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Black & White Conversions in Photoshop

Lesson 18 from: From Capture to Print

Rocco Ancora

Black & White Conversions in Photoshop

Lesson 18 from: From Capture to Print

Rocco Ancora

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Lesson Info

18. Black & White Conversions in Photoshop


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Advantages & Pitfalls of Printing


Demystifying Color Management


Understanding Bit Depth


Best Color Space to Work In


Importance of Image Capture


Live Shoot: Natural Light


Live Shoot: Studio Lights


Lesson Info

Black & White Conversions in Photoshop

Okay, so we're going to jump into Photoshop and we're gonna start exploring the idea of a black and white and a couple of different ways of doing black and white images. In Photoshop here what I've got is just a very, very simple color wheel. Let me just bring that up a little bit more, let me put my glasses so I can see the color wheel. Ah, there is it, it's so big, so colorful, so nice. Let's just zoom in a little bit more and we just have colors of different hues, basically hues of complimentary colors; yellows opposite to our blues, and our magentas opposite to our greens, so it's pretty much how color harmonies actually work. We have a 50 percent mid-gray circle in the middle and there's a reason for that, you can see it in a minute, and basically when we do a black and white what is our goal? Our goal basically is to achieve beautiful tonal separation. Essentially what we want is for the color in the image to be translated in a particular shade of gray in the resulting file, okay...

