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Brief discussion of Conversions


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#1 Luis V.

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Posted 08 April 2007 - 12:31 PM

B&W photography has remained popular for decades after the advent of color photography. It has remained popular after the advent of digital photography as well. I feel it has a certain classic look. There is something about the pure play of light on dark and the shades of gray that have you key in on the details of an image. You lose nothing to distraction. With digital cameras we have way to get these wonderful traits of a black and white photo. What you may not be aware of is that the concepts we use to attain good images digitally are the same that were used with film. When shooting B&W film I used a series of filters to get certain effects. These filters are named for the light they allow to pass through. For example, a red filter lets the red light come through but blocks the others to varying extents. On B&W film if we used a red filter the reds of a photo would render white (well brighter grays technically) than blues and greens, for examples. If we used a green filter the green would render lighter and the reds and blues would go darker. We do the same with post processing digital images but how we get there will vary. You could certainly use colored filters in front of the lens, but then the image the camera captures would be worthless in color. It would have an aweful cast to it. Instead we do it with channels. Here's how: Every program used to post process images varies. They all however work with a Red, Green and Blue channel to get the colors right on screen. Take for example the following shot. Just a regular rose on a green background. (not the best picture in the world, but it works for the purpose of this post.) Attached File  Rose_Color.jpg   92.02KB   20 downloads Below are the channels that make this image up. The channels are simply the "levels" of each color that is mixed to attain a hue. The brighter the shade of gray the more of that color there is in that area. For example, in the case of the red rose, the red channel will render the flower the brightest because it has the more red. These are the channels for this image. Attached File  Channels_ex.jpg   84.97KB   19 downloads How is this the same as a film shot? Well if I had shot the image with a red filter I would have gotten the first shot. A green filter would have given me the second shot. These filters came in varying intensities, but the results would be along these lines. A good B&W conversion is getting a shot that gives you a good representation of the subject. To do that you would mix the channels shown above to get varying results. What do I mean by "a good representation of the subject"? Well if you did not see the color shot and looked at only the red channel, what would your imagination tell you the color of the rose was? I would guess white or yellow. But that's not right. If you saw only the green channel, you would guess a very deep red rose? That's not quite correct either. So what do we do? (note: good and right, with these shots, are terms of opinion. Artistically, it's completely up to you as the artist) Well, with photo editors, we can mix these channels (the step by step varies with each) to get a shot we like. In some cases you have a way to globally desaturate an image. This is usually done in some Hue/Saturation system and you drag the saturation to the minimum. Another route that is common is to convert the shot to grayscale. By doing that the image editors use a preset formula to determine the right shot. The problem is this gives two very different results. However, in both cases you are using channels via other tools. See below. Attached File  Rose_Conv_Ex.jpg   84.36KB   18 downloads Both are close but when you detail them you'll see they are different. Of particular note is the background and detail level of the petals and leaves. However, I feel, niether does the flower justice. Can these be made to work. Sure they can. You'll simply have to make a few more tweaks. For example, you can change the contrast. You can dodge and burn and selectively darken the flower and leave the rest as is. Etc. However, if you want more control, what do we do now? We can mix the channels manually. This is where you get what is commonly called channel mixing B&W. Here we get into the realm of certain post processing software. In this example, I am