I think it's reasonably safe to say that most photographers have a particular appreciation of black and white images. Whether that comes from the knowledge that photography is about light first and foremost, or simply nostalgia from days where working in a wet dark room was the primary method for producing a photographic print, it seems that most photographers enjoy a black and white image. Let's take a look at a method for creating a black and white interpretation of a color image. Here you can see I have an image that contains a variety of different color values, and I can use those colors as the building blocks of my black and white version of this image.
I'll get started by adding a black and white adjustment layer. I'll click on the Create New Adjustment Layer button, on the bottom of the Layers panel, and then chose Black and White from the popup. This will add a black and white adjustment layer, and give me my controls on the Adjustments panel. You can see that I have sliders for each of the primary colors, reds, yellows, greens, cyans, blues and magentas. These represent the additive and subtractive primaries, the RGB colors, and the CMYK colors. We can adjust the intensity of tonal values within the image for specific colors.
For example, the sky is probably largely blue to cyan in this image. So if I were to adjust the blue slider, I can darken, or brighten, all areas of the image that contain blue. Let's say, for example, that I'd like to adjust the sign here, the main street sign. It was predominantly green in the original image, so if I adjust the greens slider, I would expect that area of the image, as well as any other areas that contain greens to be adjusted. Sliding left will cause those areas to be darker and sliding right will cause them to be brighter.
In this case I'd like to darken the sign a bit, just to add emphasis to that area of the image, so I'll move my green slider over to the left. Of course, it's important to keep in mind that a given color is often comprised of multiple color values. For example, if I adjust the cyans slider, you'll see that the green background on the main street sign, is also being affected. And that's because green and cyan are neighbors on the color wheel. Any color that has green in it is likely going to have a little bit of cyan in it. Cyan is in effect, a blue-green color, it's a blending of blue and green. So by understanding color relationships, you'll be better able to apply an effective adjustment, when converting your image to black and white. Of course, in some cases, you might not necessarily remember what colors specific objects in the image were.
Or you might just want to work a little bit more directly on the image. And we can do so by working with our on image adjustment. I'll go ahead and click the On Image Adjustment button, this is the hand with the double headed arrow attached to it, at the top left of the Adjustments panel for my black and white adjustment. With that feature enabled, I can now move my mouse out over the imag,e and then if I click, you'll notice that one of the sliders has its value highlighted. In this case, the yellows. That tells me that this area of the image is predominantly yellow, and so by adjusting the yellow slider, I'll have a significant impact on this portion of the image.
Of course, I don't need to just use this in order to determine which slider to adjust, but rather, can use this feature to actually work within the image itself. So clicking on the brick wall in the background here, for example, we've already determined that it is predominantly yellow. But if I click and drag to the left, it will be the same effect as though I had moved the yellow slider to the left. In fact, you'll see that as I move my mouse over to the left, the yellow slider is indeed moving. And shifting the mouse over to the right, again holding the mouse button down to drag across the image, I'm now increasing the value for yellows, in other words brightening up the yellows within the image.
So I can fine tune specific areas of the image, simply by clicking on those areas, and then dragging left to darken, or right to brighten. When I'm finished adjusting the image in this way, I can simply turn off the on image adjustment feature. And then, if I'd like, I can continue fine tuning the various sliders, within the Adjustments panel. And of course, in most cases, we're going to focus our attention on a few specific colors. In other words, which colors are most dominant in the image. But it's not a bad idea to sort of keep track of which sliders are being affected by your adjustment, and then go back and fine tune some of the other sliders.
Or, you might even want to go back and fine tune all of the sliders. In other words, click and drag the slider left and right, in order to see which areas of the image are affected, and then fine tune the position of that slider to produce the best effect. Of course, there's no one right answer for a given image. This is your artistic interpretation of the scene. So feel free to adjust all of these sliders in a way that you feel produces the best result in your photo. Another effect that I'd like to apply, is to convert an image to black and white, as we've seen here, but then allow a little bit of the original color to show through.
This produces a subtle color effect, and in many cases I feel that it causes the viewer to view the image as a black and white image, and yet one where they actually understand what color the objects are. This can make the image a bit more intriguing and interesting. And it's very simple to apply this effect. All we need to do is reduce the opacity for our black and white adjustment. The default opacity for this adjustment layer, of course, is 100%. In other words, the black and white adjustment is having its full effect on the image. But if I want to tone this down a little bit, tone down the conversion to black and white, allowing a little bit of the original color to show through, I can reduce my opacity setting.
I'll go ahead and point to the word Opacity, so that I can use the scrubby sliders feature and then click and drag to the left. This will reduce the strength of my black and white adjustment, allowing some of the original color to show through. At a value of 0%, of course, I'm completely disabling the black and white conversion, showing the original color image. As I increase this value, you'll see that the colors become desaturated. And if I go all the way up to 100% we get the black and white interpretation of the image. When I use this sort of subtle color effect, I'll usually work with an opacity of somewhere between around 90% and 100%. This will vary significantly of course, from one image to the next, but the idea is that in most cases, I want a very small amount of color to show through. Just a little hint of color, to make the overall image a little more interesting. The black and white adjustment layer enables you to exercise considerable control over the interpretation of your color original. Adjusting tonality within the image, based on the colors present in particular areas of the photo.
The result can be a wonderful creative result. And don't forget, you can also continue to apply additional adjustments, after creating the initial black and white version of your image.
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