? A lot of the times you'll do a black and white and it might a little bit flat and a little bit dull. The reason being maybe because the technique used kind of amalgamates a lot of those color shades into a single shade of gray. I'm gonna show you that right now. The most common mistake a lot of photographers make is this one here where you have your background layer, we go into Hue/Saturation now, and I want to create a black and white, or I want to create a desaturated image. The most likely thing to do would be to take that saturation point and bring it down, I mean, after all, we have a color image, right? And if we were to take the color away we should be left with a black and white image. Maybe, let's see what happens. Take the saturation down to zero, and now what do we have? We just got gray. Lots of gray. In fact, just mushy gray with no separation whatsoever. The color information although the luminance levels of the file itself, of the color is similar, and it just converted that into just a straight gray, so not really a good way to do a black and white. What we want is to, let me just delete that, as I said earlier is to translate all these beautiful little shades into shades of gray and it's really not that complex. What we're going to do is create a blank layer above the background layer, this is really, really simple. Then I'm going to go into Edit, Fill, okay? I'm gonna fill it with 50 percent gray. There it is, a perfect black and white, no quite. Then I'm going to change the blending mode of that layer to... Color. Holy smoke. What do we have now? Every single one of those colors has been interpreted into a beautiful shade of gray. What does this mean? It means, quite simply, that if you want to have a really, really good black and white image with beautiful tones, what do we need? What do we need to begin with? We need to begin with a really good color file. The misconception is that I've shot it in camera, color balance isn't quite right, whatever, I'm gonna do it in black and white. Not quite because if we don't get the good color and the beautiful separation of color, what we have is just a muddy mess, and we don't want a muddy mess. Now, when we try and translate then that mess into a beautiful printed image it is not going to happen. So we want that nice, beautiful separation of tone, and this is the technique. A lot of you might be saying, well, you know, I can use the black and white filter and I'll get separation of color and then I can start moving sliders around. Except what happens when you start to move the sliders around? If I want to darken yellows, ya I'm darkening yellows but they're all being darkened, and anything that's a similar hue is gonna come down. So the reds are the same, okay? The cyans are the same, the blues are gonna be the same, the magentas are gonna be the same. The minute we start to mess around with that blend of color in that image through black and white we start to run into all sorts of problems. I tend to see a lot of photographers push these sliders to the point of no return, only then to get other problems like halo-ing around transitional tones. Not a good way to do a black and white. Let's go back to this technique where we do have the separation of color right across the wheel. How do we increase our control of this? How do we do it? We're stuck pretty much at the moment with the way the shades and the relationship between each shade is. We can't change it, we can't go in the black and white mode where we pull the sliders and change the hue of color. But we can, we can by adding a Hue/Saturation layer sandwiched between our gray layer. I'm gonna call that, it's always good to name your layers, don't get lazy, so this is our Black and White Layer. And I'm gonna call this my Tone Layer, okay? Watch what happens then if I go to that Tone Layer and I start to move the hue around. What are we doing? We are altering the relationship. So we're making colors that were darker lighter and colors that were lighter darker. In other words in a black and white, whether you're doing, assuming it's a landscape and you want to accentuate the colors of the sky, in other words, we're turning it into a black and white, you wanna make that blue sky go really dark, you know? We can adjust the slider, I'm gonna get back to that cloud image we did earlier and I'm gonna apply this technique and you'll see how we get that nice beautiful separation. But even in a portrait where we wanna get nice, beautiful, dark lips because the red lipstick and then nice, beautiful creaminess in the skin we could do multiple layers and then blend them together to achieve that ultimate result. There's no quick fix in the sense of doing just the one stop black and white. Black and whites need to be massaged, they need to be manipulated into getting that ultimate result. The other technique, of course, is if we take our picker tool and click onto a particular color Photoshop tells us that that's in the yellows and what I can do is I can increase or decrease the saturation of those as well and change the hues of just that particular shade or group of colors. You see in the yellows, when we did it in black and white all those three yellow colors came down together. Now we're still maintaining separation between the three. So once again we have an incredible amount of control in the way we manipulate that file. With that Black and White Layer, let me switch these two off and earlier we explored the technique where we separated luminance and color, okay? Let's explore that a little bit further, using a couple of these techniques and then blending them together. The top copy there being our color, so we label that Color, and our underneath copy being Luminance, which is really our perfect black and white, so I'm going to go into Edit, Fill for the Luminance, of 50 percent gray, with a blending mode of color, and I still have that separation. This is why using this technique straight off the bat will achieve incredible results. If we were doing an image now and I've got the color information on top I'm gonna go into Edit, Fill, just to get the color out of there, go into Luminosity, hit OK, so that's our color information. Change the blending mode of that to Color, we have our color separated from our luminance. We want more control though in the black and whites, so that Tone Layer, if I slip that underneath the Luminance and turn it on and change that blending mode to Color... Where are we? There we go. Luminance, Color... Tone with the Color information on top, there we are. Black and White Layer... Color, Tone is back on normal. Getting confused, okay? That separation happens again with the color being separated. We have options, let's look at the technique now with a real image. Let's come down into, let's open up an image... Here we go... We'll go back to this dramatic sky with the oranges and the blues we did earlier, so we'll open that in Photoshop. I'm just gonna create a really nice image with this. Let's apply this technique that we've just learned. What we're gonna do is we're gonna go into Edit, Fill with a new blank layer... 50 percent gray, blending mode of that to Color, and I'm also going to duplicate that background layer, bring it on top, and I'm gonna use that color information in there so Edit, Fill, Luminosity, change the blending mode of that to Color, but I'm gonna turn it off, so that is our black and white. Now we bring in our Hue/Saturation Layer underneath that and we start to see how we're changing the drama and mood of the image. If I was to go in there and pick an image, we choose the blues, I could increase the saturation of that and I could alter the hue of, and darken the hues of blue, so we get nice, beautiful, subtle tones of gray, which is really, really what we want. We could do that with the blues and then we could go into the Master and change that all over again to achieve separation. Look at that, that's now really starting to be amazing. We can start to build that drama and get those black and whites looking three-dimensional as opposed to just this two-dimensional kind of gray black and white. And of course, with this we start to add contrast curves and we're on our way to success. Another technique for black and white which I really, really love is our Channel Mixer. If we go into our Channel Mixer and over here we hit Monochrome we can go for just a gray separation, but we can be a little bit more discerning in the way we use this. We can