5 things that I do in black and white processing

In my website you will come across color photos, digital art, manipulations, HDR and stuff. But by now, most of my readers must have realized that my orientation is more towards black and white processing or monochrome processing. Every picture that i post here goes through some processing. Most of the times, it’s black and white.

Colour is everything. Black and white is even more.

What I’m going to show you is something that i normally do to all my photos that I feel should be presented in black and white or monochrome. Every picture is unique. How you are going to treat it while processing is all that depends on what is it that you want your audience to experience when they see your pictures. Thus the processing does not usually end with these 5 steps.

Tools you need:
Lets gear up.

  1. Photoshop (Must): Need I say more? I have cs5.
  2. Nik silver efex (Must): Black and white processing has never been this much fun since the time I stumbled upon this one. It’s a plugin that attaches itself to photshop upon installation.

Well that ought to do it. Now lets get on with the processing.

I normally do not care much about the exif specs of an image. You see, while on the street you never know what or who you will come across. You do not have the luxury to think much before you hit that shutter button. You gotta be quick to capture the moment. If at all any errors creep up, i correct them in photoshop while procesing.

The 5 essential steps:
Open an image in photo shop and start the nik silver efex plugin from filter -> Nik software ->Silver efex pro. I’ve described below only those sliders that I modify in Nik Silver efex for any given picture.

  1. Contrast: It makes darker regions go darker and brighter regions go brighter. It will amplify the difference that you see between the various grey shades.
  2. Structure: Normally, black and white processing is quite predictable. Earlier when i used to open the image in photo shop and hit ctrl+alt+shift+B, I think to myself “yeah right, that’s what I thought.” Not anymore. Adjust the slider to your right and you will see amazing detail that niksilver efex creates on mono chrome images. I normally set this slider to extreme right.
  3. Levels and Curves:  This is a small 2d graph that shows the color levels and curves. In this case we will only be looking at the gray shades. Levels and curves graph is especially useful if you have shot your image in harsh light. Also useful to pep an image if it’s been shot in dull light. So far I’ve only used it to fix harsh light situations. You can see that there are three sliders at the bottom of the graph. I prefer to use the gray one in the middle to make harsh light corrections. Moving the curve to the right side will reduce the intensity of harsh light. I recommend that you play around with this graph.
  4. Toning: This will help you add a tone to your monochrome image. By using the presets available in the drop down, you will be able to add coffee, sepia, blue (never used) or copper tones to your monochrome image. You also have additional sliders that will help you exactly define the kind of tone you want to give to your images. I normally select a preset and then use the sliders to refine the tone. Some times I just leave the tone to neutral for pure black and white effect.
  5. Vignette: You must have noticed a halo of darkness around the corners and edges of most of my images. This is called as vignette (g is silent). It is my favorite effect. Originally it was supposed to be an error which old camera lenses used to have in their images, especially when the picture is taken against the source of light. But now I include this error in almost all my images. Moving the amount slider on the left will create a dark vignette, and moving on right will create a bright vignette. I prefer a dark vignette than the bright one. You can adjust the shape of the halo to be circular, oval or rectangular using the circle/rectangle slider. The size slider will let you increase or decrease the size of the vignette.

Once done with these settings you can hit OK at the bottom right and you will see a drastic change from your original image to the resultant black and white Image after it gets loaded on the Photoshop canvas.

Sample work flow:
This is a picture that I shot in mount road, one of the busiest roads in my city, chennai. On the platforms you will see vendors with petty shops that sell stuff like cheap leather wallets, belts, old used books and stuff like that. This guy is one of the shop owners.

The original image:

the guy at mount road
harsh light, too bright background, basically not so impressive image

Adjustments that i made in nik silver efex:



better contrast, sharper details, basically a more dramatic image

Now, like i said before, every picture is unique. Thus, there is still bit more of processing that needs to be done before i can call it ‘completed’.

Bonus processing step – The patch heal tool: Notice the bright burned out patches near his right ear and on his nose, they’re bothering me. I do not want them. So I’m just going to apply the patch heal tool to eliminate those patches. Patch heal tool is that small icon that you see on the left side in the Photoshop tool bar, just on top of the brush tool. That thing that looks like a micro chip.

patch heal

Once selecting that tool you will be able to free draw a patch of selection on the image by click dragging the mouse around it. The selection will now be highlighted by a dotted line running around it like ants. Now click drag this selection on another region on the image that you want to copy. In this example, I feel that the skin around his chin matches the texture of his nose and is not burnt like that bright patch on the nose. And so i select the patch using the patch heal tool and then click drag it towards the area on his chin to copy.

patch apply

Then when your release the click, the patch on the nose is replaced by the texture on his chin. I did the same thing to the other bright patches on his nose and the one under his right ear in background.

And that’s a wrap:
So there. The 5 things points that i mentioned above before the bonus step happen to almost all of my images. However, you can see from the example that these 5 steps alone do not suffice. Every picture is unique and thus will require you to give a little extra touch to it. When it comes to processing, it doesn’t matter how many tricks you’ve got up your sleeve, its more about how well you treat your image and how patiently you plan your work flow.


9 thoughts on “5 things that I do in black and white processing

  1. Excellent tutorial! I have cs4 – is this plug in available for that version? I am still new to photoshop so this tutorial is a great learning tool for me! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. You’re most welcome. I’m not sure but I think the nik silver efex pluging was lauched before cs5. So it might work. Do try. If you are really interested in b/w photography, it’s worth a shot.

  2. Fantastic tutorial. Now I really wish I had photoshop and that I would know how to use it!! I love your post processed images but it is the photographer that brings out the true beauty Of a photo and that my friend is talent! Thanks for sharing.

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