Do You Make This Classic Mistake in Black and White Post Processing?

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When processing your photo as a black and white image, it can be a bit confusing as to what the next step is. Do you dodge and burn, add a lens vignette, or adjust your contrast? While all these steps can greatly improve your image, there is one important adjustment that many overlook which will have a huge impact on the final product: adjusting the tones of your colors.

In Photoshop, it’s quite easy to switch your photo into black and white: just simply add a Black & White adjustment layer. When you add that layer, you’ll be presented with the adjustment layer menu, allowing you to customize your black and white tones (Figure 1).

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Many photographers who don’t know better skip over these important options. As you can see in the above figure, you’re met with several sliders that represent colors in your photo. What these sliders do is darken or lighten the tone of those specific colors present in your image. For example, let’s say you have a lot of red in your original color image. When you move the red slider, you’ll darken or lighten only the red color pixels in your photo. So in short, only the red colors will be affected, giving you a great level of tonal customization to create a high-impact image: you can darken the reds, brighten the yellows, and so forth.

Let’s see what happens when I adjust the red slider in my image (Figure 2). The default setting is at 40, but let’s drop that down a bit to darken only the red areas of my image.

The roof was dark red in my original color photo. The only part of my image that was drastically darkened was the area around the ceiling, while the remainder of my photo was left unchanged.
This is a fantastic tool as many images that are converted to black and white can have a cloudy look to the tones – that is, a lack of dark blacks or bright whites. By adjusting your colors selectively, you can increase your tonal range and heighten the drama of a black and white with little to no damage to your photo.

I’m going to go ahead and adjust the rest of my colors in order to expand my tonal range (Figure 3). As you can see in the side-by-side comparison, there is quite a difference.

This difference is also reflected when I compare the histograms. In the first histogram (which is the original black and white image before I changed my color sliders), you can see that the tones are pretty bunched up in the middle. However, when I adjusted my colors, you can see how the histogram spreads out more to the left, indicating that I increased my darker tones. Click here if you want to learn how to read your histogram.





So if you aren’t adjusting your color tones yet, you really should start in order to bring out a great tonal range in your black and white images. Once you have this solid base down, you can then dodge and burn, adjust your levels, or perform these other kind of black and white editing techniques.
Read more great articles by Christopher O’Donnell at his blog or follow him on Facebook.

About the author

    Christopher O'Donnell

    I'm a professional landscape photographer living on the coast of Maine. Through my work, I like to show a vantage point that is rarely seen in reality; a show of beauty, emotion, and serenity. Feel free to visit my website.

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