
  2. Use the B & W tab in ACR.  Make the usual adjustments in the basic tab and then convert to B&W.  Individual colors can be made lighter or darker in this panel.  Local areas can be lighten or darken using the adjustment brush.  Quick and easy.  Still leaves somewhat flat image to me.
  3. Photoshop techniques.  There a many ways to convert to B&W in Photoshop and this list is just few.
    1. Channel adjustment layer.  Add a channel adjustment layer and check the monochrome box.  The red, green and blue channels can be adjusted to taste.
    2. B&W adjustment layer.  Add a B&W adjustment layer and adjust each color.  More colors than channel adjustment layer.
    3. Desaturate works in Photoshop as well.
  4. Add a luminosity mask to enhance certain areas.  These mask are not all black or white but include shades of grey.  This makes them self-feathering.  They are useful for adjusting specific areas that need to be made lighter or darker.
    1. Use the color section tool and make a selection of a specific color.  Works well on sky and objects of the same color.  Use on the bottom layer that is in color.  May have to invert selection.  Once the selection is made, add a curves adjustment layer.  May have to move layer to top of layers.  Adjust curve layer to lighten or darken.
    2. Use the channel pallet to select the lightest 50% of pixels and then refine by adding or subtracting channels.  The basic procedure is to open the channels pallet, duplicate one of the layers, make a selection by dragging it the selection option at the bottom of the pallet or command + click on the channel name.  This will load the selection.  You may have to invert the selection.   Use Shift+Option+Command+click to narrow the selection.  Save this selection as an alpha channel.  Use levels on the alpha channel to increase contrast.  Add a curves adjustment layer to the main image and the alpha channel should be the mask on the adjustment layer.
  5. Add a high pass filter layer to increase contrast and apparent sharpness.  Turn off visibility of all but the bottom layer and duplicate it.  Make this duplicate layer active and add a high pass filter under filters>other >high pass.  Start with the default of 10 pixels.  The image will look horrible at this point.  Change the blending mode to hard light, overlay or soft light rather than normal.  If the base and copy layer are opened as a smart objects, then the high pass filter can be edited, otherwise it cannot.

    Add a top curves adjustment layer if desired.
  6. Do the B&W conversion in camera.  I think it is harder to edit a pure grey scale image.  None of the color selection tools can be used, nor can the B & W tab in ACR.
  7. Plugins to Photoshop, Lightroom and Elements and others.  Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro is very easy to use and much faster to make adjustments in my opinion.
  8. Other uses for black and white conversions.  You can recover an image that is very low in contrast and tonal range or hazy by using a channel adjustment layer and then a curves adjustment layer.

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