using Photoshop. However, there are others that can do it. Does this mean you cannot get a good B&W from something else? No, not at all. You can get wonderful results, but it may require a few more steps, or at least, different ones. The way I convert to B&W uses channel mixer adjustments. For the sake of simplicity I used a single channel mixer layer (you can do it via the Image>Adjustments>Channel Mixer as well if you don't feel like dealing with layers) to get these results. Again, I am not saying this is a quality B&W by any stretch, in fact, its a lousy shot so I would not use it at all, but it gives you the concept and that's why I used it. When you get the channel mixer window up you see this: Attached File  ChanMix_Base.jpg   96.51KB   17 downloads Note the "Red" in the Output Channel drop down. I'll refer to this as the Lead Channel. What this does is select the channel that will have the most effect on the image. Secondly note the Monochrome checkbox. Once you check that, the Output Channel will go to "Gray". However, the Red Source Channel slider will still show 100%. This will be the Red Lead conversion. The look will differ depending on which channel you decide to lead with. It will also not be the same if you simply check monochrome and lower the red slider to 0% and increase the green to 100%. The way Photoshop applies these changes varies depending on the Output Channel you had selected before you click the monochrome box. Here is the same shot with a Red Lead channel mixer conversion. I also show the example of the channel mixer dialog. Attached File  Rose_Red_Lead_CM.jpg   86.51KB   20 downloads Attached File  ChanMix_2.jpg   97.31KB   19 downloads Note here how the petals are a darker gray than the Red Channel up top but the flower is still way too light. The green leaves and background are OK though. Next, the Green Lead channel mixer conversion. Attached File  Rose_Green_Lead_CM.jpg   86.18KB   18 downloads The main difference is the flower. This is much better. We're getting closer. This last one is some tweaks that were done to get it better, in my opinion. The settings for this last shot are Red 18%, Green 73% and Blue 4%. The idea here is to let you know that we can mix and match these channels in an infinite combination of options. It is going to vary completely depending on the color in the original image. Each and every shot will vary. Ultimately, you can tweak the shot to any point. The differences are subtle but I prefer the background a touch darker, the leaves have slightly better detail and the flower is rendered to my liking. Attached File  Rose_My_final_18_73_4.jpg   85.25KB   21 downloads I hope this helps shed some light on some of the things we do to get B&W shots from color images. I did some simple things here to show you the concept. From here, you can play to your hearts content and see what you can do. As a final couple of notes I'd like to mention a few things. - You'll read in different places that the sliders need to add up to 100%. In some case it may work out. In others it won't like in my final example. Simply stated, that's a myth. If you go above the 100% nothing will happen. If you stay below, the same. The only thing you need to be converned about is blowing the highlights if the final sliders are set too high. Ie. try and keep the brightest white at around 245 (RGB values) so that you have some detail. If it's a specular highlight (gleem, shine, reflections etc) you can ignore them. - B&W Plug-Ins and routines. Many of them are simply applications of the channel mixer practice. If they make your life easy, great. If you are going to spend money on them, it's your call. They are however, largely, nothing more than applications of these concepts and not earth shattering. - It can get more complex. For example, you can layer varied conversions and mix them a number of ways. You can mask some layers to reveal others. You can stack them in various ways to get different looks etc. If you all are interested, I can show you some examples of things I have done and been taught. - Remember the other tools. Because you mix channels this does not mean you can't add contrast or dodge and burn images. Use these in addition to those processes, not as a replacement of them. The plug-ins I mentioned above do similar things but again, they are simply the automation of what you already have in Photoshop, for the most part. Hope this helps and you enjoy playing around.......
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#2 Virgil

