BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Rob Zuidema
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/19/2005
 

Converting to B&W


I've always been intrigued by black & white photography, and I would like to try my hand coverting to b&w. What do find is the best way to do this? The remove color option in PSE just doesn't do it so well. Also, is there a better way to adjust contrast other than the brightness/contrast option? That never looks very good to me.


To love this question, log in above
4/22/2008 10:30:53 AM

 
W.   
Hi Rob,

I haven't got PSE, but in CS3 you can select Image > Adjustments > 'Desaturate'.
There are other ways to do it, though, which others may like to explain.


To love this comment, log in above
4/22/2008 10:41:41 AM

 
A C
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/6/2004
  oh no, don't desaturate ... please don't desaturate

this was discussed in detail here:

http://www.betterphoto.com/forms/QnAdetail.asp?threadID=23415


To love this comment, log in above
4/22/2008 11:28:19 AM

 
Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
  Rob,
I think you are right and so is Cherylann that the methods out of the box are really not that good. Better methods start with learning about image components like luminosity, red, green and blue channels, calculations, and then curves, selection, dodge and burn, and a multitude of other things.

Here is a very basic, yet different method from simply desaturating:

1. add a new layer to your image.
2. fill with 50% gray
3. set the layer mode to Color.

What happens here is that you use gray as a color and you end up viewing the Luminosity (very much like the L layer of Photoshop's Lab mode).

The best conversion for any particular image may depend on the image itself. I often find that I like a little color in my result so often end up toning black-and-white conversions digitally.

I'll have a new class that includes methods for making black-and-white and colorizing them, but not for a few months yet. I do have some information on conversions in my Leveraging Layers class, but you may need some other background offered by my Correct and Enhance course, or even Photoshop 101 depending on your level of Elements and Photoshop use.

I go through several methods of contrast enhancement in the courses -- and you are right, Brightness Contrast has thee right name but really is not the best tool for the job.

I hope that helps!

Richard Lynch


To love this comment, log in above
4/22/2008 3:00:04 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  Channel mixing may not be an option for some people, so grayscale and desat may be what you have to do. But you still need to make adjustments for contrast.
I like to use curves for that.


To love this comment, log in above
4/22/2008 3:39:16 PM

 
Pete H
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/9/2005
  Rob,

There are a multitude of ways to create a B&W image. Some are superior to others and require some understanding in 1) The image itself...2) Methodology and 3) Desired artistic effect.

Richard is more than correct in saying "The best conversion for any particular image may depend on the image itself."

I can say this with some certainty, if you are not happy with your color photgraphy, you will not be happy with your B&W. It all starts with the image.

You might tell us what program you use to process your images.

Adobe 5 and 6 have some pretty good basic tools for doing B&W conversions.

Adobe CS has many more and far superior methods for more control.


all the best,

Pete


To love this comment, log in above
4/22/2008 6:43:47 PM

 
Rob Zuidema
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/19/2005
  Thanks for taking the time to respond. I will be trying the suggestions as well as playing around with PSE. I have PSE v.2 and v.4. I usually use 2 because it is familiar to me and does much of what I need it for (until now, perhaps.)


To love this comment, log in above
4/22/2008 7:07:26 PM

 
Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
  To clarify, you can channel mix in Elements just as well as Photoshop -- you just need to know how. For example...Find your Green channel without using a channels palette (green is often a good black-and-white representation):

1. Create a Levels adjustment at the top of your layer stack.
2. Choose the RED channel from the drop list and move the white OUTPUT slider all the way left. (This will suck out the red.)
3. Choose the BLUE channel from the channels drop list and move the white OUTPUT slider all the way left. (This will suck out the blue -- and you are left with green.)
4.Open a Hue/Saturation layer, choose Green from the Channels drop list and move the Lightness slider all the way right.

This kind of separation can be done in any version of Elements. If you make the separations for each channel, you can mix them in even more exciting ways than channel mixer allows as it is a solid but limited tool.

I make add-ons that simplify the process of making separations to a click -- you can find them on my website (Elements Website)...there are free sets for each version up to Elements 6 -- I have that Elements 6 set but you have to email me to get it as I didn't post it to the site (richard@betterphoto.com).

Separations and using them as layers opened many creative avenues for me in both black-and-white and color correction, as well as creating flexibility with masking and selection.

I hope that helps!

Richard Lynch


To love this comment, log in above
4/23/2008 4:17:56 AM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  Does that way help keep clipping from happening?
I see that doing your steps with basic levels makes it b&w. Also see there is slight contrast increased from desat, to grayscale conversion, to levels(channels) adjustment.


