Black and white tutorial

There’s dozens upon dozens different ways to process a black and white image. Every time I convert one of my images, I take a different approach for a few reasons: 1. I like experimenting. 2. Not all images are made equal. A postprocess that looks awesome for one image won’t necessarily look as good for another.

I posted this image a few weeks ago. Really, in my mind, it’s not quite finished. It still needs a bit more finessing, but I was fairly happy with it at the time.

Zombie Photography

This is the original, straight-out-of-camera image.

Zombie Photography

As is, I really liked it, but I felt it’d have more drama in B&W format.

Over the past few years I developed several different B&W conversions and recorded them to “actions” (similar to Macros) – it saves me the time and the trouble of remembering what steps I need to take to achieve a certain look. Then after I run an action, I can fiddle with my settings to fine-tune the look.

I played around with a few different looks, and wasn’t really happy with any one of them. For example…

Zombie Photography

None of these are inherently bad, though I did lose some of the subtle tones in the sky. Even if that wasn’t an issue, these just didn’t work for me. Although I really liked the lower-right sepia-ish one. It needed something more, I felt.

Right now, as I’m writing this blog entry, I’m extremely irritated with myself. When I made that B&W image three weeks ago, I created a B&W adjustment layer and flattened it and I can’t remember what settings I had for the B&W layer or why I did that! So I shall do my best to duplicate whatever the hell I did. I know I had other adjustment layers that weren’t flattened, fortunately.

Zombie Photography

Pictured left are likely the B&W settings for my initial B&W adjustment layer; the blue and cyan sliders are pushed to left to help bring out the sky’s tones a bit more. I tend to not push the sliders far to either left or right because it gets extremely noisy and bandings are more apparent then. I prefer to get the right contrasting tones in-camera.

I believe, but am not positive, that the reason I flattened this layer at this point was to use sharpen or unsharpen to try decrease the banding that was starting to become apparent – moreso after I add the Curves layer. I’m really picky about the quality of my images.

Anyway I”m not going to do that today.

Next, I added a Curves layer. pulled down the curve ever so slightly (If you use CS4, the “medium contrast” option is close to my curve) and decreased its opacity.  Again the goal was to preserve the different tonal values in the sky. Curves is destructive, so I try to use it minimally. I masked out the sand and parts of the sky.

Zombie Photography

The last step was to add a gradient map, which gave it a touch of mauve.

Zombie Photography

These are very subtle, small changes that have a world of difference in the final image.

Zombie Photography

What do you think?



  1. Interesting to see how you did this. I too am guilty of flattening adjustment layers by accident every now and then (ie in order to use unsharp mask but then forgetting to save as).

  2. I like the thought process you use in photoshop. I use Aperture 3 and NIK Silver Effects Pro 2 for my B&W conversions. I love the image. It is composed well and the tonal range is beautiful. In the final image in the post, there is a hard line in the left side. I wonder if it is my monitor?

    • Hmm, do you mean the final, finished image or the last one in the blog entry? I’m not seeing a hard line in either…

      I’ve heard the Nik Silver Effects is good, but I’m cheap. If I were making money off these B&Ws, I’d consider it though. Not to mention, my 7-yo computer is on its last leg and I don’t think it could run another program.

      • Hmm. Maybe it was my monitor.
        I feel you pain with the old computer. I can’t afford Adobe Photoshop, but I might buy Lightroom if Apple doesn’t come out with a new version of Aperture.

        • Oh ya. Compounding matters is my 7-yo (bought at same time as the computer) monitor is starting to go too. It just started flickering like crazy this week, and is driving me nuts. I am hoping it’s the wires going bad, I think I have spares somewhere to test with, and am going to try find them this weekend. Worst case scenario, I’ll use my tv as a temporary monitor if it dies.

          I’m saving up for a new computer. I’m leaning toward a laptop this time because I like the idea of being able to work on the road. But I have had wretched luck with laptops though (spilled liquids on the previous ones I had), and warranties don’t cover liquid damage nowadays unless you pay extra. At least Dell’s doesn’t.

          I’m rambling.

Comments are closed.