Black and White Photography

By: David Peters

Black and white photography has always been powerful and it has stood the test of time, even against its contemporary color counterpart. When working with black and white, you must incorporate a different set of rules and techniques. With the lack of color the balances of shape and contrast are made to work harder in order to convey the story or set the mood. However, once this is achieved it is striking.

While some digital cameras have a black and white mode available, if yours does not, black and white is still possible. Many photographers would agree that it is actually easier to make the shot in color, converting over to black and white in editing. The Photoshop program has a variety of techniques to make this conversion over to black and white or as the program refers to it as grayscale. The degree to which the subtleties can be altered is dramatic.

The most simplistic method of converting color to black and white is to simply change the mode to grayscale (Image > Mode > Grayscale). While this will work, there are other methods.Lets take a look at three other methods that will convert color to grayscale (black and white):

The first method is desaturation. This is the removal the visible color information while keeping the RGB status of the file. This would allow you to add a tint at a later point without having to change color mode again. Follow Steps: Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (or press Ctrl/Cmd + Shift + U).

One effect of desaturation is a potentially a flat, uninspiring version of the original picture. This can be improved on however by looking at the picture in parts. You can increase textures in one area by darkening the shadows and midtones, or increase contrast in another to remove haziness. To do this, take a feathered section to work with and press Ctrl/Cmd + J to copy and paste the selection to a new layer. Add a 'Levels Adjustment Layer' to it, combining the two layers as a clipping mask. Drag the Black and Gray point markers toward the right to bring out texture or to the left to decrease. If you see a dividing line alter making the Levels adjustment, remove by adding a layer mask to the newly made level (set to Reveal All) and paint on the mask in black until the edge disappears using a soft brush at a low opacity setting.

While a Levels adjustment layer would add contrast, a different method would be: Follow Steps: Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves This will add a Curves adjustment layer to the background layer. Apply the curve shown to increase midtone contrast, but at slight decrease to the highlights and shadows, however this lessens the haziness effect.

Imagine a photo of the blue ocean. Going to the Layers palette, click the Channels tab and click on the Red channel. The image seen be the darkening of the blue-tinted areas the same result that a red filter over the lens would have created. For a comparison, click on the Green channel for a result similar to the Red channel but less drastic. Finally, the Blue channel, it will be lighter, since most of the image is blue. Without changing anything, you have three different ready-made black-and-white effects.

After choosing the filter effect you desire, use this keyboard shortcut sequence to make it into a new document: Ctrl/Cmd + A (selects all) Ctrl/Cmd + C (copies the selection to the clipboard) Ctrl/Cmd + N (creates a new document of the same proportions as whatever we have on the clipboard. The document will also be a grayscale as we only have one channel selected) Enter/Return (to confirm the settings. No changes are necessary) Ctrl/Cmd + V (to paste the contents of the clipboard to a new layer) You can then use Levels and Curves to fine-tune the result.

Use this method if the automatic setting of the channels are not what you are looking for in order to increase the range of tones or strengthen the color effects. Choose the channel you want and while keeping it active go to Image > Calculations. If the Red channel was active, the Red channel will appear in the Calculations dialog box. Source 1 and 2 are set to the same document, layer, and Red channel, which means they will all be combined for the calculation to take place. Set the blending drop-down to Multiply, working in the same way as the normal layer blend methods. Multiply will darken the image, but based on the red channel. As a result blue elements or elements with a blue cast will become darker than other elements. Set the Result drop-down box to New Document to create a new multichannel file based on the calculated result.

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