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Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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B&W---Calling all Pros


Get the impression that this month's theme will inspire a lot of learning for those of us who don't usually dabble in B&W. Frankly, it's rare that a black and white image inspires me and those that do are usually people portraits that are softened in some way. It's occurred to me that it's probably better to be "thinking B&W" when the original image is shot, but if not, and one wants to desaturate, it's better to start out with a fairly dramatic and well-contrasted image.

So, in the course of my usual editing, I've desaturated a few, with the monthly theme in mind, just to see how they would look, and realized immediately that producing an effective B&W image is a much greater challenge than I imagined. I rather suspect that I'm not alone this month in this discovery and wonder what tips our pros would have for:

1) Choosing subjects that would incline themselves naturally to B&W;

2) Choosing colour photos that would look good converted into B&W

3) PS techiques that would enhance the drama of an image converted into B&W

Personally, the only images that I've found suitable in my files (and by chance it was just this month that I took that batch) were some sillhouette images taken around twilight that have no or little colour to begin with.


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4/9/2006 4:15:42 AM

 
Andrew Laverghetta
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/13/2004
  I would probably encourage you to look around at local art galleries and showings. If you live near a university, contact the fine art department and see if they have any bachelor/masters of fine arts shows going on. I go to a large state university and there are shows all the time and many include black and white, especially bachelors shows.

My class is all black and white film and it's amazing to look at what some people do while, yes, others aren't as fun.

A local art museum recently had a private collection of black and white silver gelatin prints that was absolutely amazing. I think you should just keep your camera set on black and white since you're using digital or at least convert every photo to black and white (not just desaturating) and see what you get. Think more about light than color.


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4/9/2006 10:36:15 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  So, there's a difference between desaturating and converting to black and white? I didn't have a clue, think I'll try both immediately on a shot and see what it does. "Think more about light than colour." Sounds logical... Thanks for the advice, Andrew!


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4/10/2006 12:45:21 AM

 
Andrew Laverghetta
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/13/2004
  I guess I should try to clearify myself in that I meant not to "just" desaturate. You might have to mess with contrast, brightness, possibly some photo filters to make certain colors darker...I guess that could be where you could think about color. Like a blue sky is darkened with a red filter.


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4/10/2006 1:30:42 AM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Oh, okay, got it. I did try just desaturating one image and then duplicating it and converting it to B&W and didn't see any difference. So, it's good to know you weren't talking about that.


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4/10/2006 4:01:44 AM

 
Stan Lubach
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/1/2005
  Susan, for a bit of info on B&W conversion you can check out this link: http://www.gimp.org/tutorials/Color2BW/. It's a tutorial for doing the conversion using the GIMP application, but the techniques can be used elsewhere.


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4/10/2006 6:25:44 AM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Thanks Stan, I'll check into it!


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4/10/2006 7:52:13 AM

 
A C
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/6/2004
  Susan, when I work in B&W I don't desaturate any more. I use Channel Mixer like what was used in the tutorial Stan suggested.

Sometimes I make a couple of copies of the original layer and apply channel mixer differently to all of them. Some parts of the photo might look really great with only adjusting the red channel (after checking the box labled monochrome). And some parts look better when working with the green channel. To get a good balance you can adjust the red for one layer, the green for another, and then use the eraser tool with a soft edge to let the good parts of the bottom of the two show through.

Hope this makes sense ... but as a start try doing it like the tutorial suggested and I think you'll enjoy the results!


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4/10/2006 5:36:49 PM

 
Darren J. Gilcher
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/1/2005
  What about those of us with PSE 4.0? Is there any other alternative than greyscale?


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4/10/2006 6:07:17 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Thanks so much Cherylann! Having a busy start to this week and haven't had time to click on the link Stan suggested, but will surely get to it as soon as I can!


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4/10/2006 6:25:13 PM

 
Brendan Knell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/17/2005
  I've got PSE 3.0, and like Darren am wondering if there is anything better than just desaturating. I know that Elements doesn't have a channel mixer(or does it?).


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4/10/2006 6:38:13 PM

 
Darren J. Gilcher
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/1/2005
  I'm still learning PSE but I haven't seen it. I don't think we have channel mixer.


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4/10/2006 7:29:22 PM

 
Brendan Knell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/17/2005
  Darren, I found a sort of plugin, but it only works for versions 1-3. You might be able to email them and see if they plan on doing it for 4 also.

http://www.earthboundlight.com/phototips/photoshop-elements-curves.html

If anyone else with versions 1-3 tries this, be advised that after you've followed their instructions, it is in styles and effects then Effects in the drop down menu. Then scroll down and their it is. I gave up after about 15 minutes of trying to figure it out. Then I found it with pure dumb luck!


