B&W Workflow (A Tutorial)

Started Nov 21, 2004 | Discussions thread
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gonzalu Forum Pro • Posts: 10,412
B&W Workflow (A Tutorial)

With a lot of BW work going on these days around here, and since I have been asked how I do BW conversion, I decided to throw together a quick and dirty BW Workflow.

This is only ONE WAY to do it and it is my preferred method. There is of course much simpler ways than these

For the purposes of this tutorial, the images have been grossly reduced in size to make it easier on the bandwidth.

Start with the original photo.

Then, check your levels and adjust. I rarely do AUTO COLOR or AUTO LEVELS. Usually I will go in to the levels control (CTRL+L) and check each individual channel. CTRL+1, CTRL+2 and CTRL+3 will cycle trhough the red, green and blue channels.

Adjust the sliders to compress the histogram for each channel in order to do away with missing information. In this image, the histogram was pretty good. Watch out for blown out highlights or completely black areas.

Next, adjust the curves to suit your desired look in Color. I like to make sure the color image looks as good as it can in color before starting to do the BW work.

CTRL+M brings up the Curves control

My image was a little too warm for my taste so I cooled it down a bit with the Photo Filter...

Now we begin the process of conversion. I like to check each of the color channels individually to see what info is in each. If I am happy with a particular channel as it is, I will split the channels at this point and go with it. But in most cases, each channel contains some detail I want in the final image.

I switch to channel mode and look at each channel separately

The red channel usually has most of the lighter parts of the image

The Green and Blue channels have a lot of the detail and grain in the image.

I like the Green and Blue here the best. For Portraits, this is usually what I come up with. Use your own judgement for landscapes as flora will turn out quite differently at various wavelengths.

Now bring up the Channel Mixer and select Monocrome and move your sliders in a way that will composite the final image with the amount of information from each channel. In my case, I decided that I did not want any of the RED Channel info and dialed it way down. I liked the blue channel most and gave it most of the attention. I added a little green to balance it out a bit. This is all to taste.

Pay close attention to your highlights as they can be easily blown out. If the Green and Blue channels don't give you enough highlights, diale them back a bit and boost the red ever so slightly.

Once you have the desired results, commit your changes.

From here, I will apply normal retouching techniques. First, Brightness and Contrast levels.

Now, I will sharpen for Printing

Sharpening for posting on the web is done after resizing and the settings are different. Typically you can sharpen more for printing.

Here we will compare the results of simply desaturating...

against our more complicated aproach

I believe the difference is obvious. You have richer textures in the Channel Mixed conversion. Your results will vary from image to image of course. There [are] times when desaturation works best.

Now, to touch it up a bit and complete the package. I wanted to darken the right side a bit since I like the fact that this image works best with a cylindrical effect on the light. That is the light wraps around from light left around the face and then darkens to the right. But I don't like the background on the right being too light.

Create a new layer, CTRL+J and using your lasso tool create a ragged outline around your subject (see below).

Invert the selection CTRL+SHIFT+I

Fill with black: Hit "D" and then ALT+BACKSPACE

Next, deselect all (CTRL+D) and blur the new layer. Gaussian Blur at 50 worked for me here.

Layer mode should be Soft Light.

And you're done!

Here is the original for comparison

I like framing my posts to the web, and for Portraits I like the large classic frame

Good luck with your B&W conversions. Enjoy yourself in the process and post your pictures


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