come back to the days of shooting with film and putting filters in front of our lenses when we're shooting black and white to give different responses to different colors. So the blue filter is gonna lighten anything that's blue, and then of course, the green filter will lighten anything that's green or yellow-y, and then orange filter. You can see how everything is changing in the way that we want, okay? So here, for argument's sake, I'm gonna come back on top of this and I'll show you how it will shape this. I'm gonna do Edit, Fill, Layout 50 percent gray on top, color, so down here we can also alter the sliders to accentuate colors in the different amounts of red, green, and blue inside the file itself. I really love the tone of the shadow areas here. What I would do is I would mask that out by filling the Channel Mixer Layer, so Command, I, we fill it, we hide that, so we call that Dark Clouds. Then with a brush over the mask, come back in here, and we bring the flow right down. I always like to work with very, very small flows because we want to see the image change gradually. With Photoshop in adjustments we wanna use the adjustments and apply Photoshop adjustments very light, like a feather, almost like garlic in cooking, a little bit goes a very long way. Just gentle instead of using Photoshop like a jackhammer, because what happens is you make changes and you make big, big changes all at once, your eye gets accustomed to it and you want more. The idea is to do small gradual changes, to the point where you really don't see that much information being changed until you start turning adjustment layers on and off. In here I'm gonna paint in the darkness of these clouds to accentuate that drama in there, so I'm being quite selective. And I've got the gray layer on top to give me an overall black and white, so if I was to turn that off, see what's happening? Otherwise it'll be very confusing to sit there and try to make these black and white and then you got the color image, so that's just a little way to help us. There it is. That's awesome. What we do now, I would switch that off, and I will create a new Channel Mixer layer, okay? This time I'm going to look at the prospects of say a blue filter or maybe a green filter to work with the yellows and that kinda works really well, and then I bring in my dark clouds, so you see how we're shaping and we're creating depth by the use of the color that's already in the image, but then manipulating the file to suite. Then, of course, using the technique of the Blend If mode, where we go into Hue/Saturation and we colorize the overall image, double clicking onto the layer itself to bring some color just to our highlights by moving the underlaying layer, hitting the Alt key to blend that through. We got our highlights, alter the saturation a little bit just to bring that color back in. So now with black and white we're getting into some really really interesting orders. Question. I have a question about this. I love this technique and I'm wondering do you ever use or would you recommend using things like Topaz or Nik Efex for black and white? The only one I would use and I do use is Silver Efex Pro, the Nik Software. It's really good because you can go in and individually alter channels and things. In fact, you can do some amazing things, and I'll show you what we'll do with Nik Software cuz I think it needs to be addressed as far as being a really powerful black and white tool. Very good question. So let's switch these off and let's explore the world of the Nik Software. Here we go, I'm gonna go down into Silver Efex Pro. We're gonna load... We have a lot of presets that are already in there for us, that have done all the hard work. Some of them are a little bit aggressive, but my favorites of these ones are High Structure Smooth and the High Structure Harsh, okay? Then we can come into here and we can alter, we can alter and shape our black and white in any which way we want, we can use that idea of using color filters to blend and do exactly what we just did earlier, but using the Hue and Saturation slider. And then of course, we can add gray and we can do all sorts of wonderful things. I tend to use this software mainly to create the black and white tonalities and I'll show you what I mean by that. I'm gonna pick that, and then I'm gonna come up here and we're going to just reduce the brightness of the highlights just a fraction and the brightness overall, okay, there it is, and brightness of the shadows just a fraction more. We come down, we're gonna leave the overall contrast as it is because I'm kind of liking it. Structure is pretty interesting because it kinda applies contrasting in a localized form, so you're getting almost this three-dimensional effect coming through and just at this stage, the structure is being applied to more to mid-tones than highlights, but we can change that, we can have really structured highlights in an image or really structured shadows. I tend not to touch shadows much as far as the structure slider here because with the shadows, room to shadows being quite dark obviously, they could contain a lot of noise information and the minute you push that structure up it kinda sharpens that area, it kinda brings a lot of that noise and grittiness, so we'll leave those alone. We'll come down here and the good thing is with this you can load in film tiles, which we're not gonna do, we're gonna leave the levels and curves as it is, which is great, vignettes, but I wanna do all this stuff in Photoshop, so image borders, etc. etc. So it's a really, really, really cool software. The thing is also with the grain per pixel, I'm gonna leave that right up and bring that down to soft so I don't want to have a lot of grain introduced, I know we're gonna try and achieve that nice, beautiful, beautiful film look. I'm gonna hit OK... So we're back in Photoshop now and Silver Efex Pro is giving us a nice, beautiful rendition of the black and white and if I turn that off and I turn my rendition of the black and white, I'd still have a long way to go to get to where Silver Efex was as far as curves, but I could get there and I could manipulate it and I could do lots of wonderful things. In fact, I could go back into Silver Efex Pro with another color version if you like, of the image and then extract maybe something that was more dramatic with the center of the clouds, and then blend the two together. Where this is really, really powerful, once you've changed the luminance value of your image, that's really what you're doing as far as black and white is concerned, is if I switch on the Color Layer again I've got a color image of the black and white version with all the drama and everything else that goes with it. You see that? If I turn those two layers off, there's our image, which we thought looked pretty good, kind of out of a derby camera roll, but if I wanted a colored image there it is. But with the black and white drama if you like, of what we achieved with Silver Efex Pro. And then of course, with color once again, if I was to duplicate that and change that blending mode to Self Light I would increase that color saturation and we're starting to get something that's a little bit, little bit nicer, and a little bit more emotive. So getting things right monochromatically is really the key. A little bit later when we open one of the images this is pretty much the road we're going to follow. We're gonna separate the color information, we're gonna work with luminance information, we're gonna shape the image visually because we don't want color to get in the way. We wanna get the tonality right, we wanna get our highlights, the mid-tones, the shadows. When we're done with that we can bring in the color information and then we can start talking about toning and applying any special effects. There's a process, it's not just, let's apply the special effect and then let's see how that looks in black and white. Black and white is a special thing that you should treat with respect and do so one step at a time. Silver Efex's giving us the two different versions of the color image, and then of course, not to mention that we could tone that and we could take it further, but you can see how much more dynamic this is from the original of where we started. This is where we started, and this is where we ended up.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Rocco's Photoshop Actions
Rocco's Printer Evaluation Files
Color & Luminosity Seperation Action