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4/10/2006 8:28:59 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Finally got a moment to work on this. I've got CS2 and (in reference to the tutorial) there is no "decompose" in my mode menu, nor could I find it in the help index. I could find only three methods for converting to black and white--the mode--grayscale, the adjustments--desaturate, and the adjustments--threshold, which makes high contrast black and white.

With my silhoutte images, I do want rather high contrast, but not that high because I want to keep the softness of the blurred images in the background.

Does anyone know what the "decompose" equates in CS2?


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4/11/2006 8:11:51 AM

 
Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  The Monochromatic option on a Channel Mixer adjustment layer.


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4/11/2006 8:26:29 AM

 
Darren J. Gilcher
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/1/2005
  Hey Brendan thanks. I have PSE 2.0 that came with the camera so I'll try it when I get home.


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4/11/2006 3:15:00 PM

 
Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
cammphoto.com
  How about trying black and white film.
(...Sorry, just kidding)

Actually, I've abandoned that approach myself lately due to the ease of conversion at our disposal.

When composing an image, sometimes it just screams black & white.

Even though our film (or digital sensor) will record what we've seen in color, we are thinking how that color might be distracting to the viewer and divert attention from the message we are attempting to portray so we tend to examine the scene a little differently.
-The way the highlights interplay with the shadows.
-How the point of interest re-creates the mood or feeling we experienced at that moment when we pressed the shutter.

How to convert seems to be as diverse as the myriad subjects we capture. With careful evaluation at the scene, a simple conversion to grayscale may be all that's required to communicate the message of a photograph.


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4/11/2006 4:22:59 PM

 
Darren J. Gilcher
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/1/2005
  Hey Brendan I tried to get it but being the computer idiot I am could you give me a step by step. I'm sure I'm close can't get to the part where I need to delete effects cache. thank you for the help


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4/12/2006 10:48:45 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Thanks Justin and Darren! I do plan to go out and actually put my camera in B&W mode (never thought I'd see the day!) just to see what it does compared to the other desaturation methods.

When I was playing around recently, I did, by the way, happen to notice the monocromatic option of the Channel Mixer adjustment layer and wondered briefly if that was it---but went no further to actually try it. I will now---thanks!


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4/12/2006 11:18:32 PM

 
Robyn Gwilt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/15/2005
robyngphotography.com
  Hi Susan and others - there's a very nice free plug-in at www.optikverve.com - you can select bw/high key/or any number of options - and then play around from there on - I think Cherylanns suggestion of channels is also a good idea - and don't forget your dodge/burn tool - can give you really great effects as well.


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4/13/2006 1:21:39 AM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Hey Robin! I use VP filters from time to time in colour, but haven't had much success so far in getting the effects I want in B&W, but not sure how to play around with it other than applying the set filters. I often use the burn tool as a brush, but not sure what the dodge tool does--what does it do? Plan to try the Channel Mixer tonight on a couple of images.


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4/13/2006 7:34:40 AM

 
Robyn Gwilt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/15/2005
robyngphotography.com
  Hi Susan - the one is to darken and the other lightens, paint over hair or something with the one and then the other and you'll see.


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4/13/2006 8:11:38 AM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Hey that's a great discovery! I have often wished that I had a kind of "reverse burn".


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4/13/2006 8:15:06 AM

 
Brendan Knell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/17/2005
  Darren, tell me what you've done and I'll try and help you from there.


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4/13/2006 8:32:32 AM

 
Darren J. Gilcher
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/1/2005
  Hi Brendan, sorry it took so long to respond. I finally got it today. I was asking my 14 year old stepson how to do it and found it by accident. Thanks anyway.


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4/13/2006 2:28:39 PM

 
Brendan Knell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/17/2005
  Well that's good. Like I said, I also only found out how to do it by accident.


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4/13/2006 3:47:37 PM

 
Christopher J. Budny
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/3/2005
chrisbudny.com
  For those PSE users... You may also want to explore "Gradient Mapping" and choose black-to-white from the drop-down. In PSE2, this is on the /Image/Adjustments/ menu. This feature also has some built-in mapping profiles (such as "foreground to background" which will use the 2 paint colors you have selected in your toolbar, or, some "Steel Bar" under the "Metals" grouping) that make interesting BW conversions. The Gradient Map keeps your image as a color file, rather than purging all the color data permanently, as "Greyscale" does. That lets you manipulate Levels across RGB (which may introduce a color cast back into the image, after doing a BW gradient map.)


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4/13/2006 4:09:04 PM

 
Darren J. Gilcher
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/1/2005
  Thanks Christopher, I'll have to try that too.


