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Actions: Black and white B&W BW (Bill Miller)

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  • Actions: Black and white B&W BW (Bill Miller)

    Jerry suggested we open a black and white discussion here, so if no one else but us is interested don't blame me! After the embarrasing minimal feedback from my Mythical Lighting action, I'm really feeling sheepish about trying something like this. But I really want new info from others! I have researched BW and played with it a while, and although it may not be something I will use often, I now have a way to do it. I looked through numerous books, including one devoted solely to black and white digital photography, but "50 Fast Photoshop 7 Techniques" had some of the best info.

    Those many of you here that are artists are able to envision your desired outcome and arrive at your predetermined destination using a contrast process such as we discussed here:
    Those of us without artistic talent, who can only aspire to be good craftsmen, tend to start with the process and see where it takes us. For us there are three absolutes:

    1. Few images that you have will be candidates for BW because they just don't have contrast in their nature. Maybe 5 or 10 percent. Great photographers select subjects just for black and white and choose settings accordingly. I stumble into them.
    2. Of those images that might work, there is NO one best initial conversion technique that is optimum for all of them.
    3. Given the best conversion technique for a specific image, it won't work on the entire image.

    Danny provided an action that created individual image comparison copies for many of the standard conversion techniques. I've taken that a couple of steps further and written a PS7 action that puts the results of ten techniques on the History palette. That way they can easily be compared at any size, and more importantly, can be used with the History Brush and/or layers to create the best composite of them. I can't think of an easier or more effective way to do it. If nothing else you'll find out if the image has black and white potential.

    Three of the ten are simply the r, g, and b channels. Two are soft blur techniques on the red and green channel. One is the Lab mode/lightness method. Another opens up a channel mixer adjustment layer with some high contrast presets to play with. And three are doubled layers of the red, green, and lab/lightness channels with a soft light blend. The double blends will give you some great results if you haven't edited the image at all. The single layer versions may be just right if you have already pumped up contrast in the color original. All results are flattened except the mixer, but you can always create one-and-a-half blend versions yourself from these results.

    To use the product of the action, you should eliminate those snapshots that are redundant or ineffective in their results in order to simplify the palette as much as possible. Then choose the best as your starting point. Look at every element of your image separately and begin to take your favorite parts from each snapshot. I use a very soft and as large as possible history brush. This is a very subjective process. When I am happy with an area I take a new snapshot and erase those that are obsolete. Snapshot "management" comes into play. Ultimately you will need to use curves/levels on all or parts of an image to get it just right. Try it on Amanda's Wagon photo to start with at

    Here's the action.
    Attached Files

  • #2
    Interesting discussion Bill.

    Oops - before I get too much into this - I downloaded your Mythical Light action and have played with it a bit - not used it so far in a major retouching project, but I have noted it's potential and it is just awaiting the right image to use it on. I think it has a lot of possibilities, and I will be sure to post anything that I do of quality using it. I am sorry that you did not get much feedback on it. I know how frustrating that can be.

    So on to B&W. What you say is good regarding the technical aspects of producing B&W images is good advice. I recently did a lighting course, and the instructor explained how valuable B&W is with regard to lighting. When working with a color image, he would go so far as to convert images to greyscale, and work on the aspects of exposure levels, contrast, lighting effects there, and once he had the lighting worked out, he would apply the effects to the color image.

    What does this have to do with your discussion? Not much - but as long as we are discussing B&W...


    • #3
      thanks for the response, Toad! It's interesting you should mention tweaking the black and white and then reapplying it to the original color. I tried that last month and it blew me away! Here is one example on this flower from the coral rose mini-challenge:
      Attached Files


      • #4
        That's a really good example. You can see how the lighting, exposure, contrast, etc. pops on that one.


        • #5

          I love black and white, I would like to wade in here and comment about your comment;

          Few images that you have will be candidates for BW because they just don't have contrast in their nature. Maybe 5 or 10 percent. Great photographers select subjects just for black and white and choose settings accordingly. I stumble into them.
          For years I also stumbled into them, for years the only thing I shot was in black and white. When I got good at it is when I got good at color.

          A good black & white photo has strong compostion and lighting that creates mood and depth. A good color photo should have the same thing. Color photos that have this convert well to black & white. All color photos should have this, it makes them better photos. You may like one over the other because of the color or lack of color but they should both have composition and depth created by the light quality and direction.

          Having said that, it is not an easy thing to do. I have been at this for years, light is still magic. You might like to practice in black & white - it will get you in the habit of thinking composition and light.

          Color without composition and lighting is a snapshot. Imagine a red hat on a blue fence front lit with no percivable direction to the light, now imagine the same hat and fence with a strong sun raking texture into the fence and casting a strong diagonal shadow at an angle to the fence slats. The lighting mimics the drama and mood of the colors. Without the lighting one would look at the photo and think it was good. With the light appropriate for the scene the photo would have considerable impact. Many might not notice how much the lighting and composition contribute to this because of the distraction of the color, but it is there.

          Best of luck, Roger


          • #6

            Color without composition and lighting is a snapshot.
            Roger: that is so true - I will remember that quote.


            • #7
              Bill -

              I have to agree with Roger. It's not that only 5 or 10% of our photos are good enough to be b+w, it's that only 5 or 10% of our shots are good enough.