Ratings and Reviews

Roberto Valenzuela

I honestly consider many courses to be great, but optional. However, this course by Rocco Ancora is a MUST! It helps the photographer complete the circle of being a photographic artist. Our job doesn't end at the edit, it ends with the print. When your clients can hold and enjoy your creative vision physically, that is when the magic of being a photographer happens. I have been so fortunate to travel the world teaching and meeting some of the best photographers in the world. That being said, I can say with confidence that nobody can teach this combination of Photoshop retouching / fine-art printing better than Rocco Ancora. I believe in this class so much, I traveled to Seattle to attend this course to be part of the live studio audience. I have never done that before. But that's how important I consider this material to be. I am so happy I took the time to go and learn from the man himself. Now, I will get this course to watch it, dissect it, study it, and practice it. Very excited to see how the knowledge in this course will propel my career further. --Roberto Valenzuela

a Creativelive Student

I was fortunate enough to attend this class in person and got to experience Rocco's prints in person. The quality is absolutely breathtaking and a game changer, Learning these skills will really help my business in a number of ways. In the past, I have had a difficult time convincing clients to purchase typical lab prints through my studio, as opposed to buying them through Walmart or Costco where the quality was "close enough." Rocco's method that he shared in this class creates three dimensional images of unmatched quality and images that just jump off the page. The knowledge from this course will empower me to help run a sustainable business and thrive as a photographer. You would be foolish to not learn these methods and incorporate them into your business. Highly Recommend!!

April S.

I have invested time into learning Lightroom and Photoshop, my own gear, and my particular photographic style, but the one thing I am really lacking is a solid understanding about preparing an image for print, and the various print options (e.g., paper types). When I saw this course come up on the CL schedule it caught my eye immediately so I RSVP'd for the live broadcast. I was at work when it started and couldn't watch at that time. I do listen in from work sometimes, but after 2 minutes of listening to this course I realized it was one I really needed to watch closely and focus on. So, I stopped the stream after a couple minutes and bought the course. I have never done that before. I always wait and watch as much as I can in the initial broadcast (or rebroadcast) to decide if a course is one that I really should spend for. I knew right away though that Rocco was presenting the very information I was lacking and needed, and I wanted it! In addition, it was clear to me after looking him up online that he's a consummate professional with lots of experience and his delivery style even in just the couple of minutes that I listened reflected that. I already have X-rite ColorMunki Display and Colorchecker, a good monitor, and I have a photo printer (Canon Pixma Pro-100) but I'm lacking that technical understanding of color and know I'm not using my resources to their fullest. I use my Canon Pixma to test-print images before uploading to the print service I use. My method isn't ideal since the service uses different printers and ink, and paper depending on what I choose, but at least I have a much better idea of what my image file will give me in print form. After Rocco's course I believe I will be much better equipped to prepare my images and choose the options best suited to each image. I'll still test print if only because it's fun to see something on paper, but I expect the results I get from the print service to be much better once I really know how to put this knowledge to work for me.

Student Work