Many HDR images are being converted to Black & White to present typically tone mapped shots in a more “artistic” way. I’ve seen some beautiful work and, since I originally started with black and white photography, darkroom and all, I am particularly drawn to it. It’s obvious that many photographers are doing very simple conversions using Adobe Photoshop without taking advantage of the great variations that are available as presets. An interesting thing about the software is that there are many ways to convert color photos to black and white. I am going to present a couple of different ways to do the conversions.
This post will deal with using the Channel Mixer presets. You will see what seem to be identical images at first glance. But, looking closely, the variations will be obvious.
I’ve started with this High Dynamic Range image that has quite a bit of tonal latitude; extreme light to very dark and everything in between. It was initially processed using 7 images loaded into Nik HDR Efex Pro for tone mapping and control point enhancements on certain areas. Final modifications were made in Photoshop.
- Channel Mixer – Startup
The Channel Mixer tool is accessed using Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer as shown below.
Not all of the presets do well without further modifications of the RGB color sliders. But I’ll let you be the judge.
- Channel Mixer – Presets at a Glance
The nice thing about the presets, as you can see in the comparisons above, is that they can satisfy just about any preference. Kind of like “clicking according to taste.” But, some of the presets do more harm than good to the overall tonality of the image as I’ll describe below.
As expected with the Infrared preset, certain areas are lightened beyond reality. Notice the plants along the wall on the lower left. If this shot had been taken in summer, the trees would show more of a whitish cast and any reds would be black. Notice that the light orange mulch area in the lower left is very dark and much of the contrast for that area is lost.
This filter causes much higher contrast but in the wrong places. The lower left area is similar to the Infrared effect but the lighter green plants lining the wall are now too dark to be noticed. The shadow and sunlight areas on the lawn at right are now merged into darkness with very little contrast to show that the sun is shining through. If you like more surreal effects for black and white, this filter and the Infrared preset are what you will want to work with.
The green filter seems to get pretty close to “real life” for this image. A bit of depth is lost in the lower left but the contrast with the wall, plants, shrubs and mulch is enough to keep things separated. The green lawn areas have a natural look as do the sky, clouds and Washington Monument in the distance.
More contrast in all areas. The shrubs at lower left stand out much better and the shadows and highlights on the lawn and sidewalk are more distinct. But, notice that the plants along the wall get swallowed up in the tone of the mulch. And the top of the Washington Monument gets lost in a darker sky. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed in further post-processing though.
This filter gives even more contrast but sacrifices some of the lighter areas. And the red stripes in the flag (look closely) are almost too light to be seen. But, I must admit that this is a more dramatic representation of the scene.
This is another almost “real life” filter. The results are very close to the Green Filter but with less contrast in some areas and more in others. The image gains more contrast by sacrificing some of the natural tonality of the original Color image.
- Channel Mixer – What’s your pleasure?
All of these presets have strengths and weaknesses. And personal preference, what I would also call “subjective perspective”, makes each a good selection. It depends on what you want. I find that I’m most drawn to the “real life” examples with the Green Filter being my favorite. Here it is in Living Black and White.