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There's nothing quite like a great black-and-white image. In this workshop, author and trainer Tim Grey shows you how to create the best possible black-and-white interpretations of color photographs using Adobe Photoshop. From very basic grayscale conversions to advanced multiple-channel blending using layer masks, Tim explores a wide variety of methods that you can use to produce the best black-and-white results. Afterwards, tackle a set of real-world projects that combine a variety of techniques to produce the final image. Note: This course was recorded in Photoshop CS5, but was created with users of both Photoshop CS5 and Photoshop CS4 in mind.
As a photographer, hopefully you're taking advantage of the option to capture in raw mode with your digital camera. There are a variety of benefits to capturing in raw and among those is the ability to apply a number of adjustments to optimize the appearance of the photo when converting the raw capture to actual pixels. As you'll see in this lesson, that includes the ability to create a black and white interpretation of a raw capture right from the start. Let's take a look. The first step, of course, is to open a raw capture. So, I'll choose File > Open from the menu to bring up the Open dialog. I'll navigate to a folder that contains the image I want to work with, and then choose that raw capture and click the Open button. Because this is a raw capture, it will automatically be opened in Adobe Camera Raw.
This is something of an intermediate step in between the actual image and the final pixel values. Because it's a raw capture, Photoshop needs to do some additional work and it's allowing me some flexibility in that process. Now, of course, as a raw capture I'm going to want to apply a number of adjustments right from the start. I might correct my temperature and tint. Although, in this case, I'm obviously intending to produce a black and white interpretation of the image, so I'll leave that alone for now, but only for now. We'll actually come back to it in a moment. I do want to adjust my exposure to help maximize the tonal range, basically brightening up the exposure as much as possible without actually clipping any highlight detail. To do that, I'll hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh, increasing the value until I start to see pixels appearing. Those pixels indicate areas of clipping.
In other words, areas where highlight detail is being lost. In this case, I want to maximize the tonal range without actually losing any information. So, I'll adjust this just to the point right before those pixels start to appear. I'll then do the exact same thing for the blacks. Again, holding the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh, and increasing the value for blacks until I start to see pixels appear. Once I see those pixels appearing, I'll back off a little bit, but then release the Alt or Option key, so that I can check to make sure the effect in the image is actually a good one. In this case, I think we got a much better result by maximizing the tonal range within the image.
Now at this point, I'm ready to take a look at the black and white interpretation of the image. And so, I'll move my saturation slider all the way to the left. You can see that I still have a good amount of information within the image, but the histogram has changed rather dramatically. That's because I've simply stripped out the color in the image. Now I'm looking only at luminance information, which is actually quite a bit different from the information that was contained on each individual color channel. So now, if I hold the Alt or Option key once again and adjust my Blacks point, you'll notice that I can increase the slider even further before I start to clip any shadow detail. Let's take this to an extreme, in fact in this case, I'm going all the way up to the maximum value, and I've still not clipped any detail. But releasing the Alt or Option key, I can see that the image is actually still looking reasonably good.
I might have expected things to look a little bit troublesome at this point, but I actually have nice contrast within the image. The key thing to keep in mind is that color information is different from tonal information. The luminance data is not exactly mapped to the color channels that you find in the original image. And therefore, once we desaturate, everything else about the adjustments may very well change. In fact its not a bad idea to double check your exposure setting to make sure that that's still producing the best results. Of course, I can continue to fine tune for example you'll see that while I've not lost any highlight detail, some areas of the clouds don't seem to have all that much information in them. It's just that all these pixels are very close to white, although, they haven't actually clipped to pure white.
I can fine tune by reducing my Brightness value. And of course, I can also adjust my Contrast value, either decreasing or increasing contrast, based on my preference for the image. Now, it's worth noting by the way, that even if you capture it in black and white mode on your digital camera, if you capture it in raw, you didn't really capture a black and white image. The JPEG preview embedded in your raw capture would have been a black and white conversion based on the camera's interpretation, but the actual raw data is unchanged by that black and white mode in your camera. Therefore, while you might initially see a black and white preview for your raw capture, that's based on the embedded JPEG.
Once you open the original capture in Adobe Camera Raw, you'll see the full color version. But all you need to do to get back to a black and white interpretation is decrease the saturation. And then of course, fine tune all of the other settings for the image. Now we skipped over the Temperature and Tint sliders. Let's take a look at what happens if we actually adjust those sliders. Notice that even though this is a black and white image, by virtue of the fact that I reduced saturation, I can still have an affect the image by fine-tuning the Temperature and Tint sliders. In this case, the image contains a whole lot of blue, and therefore, the Temperature slider is going to be a little bit more effective, since that shifts the balance between blue and yellow.
The key point is that by adjusting the Temperature and Tint sliders, we're actually affecting the underlying color information, which affects how the image appears when we desaturate those colors, leaving only luminance information. With black and white images, it's particularly important to work in 16 bit per channel mode. Therefore, I'm going to click on the Workflow Options link at the bottom of the preview and make sure that my depth is set to 16 bits per channel. I'll also set the color space. In this case, simply using Adobe RGB. Even though this is a black and white interpretation of my image, it still is in an RGB color mode, and so I want to assign a specific color space. I'll go ahead and click OK on my Workflow Options, and then click Open Image, and the image is processed and opened in Photoshop.
While the controls in Adobe Camera Raw don't provide you with a tremendous amount of control in creating a black and white image, it does offer a reasonable degree of control, that might be just enough for those situations where workflow efficiency and time savings is the highest priority.
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