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Posted 08 April 2007 - 01:47 PM

Hi Luis, thanks for sharing your knowledge with us - i personally learned a lot from it. Next time when i need a b&w conversion to be done i´ll try to use your advise to reproduce the steps you mentioned in NX.
Cheers

Virgil

#3 james23p

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Posted 08 April 2007 - 02:57 PM

Nice info Luis! I will have to try some of this. I have several filters I use for BW on my film cameras I gus I never really associated the mixer like using the filters. JP

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#4 Karen

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Posted 08 April 2007 - 03:37 PM

Very good explanation of this method of conversion, Luis. I also play with color balance after the bw conversion and channel mixing is complete. Kind of like using contrast or some of the other tools to change the quality of the image to suit my taste.
{any and all comments are welcome}

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#5 Jon H.

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Posted 10 April 2007 - 11:42 AM

Thanks for this great primer on using the Channel Mixer for monochrome conversion Luis! (And thanks Jim for pointing me to it... I think I missed it the first time around). This is my current favorite method of monochrome conversion. I usually also push the "constant" slider a tiny bit to the left... Darkens the image overall, but by subsequent adjustments of the Red, Green and Blue sliders, seems to give me a little more dramatic tonal range (more specifically: richer blacks) One thing I would add, and I found this to be the case while processing my images from Palm Desert / Joshua Tree this past few days, is that you want to evaluate your image at 100% size while making your channel slider adjustments. Many of my images from this weekend included a fair amount of sky, and pushing the blue slider too far to the right seemed to exacerbate the blue channel noise. (If I recall, the blue channel is the noisiest anyway). The noise wasn't apparent when I was looking at the image in "fit to screen" view (~33% zoom), but became VERY obvious at 100%. Just my two cents... Best, Jon

Edited by Jon H., 10 April 2007 - 11:45 AM.

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#6 M-Theory

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Posted 10 April 2007 - 02:51 PM

OMG EXACTLY WHAT I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR!!! THANKS DUDE!
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#7 Dennis

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 02:48 PM

Hello all. I wanted to bring this post back up, since it is about a year old now. I was wondering where one can get more information about BW conversions. I am working on getting differant software, cash flow issues right now. Like, I guess eveyone is havng. Anyway, right now I have both PRINT SHOP PRO 9 (PSP9) and photoshop elements 6 + (PSE6 with added plugins). PSP9 has channel mixer, so I did follow this exmaple. PSE6 has a BW converter, that has channels, but it seems a little limited since it is not on a layer. I like those nice inky black BW, I know that it will have to start with the taking of the image. But, today, what is a good software tool(s) for getting fine art BW. This is a software question, I know that the printer also needs to play in this game, but, right now, what software. I have been reading and researching the net. DXO seems to be a good candidate as a pretty good NEF converter as well as getting very good BW. Of course there is CS3/4, Lightroom, ??? Best book for getting fine art BW?

Thanks, Dennis.

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#8 chaswes5

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 04:45 PM

Dennis, Good question. As I stated on a different board, I am using NIK software for my conversions, but not exclusively. I am experimenting with several conversion methods. It is interesting to convert in say PSE 6, then load the same photo (in B&W) into Silver Efex Pro and see what one gets. My best guess is, there is not just one program that is going to give you what your looking for. It is also a matter of one's eye. All the presets are fine but as you all know, the final product is in the operators mind's eye.
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#9 Jon H.

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 05:43 PM

I'm with Charles on this Dennis. My "current" favorite is Nik's Silver EFX Pro. There are enough variables to adjust to keep even the most nit-picky BW aficionado happy. The nice part about it is that it comes with a lot of presets to use as starting points for conversion. I also just downloaded a bunch of additional presets for it, though I've not tried them yet. You can also create your own presets.

As you mentioned, I suspect a large part of getting that "inky black" is choosing the right subject matter. Some subjects just don't lend themselves to monochrome rendering like others do.

I came across this website the other day for Clyde Butcher, Florida Nature Photographer. Seems to specialize in shooting landscapes (or waterscapes, as it were) in the Everglades. He's got an interesting story, and much like Ansel Adams, he went against the grain when people were telling him he had to shoot color to survive, and continues to shoot landscapes in black and white. Now his images are sought after by celebrities, politicians, etc. Of course, he's shooting with an 8x10 view camera, but the principle applies. I looked at some of his gallery, and while they're nice images, I've seen better on this forum.

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#10 james23p

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Posted 15 October 2008 - 06:43 PM

I have had really good results from NX2 and Nik Filter plug ins so I am sure Nik Silver EFX Pro is even better. But NX2 has done a great job and whet I can't do in NX2 I can also augment with the Nik Filters. Then again NX2 is really a Nik Software program made for Nikon. Jim

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#11 justshootit

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Posted 16 October 2008 - 02:25 AM

Dennis, Google "channel mixer for photoshop elements 6" then look at the links for graficalicus.com. They have a channel mixer plugin for PSE6. Sorry I can't copy & paste he link, but I'm typing this on my phone & it doesn't have copy & paste. Sure there are others. I have the Earthbound Light tool for PSE2 and it works great. Don
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#12 Dennis

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Posted 16 October 2008 - 09:09 AM

K, I will look it up.

Thanks, Dennis.

Photography: 100 percent art, 100 percent technical. It takes a photographer to blend them into an image.

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