              B+W strips away everything but the essentials...form, tones and composition. The very things we're not paying enough attention to when we work in color. It's hard to visualize what a scene will look like in b+w. Ansel Adams had a special filter, a Wratten #90 panchromatic, that he used to pre-visualize his final image. I've heard of folks using this little tip...squint your eyes a bit so you throw most of the detail out of what you're looking at. This will leave blocks of tone that will make up your composition. A bit like an artist's tonal study in preparation for the final work. It might look a bit strange to those around you, but we'll do anything for the shot, right?

              We do have an advantage with PS. We can alter tones to subtly strengthen the composition. Russell Brown's conversion method is one way. With this you can emulate the contrast filters in film photography, and, for example, make green foliage lighter so the red flower stands out. Burning (darkening) and dodging (lightening) is a darkroom technique that can also be used. I learned this non-destructive virtual burn/dodge from "Photoshop7 Artistry, Mastering the Digital Image" by Haynes and Crumpler:

              1 - Open a new layer over the bg. Go to Edit>Fill and fill with 50% gray and set the blending mode to soft light.

              2 - Set your foreground color to black, bg color to white. Pick a large soft round brush and set opacity very low, starting at about 5-10%. Paint with black to darken, white to lighten, the areas you want to adjust. Be careful not to go overboard, a little goes a long way. "Subtle" is the key word here.

              I think your history conversion idea is great! I'm looking forward to trying it out. I'm curious about the soft blur and doubled layer techniques. By soft blur do you mean using a contrast mask?

              Another "quick and dirty" conversion method that occasionally brings success is the gradient map. Load a gradient map adjustment layer, and make sure you have the black/white gradient chosen. Also, simply copying the green channel is often a good starting point. Green holds most of the detail, the red holds most of the contrast and the blue usually has the most dirt/grain/noise.

              Thanks for starting this thread, Bill. B+W has long been one of my main interests.

              BTW, I take issue with your statement, "Those of us without artistic talent, who can only aspire to be good craftsmen...". I saw your rendition of Amanda's wagon, Bill. That, IMHO, was the work of an artist.



              • #8
                Roger and Pam- thank you so much for your comments and contributions! This thread is already a success in my book!

                Roger, you've really highlighted the secret: composition from the getgo! Those of us who choose noontime on a hazy day to shoot on full-auto far outnumber those who do it right. I agree with Toad: I think I'll always remember that quote. Ironically, it's my essential failings at photography that got me so interested in Photoshop. And I believe it will be my connections with people like you through Photoshop that will make me a better photographer.

                Pam, great tips. Please keep them coming. As far as the soft blur results, they use the following simple technique:

                1. Channel Mixer: mono, rgb= 0, 125, 0 for the green one (125, 0, 0 for the red)
                2. Channels palette: select either red or green, doesn't matter
                3. Filter: Gaussian blur of 10
                4. Channels palette: select RGB
                5. Image: Desaturate
                6. Duplicate the layer with a blend of Soft Light

                The other doubles use step 6 after their initial conversion. I do like the gradient method, but decided I better quit at ten!

                Warm regards, Bill


                • #9
                  Billm..Glad to see you started this thread,,I'm currently on the run with graduation from college celebration for my son..I will get back and read this thread in its entirety..



                  • #10
                    Just an outstanding action. Well done, Bill.



                    • #11
                      Just got back from a long day but had time to check in on this thread..Only got a chance to skim and did not download the action yet. I definately will tomorrow.. Thought I would show you my try last month when we were discussing the B/w in the Wagon challenge.

                      This is a pic of a mansion under renovation.. I had picked it for the contrast in the pic..I attached a screenshot of the layers pallete to show you.. I did it from your desciption in the wagon challenge.. Thought you could use this as a discussion starting point..It is not very good, hence I gave up on it..

                      Time for bed..More tomorrow.

                      Attached Files


                      • #12
                        What's wrong with this? It's very well has good contrast and detail. Nice job you did on it. Maybe if you posted the original we could see just how terribly you did



                        • #13
                          Hi Pam
                          Attached is original of the mansion pic. if you want to play with it.

                          I just read this thread and downloaded the action. Time to brush up on by weak history brush skills and play with this technique for a while.

                          Attached Files


                          • #14
                            Glad to see we're still alive here.

                            Danny, thanks a lot. Appreciate the kind words.

                            Jerry, thanks for the picture of the layers, that's exactly what I'm talking about! And you did very well!

                            Pam, the toning I have been using for the most part is a tritone. The settings are in the image at the bottom of this post. I desaturate it by about minus 30, and sometimes need to darken the overall image afterward. I like just enough that you see some tint, but you don't really quite know what color. I find that it seems to bring out detail that is not there in straight greyscale.

                            I really want to further clarify the idea that only some images work with B&W. B&W works where there are dramatic shapes in the image and a broad spectrum of light to dark. Photos that are successful in color because they are awash in gorgeous colors may not work at all, such as a flower garden, no matter how perfectly photographed. I think the "two kittens" image works in B&W for that reason. The color is beautiful, but even without it the subjects are still big, interesting, and just plain cute. I think that's what I was trying to say when I talked about subject and composition.

                            I am also really having success with doing the best b&w possible and then setting it to Overlay on the original color image. It's not that I couldn't get to the same place staying in color, but like Toad said, it's so much easier to "see" it in black and white.

                            Attached Files


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