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4/13/2006 11:15:40 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Just got the following message from Cherylann and tried the tutorial, and it is AMAZING!!!!!!! I see that it uses some of the features described by Christopher above, but in clear detail (for the "not so pros") and applicable to CS2 users too. I haven't mastered the technique by any means, but it opens up new horizons in PS for me. Here is her message:

I found this tutorial a few minutes ago and remembered your thread on Black and White Photography. This tutorial comes from Adobe. You can look on the site for other quick tips and tutorials.

In a few minutes I want to try this out and see how it looks!

http://studio.adobe.com/us/tips/tip.jsp?p=1&id=101668&xml=phscs2mrblkwht


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4/17/2006 10:41:04 PM

 
A C
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/6/2004
  I found yet another way that works really well with awesome results ... and it is even easier.

go to http://www.photo-plugins.com/ and download the free black and white conversion plug-in


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4/19/2006 8:47:04 PM

 
Alisha L. Ekstrom
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/30/2005
  There is some GREAT advice on here!! Susan if you want to check out my gallery I have a TON of b&w images. That is what my favorite style of photography is. I use PS7 for my b&w conversions & I use 2 actions..I use the channel mixer/monochrome way as well. When changing to b&w you REALLY need to adjust levels/curves/brightness/contrast to get a GOOD b&w that isn't flat & grey!!! I will have to go check out your gallery & see if you have some b&w images in it from you learning all the tips from everyone else here:)

Alisha


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4/19/2006 10:49:32 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Thanks Alilsha! I just read one of your tips, and I'm very grateful! As to the one you just commented on, I have a second thought. I was going to use the contrast to brighten the background of the sillhoutte, but it tends to blast out the effect of the clouds in the background and I wanted that somber touch, so I think I will try levels instead. Now I'll look at your gallery!


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4/20/2006 12:31:29 AM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Cherylann, I downloaded the B&W plug-in you suggested above. As you know, this question is coming from an ignoramous...! I've been using the channel mixer since it was suggested above, and though I know nothing really about colour, I've been playing around with it, seeing what looks best and what doesn't. Okay, I notice that one of the main differences between the plug-in and the channel mixer is that the plug-in offers more colour choices. Is there anything other function that I should be aware of when I use it?

Also, I opened a ramdom photo of some palm leaves and made two duplications. In the channel mixer, I've noticed that in photos where there's a lot of green, the effect is best if I up the level on green. I did so on the original and then switched to one of the copies and opened the new plug-in and found the green was already at 100%, and upped the red, as it was only 60%, whereas in the channel mixer it was set at 100%. Then on the other copy, I made a hue and saturation adjustment layer, as suggested in the first tutorial you sent, desaturated from there and then put the hue at -50 as they suggested (but then that suggestion may have been for the particular photo they were showing, quite different from mine).

Of the three versions of the image, the one where the channel mixer was used seemed more dramatic, but then I hadn't applied any other adjustments, etc.

Now, all that was actually to show how much I don't know what I'm doing and how little I understand about colour...":^)

Any tips about what I SHOULD have done...? (With any of the three methods?)


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4/20/2006 3:21:11 AM

 
Brendan Knell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/17/2005
  "I've noticed that in photos where there's a lot of green, the effect is best if I up the level on green."

Susan, what you're doing by upping the green is adding somewhat of an IR effect. There was a good article on it in a past Shutterbug. Also, on portraits, I think that it was the red that's best to up. If you're interested in learning more about how to do this(there's some more things you need to do to make it look like a real IR pic) let me know.


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4/20/2006 7:32:13 PM

 
Brendan Knell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/17/2005
  PS. if you're interested in seeing some IR photos that were done using this, you can check out this pic in my gallery. I've gotten better results doing this, but it's the only one I've uploaded to BP.

http://www.betterphoto.com/gallery/dynoGallDetail.asp?photoID=1882416&catID=&style=&rowNumber=2&memberID=114210


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4/20/2006 7:34:47 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Thanks Brendan, I looked at your photo and also the original. Both are nice, but must say I love the colour in the original! I noticed the article on IR but didn't pay much attention to it. Will have to go back and read it, as I'm not sure what it is, even by looking at your photo. Basically, what photos converted to B&W seem to need is dramatic contrast. And so, I've been using a lot of burn and dodge in my attempts to do this---just learned what dodge was for!

Am grateful to BP for this monthly theme as I would never have ventured into B&W without it. Must confess I still love colour best, but boy have I learned a lot of useful stuff in this thread!


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4/21/2006 1:33:38 AM

 
Brendan Knell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/17/2005
  Susan, I also do prefer the color version. But, like I said, I've gotten better results doing this, this is just the only one I've uploaded. I'll try to upload some more later today.

"Basically, what photos converted to B&W seem to need is dramatic contrast."

I think that's a lot what IR does to an image. You say that you're not sure what IR is, well, read about the first paragraph or two of "The Digital Road to Infrared"(The article I mentioned). Like it says there, IR makes plants look like they're covered in snow, it darkens skies and water, skin is pale and glowing.

