The latent image
The temptation with photography is simply to capture what’s in front of you, looking to portray the scene as realistically as possible. Whilst this is a valid approach, there are other ways; and you can in fact create many images from the latent potential within your chosen scene.
There is much misinformation and mistrust today about the manipulation of images, and yet the term image manipulation is in fact found within some of the interviews with Ansel Adams when he's talking about how he makes his fabulous images. Many of his iconic images were evolved over time as he became progressively more sophisticated with his image manipulation in the darkroom. Today we have the ability to do the same types of manipulation, but within the digital darkroom using programs like PhotoShop, making it far more accessible.
Below is a short tutorial to show you how to take a basic colour image and create something quite different from it within a few simple post-production steps.
Before we start, this famous Ansel Adams quote is appropriate here:
"You don’t take a photograph, you make it”.
It’s important to understand – and accept – that you can make it, not just take it. You have a creative input into the final result. Never is this more true than when considering black and white photography.
Nowadays when shooting black-and-white, you have the advantage that you see the image straight away, or in the case of mirrorless models you actually see the image in black-and-white when shooting it. This allows you to see the potential of the scene in front of you.
That’s all well and good, assuming you can get out and shoot...
In this current season of not going out – with the invisible threat of COVID-19 hovering over us – you can test this instead with the images you have tucked away on your hard drive or in your image library. You can put both your spare time and your catalogue of images to good use and create some stunning black and white images from what you already have. With some simple post-production steps, you can made a good image into a much better and more striking one. (Note that you need an image that is fundamentally sound to start with. So it needs to be sharp and correctly exposed.)
What you need
• Adobe PhotoShop (or PhotoShop Elements or Lightroom)
• A few well-exposed and sharp colour images, RAW or JPEG
• Some spare time
This particular step-by-step guide has been created using a RAW image and the tool within Photoshop called Camera RAW, which opens automatically if you open a RAW image within Photoshop.
If you open up a RAW file in PhotoShop this is what the window looks like.
No RAW files to hand? Did you know that you can also use the same tool with JPEG files? Here’s what to do.
Go to the Filter menu and click on Camera RAW filter. This opens up a window which is virtually identical to the one for RAW files. The controls are almost identical too, though if you look carefully along the top toolbar there are fewer controls for JPEG images. However, the steps below are available for both RAW and JPEG images. The adjustments below were actually done from a JPEG version of the image rather than the RAW file.
The first step is to tell the program we want to work on a black and white image. This is done towards the top of the Tool palette, where it says Treatment. Check the option for Black-and-white.
Along the top of the tool palette are a set of tabs, much like the menu system in the camera. Each one allows you to perform different adjustments. We’re going to use the one at the far end.
This tab allows you to pick from some presets, which make getting the basic effect that you want easier.
When you click on it there is a dropdown list, If there is nothing under the B&W setting, click on the arrow and it will show a list of available presets. As you hover your mouse over each one it will apply the preset to the image as a preview. Select an effect that you like.
We have used the landscape preset, as shown. Your chosen image will have a big effect on which preset(s) will work.
Click on the preferred preset and the effect is applied to the image. This is what our image looks like after the preset is applied.
With this basic conversion the sky lacks drama, so let's add an electronic graduated filter to improve its appearance. This is done using a tool at the top of the screen.
Once the tool is selected the next job is to place the mouse at the very top of the screen, click and then drag down to where you want the graduated filter effect to end. Don’t worry at this stage if it is too dark – it can be adjusted later on. The green line shows the start of the filter and the red line where it stops. A feature on the edges is automatically applied.
The control palette on the right (shown below) now allows you to control the effect of the graduated filter. (The corrections used for this image are shown further down.)
Remember that if the graduated filter option is selected at the top, these corrections will only affect that area. To go back to adjusting the image overall click on the hand or magnifying glass on the far right hand side, then the options on the tool palette will affect the whole image.
There are a number of different tools available. Below is a brief explanation of what each tool does:
TEMPERATURE / TINT can still be used. They are normally for colour images and will have a small effect on the conversion to black-and-white, though the effect is subtle.
EXPOSURE makes the whole image lighter or darker (same as the control in Canon's Digital Photo Professional.
CONTRAST increases the difference between the blacks and whites in the image.
HIGHLIGHTS allows the range of light tones to be adjusted.
SHADOWS is for adjusting the range of dark tones.
WHITES allows you to set the white point in the image, basically the far right of the histogram, so governs what will become pure white.
BLACKS is for setting the black point in the image, so this affects what is going to become pure black.
TEXTURE is a fairly recently added control and is used with portraits to smooth out skin or intensify fine detail without oversharpening.
CLARITY controls the brightness of the mid tones, especially the contrast in the mid tones within the image. It can make the image look sharper, though this is down to the contrast and it is not a sharpening control. This control has started appearing on some EOS cameras and is also supported in DPP on those models.
DEHAZE allows atmospheric haze to be reduced within an image. It’s actually changing contrast and the effect looks much the same as the Contrast adjustment tool. There is a limit to what it can remove. Within DPP, Auto Lighting Optimiser (ALO) can have a similar effect on the image.
The settings for each tool very much depends on the image, but as you move the sliders you will see the effect that the correction is having on the image. So simply adjust until you are happy with how the effect looks.
This is what the image looks like so far.
However, there are still a few parts of the image that are not quite right, so the final adjustments are going to be done using the Selective area adjustment tool. This is the paintbrush symbol as shown on the top tool bar below.
Make sure you select the right one – there are two – and it is the right hand one that you need. (The other one does something completely different.)
When you select this tool, the tool palette to the right changes again. You will need to scroll down to set the options.
If you move your mouse over the image you will see that you have a round area with an inner and outer circle. The outer circle shows the outer edge of the feature and the inner one shows the inside edge. Inside that, the effect is at full strength.
SIZE controls the size of the area you are selecting. FEATHER controls the softness of the edge. FLOW is how quickly the effect is applied; DENSITY is how heavy the effect will be.
As you move the mouse over parts of the image and hold down the button it will apply the effect. (If it is too much or too little, don’t worry – it can be changed afterwards. We painted quickly over the areas we wanted to darken – the distant mountains, the left hand mountain at the edge and the bottom left corner of the image.
These are the settings that we used for our image, based on the features that were shown above. You will need a light touch when you are doing this.
This is how our image looked once we had finished with the adjustments.
To go back to the normal tool palette, click on the magnifying glass on the top right hand corner. You are then back to the controls which affect the whole image.
There was one final step taken, and that was to adjust the Texture and Clarity controls. The amount again is dependent on the image you are adjusting.
Once you have the image looking as you want, you need to confirm these changes and save the image.
If working on a JPEG image, click OK at the bottom right of the screen. When you do this it will take you back to the main screen where, to then save the image, you simply go to the File menu and go to Save as, then follow the prompts.
If working on a RAW file, click on Save as on the bottom right hand side, then close the window by clicking Done at the bottom right. Alternatively you can click on the open image and it will take you back into the main screen.
Here's the comparison between the starting and the final black-and-white image.
Once you become familiar with the tool options the whole process takes only a couple of minutes, and produces a much better image than a straight black and white conversion.
By Nina Bailey, EOS magazine Technical Editor
PS. If this image of Yosemite looks familiar, then is actually Nina’s take on an image produced by Ansel Adams himself...
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For detailed information on capturing black-and-white images with your Canon EOS camera, plus more post-processing techniques and tips, look no further than this brand new eBook by Nina Bailey. This fascinating area of photography has been brought right up to date with this guide, with advice for both DSLR and mirrorless camera owners, as well as the latest tools available in some of the more popular software.