To love this comment, log in above
4/23/2008 11:33:08 AM

 
Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
  All those steps do is isolate the Green channel in the image as is. What you get is what the green channel already is. This will be different than desaturating which is more like just opening the Hue/Saturation and sliding the Saturation slider all the way left -- and the result is an automated combination of the three channels -- which tends to be muddier.

Does that help?

Richard Lynch


To love this comment, log in above
4/23/2008 1:46:07 PM

 
W.   
There are of course many roads that lead to Rome. But some are waaay simpler than others:

you can e.g. simply increase contrast with either Brightness/Contrast or with a Yellow, Orange or even a Red Photo Filter (like we did the good old-fashioned way with B/W film), or even combinations of the 2 on the coloured image first, and THEN you desaturate.

Have fun!


To love this comment, log in above
4/23/2008 5:21:33 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  My question was really coming from wondering if there is something about channels, or in the process of using channel mixing, that is different than the regular levels window/histogram that you can tab click from rgb to red, green, and blue.
Or has it always been the same thing.


To love this comment, log in above
4/24/2008 1:19:05 AM

 
Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
  Gregory,
Channels are channels -- however you extract or work with them (as long as you do it correctly). There are a number of different ways to extract them (an interesting one for me is create a new layer, fill with green [0,255,0], and set the layer to multiply, essentially filtering for green). Looking at them in Channels and Layers separately is less useful and cohesive than trying to figure out how they work in the balance of two different palettes.

The channels you see in levels and the histogram are the same as those in the channels palette -- and the same as used by the channel mixer. Obviously the function of Levels and Channel mixer is very different...so I am not clear what you are asking. If you extract the channel as I show and you extract it with channel mixer you will get essentially identical results (there may be some measurable noise difference depending on color settings). However, once you have a channel isolated in layers you can apply modes, opacity, filtering, effects, and combine the channel with other channels in ways impossible using channel mixer, levels or other tools alone. I custom mix my black-and-white images using separations and layers.

Reaching back to 'clipping', nothing but good technique will stop that from happening. It depends on if you mean blowout/blockup, or something else.

WS -- I agree some methods are simple, but some are also not so good. Brightness contrast for example had traditionally been a pretty dangerous tool to use -- though Adobe has improved it I believe there are way better methods to use. Filtering, as I suggest, can have some interesting results -- especially if you are familiar with it from 'good old-fashioned' techniques. But it has rarely been my experience that simple methods are best.

Richard Lynch


To love this comment, log in above
4/24/2008 3:12:20 AM

 
W.   
I'm not saying the simple methods are the best methods, Richard. But they are DO-ABLE for most people. Which increases the chance that they will apply them.

The best methods - like those you and others outlined are so convoluted that most people will give up before even starting...

That, imo, defeats the purpose of giving that advice!


To love this comment, log in above
4/24/2008 7:27:40 AM

 
Rob Zuidema
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/19/2005
  "...that most people will give up before even starting..."

Maybe most people will, but this is the type of methods I've been looking for. I will be trying these sugesstions. Thanks everyone for all your input.


To love this comment, log in above
4/24/2008 8:06:27 AM

 
Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
  WS, I think it isn't all that hard to follow a few steps. I think it is less likely to bring about aversion if one follows 20 steps to a good result, rather than 2 to one that is OK, faulty, or flat out bad.

Good results take some effort, and I am not going to stand back from that. Just as you make effort with the creation of a photo, you want to treat that result just as carefully in post-processing and not just get a result because it is convenient.

I have faith that those who make the effort with their photos don't mind going the extra mile. It is how I write my classes and my books.

Richard Lynch


To love this comment, log in above
4/24/2008 8:36:44 AM

 
W.   
Absolutely, Richard.
You'll have to agree, however, that most people are NOT like you, don't you?


To love this comment, log in above
4/24/2008 4:00:17 PM

 
Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
gregorylagrange.org
  What I was getting at Richard was that I had heard about channel mixing for b&w partially explained in the terms of opening channel mixing layers, and the like. But there's not that kind of an option in my version of photoshop. But with doing the same steps of b&w conversion with the general levels window

you come out the same. And I was saying that the green window shown hear is the green channel in channel mixing. Just that with some things in newer versions of photoshop, it's not really a different thing with a different function, but actually the same thing but newer versions allow you to see the red, green, blue together instead of having it displayed as separate windows of green, and click to get the red window, etc...


To love this comment, log in above
4/24/2008 4:29:22 PM

 
Log in to respond or ask your own question.