Also, if you're interested in seeing more IR images, if you've got a copy of the May/June 2005 Photo Techniques, flip to page 26, and they've got some good examples. Or you could google "Infrared Images."


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4/21/2006 7:43:27 AM

 
A C
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/6/2004
  Susan, I think the -50 for the tutorial was supposed to be -150. That is what I've been doing on quite a few photos and it works great. Try it and I think you'll see a difference!

I've found that I like working in the tutorial best right now because it gives me pretty good results and control. However, I think working in channel mixer gives me even more control when I do it in layers ... so I sometimes go that route (but it is much more time consuming). And, if I want the easiest solution with great results I go with the plugin.

Going between the tutorial method and the plugin I don't see a whole lot of differences but it takes a lot less time and effort to use the plugin. So, being you aren't extremely fond of black and white I'd stick with the plugin and move on to the parts of photography that interest you more (or perhaps next month's theme will inspire you to try something new and different as this one did!). But now you have a few great ways of doing black and white for the future incase you have a client, friend, or family member who wants black and white.

Oh, and I think the sepia toning is pretty good on the plugin too. I don't know if you've tried it but its something to keep in mind for future projects!


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4/21/2006 9:50:10 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  Thanks Cherylann--your advice is always right on. That brings on another question (for anyone who feels inspired to answer). I was wondering what exactly is considered B&W. I've always kind of classified images cast in sepia as part of the B&W category, but not sure if that's accepted in the monthly theme. Also, I've seen some photos that have been submitted that have B&W and then one small part in colour, like the eyes of a cat---is that also accepted? I've also seen images where the photographer seemed to have understood the B&W theme as a colour photo of objects which are principally black and white. I was wondering if anyone had a clear answer to this.


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4/22/2006 4:08:55 AM

 
Michelle Ross
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/1/2004
  I'm not sure this is the "best" method but I use PSE 4.0 and when I convert to black and white I go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Gradiant Map and make sure down in my color palette that black is on top and white is on the bottom. I click that and then flatten the layer. . . then if I need to I will go in and adjust the contrast as well. This has worked for me better than just desaturating or using the remove color option. I don't think we haev channel mixer in PSE 4.0. I will sometimes also add a bit of diffuse glow if the image works with that!


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4/22/2006 5:02:48 AM

 
Brendan Knell
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/17/2005
  Michelle,
PSE doesn't have Channel Mixer. But you can download some plugins that will enable you to use the channel mixer. The one I mentioned above, only works for versions 1-3, but I'm sure that there's one for 4. Just google "PhotoShop Elements 4 Channel Mixer".


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4/22/2006 10:03:14 AM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  The plug-in that Cherylann sent the link to is great:
http://www.photo-plugins.com/

And the tutorial she sent the link to is also great, some elements of which Michelle mentions above.


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4/22/2006 10:27:39 AM

 
A C
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/6/2004
  Yet another way to do it ...

Go to this photo discussion and read:

http://www.betterphoto.com/forms/discussionDetail.asp?threadID=432786


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4/23/2006 7:05:50 PM

 
A C
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/6/2004
  to answer one of Susan's questions I found this tutorial:

http://av.adobe.com/russellbrown/ColortoBW.mov

It really helps you understand how to work from color to B&W. Watch the video!


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4/23/2006 11:16:36 PM

 
Susan J. Allen
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/20/2005
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  This (above) IS really the best yet! The question I asked Cheryann off-thread was if she knew where to find a tutorial or chart which gave more instruction about which colour settings in the channel mixer or the plug-in would dramatsize which colours in the original image. First she sent me the info below, which was also useful and then she sent the link to the above tutorial which shows great technique! Some elements of it are similar to one of the tutorials given earlier on this thread, but it goes much further. From Cherylann:

"Color filters can be used in monochrome photography to filter the colors in a scene and thereby alter the color coontrast. A strong red filter will filter out the blue/cyan colors and make white clouds stand out with more contrast against a dark sky. A yellow or orange filter will produce a softer effect. A green filter can be used to make foliage appear lighter relative to everything else in the scene and so on ... These principles can also be applied to the formulas used in the channel mixer to simulate the same type of filtration. A 50% Red channel and 50% Green channel mix in Monochrome mode, will simulate the effect of using a yellow filter."

And from "Kodak Pocket Guide to 35 mm Photography" they point out which color filters to use in B&W film photography. You can experiment in photoshop using these colors and see how it works. If anything it will hopefully give a better understanding."


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4/24/2006 1:51:14 AM

 
A C
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/6/2004
  Need to clarify that the quote that starts out "Color filters can be ..." is from Martin Evening in his book, Adobe Photoshop CS for Photographers.


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4/24/2006 6:15:39 AM

 
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