Better Black and White Photos
There are many ways to create impressive, beautiful black and white photos. One way is to shoot images using the black and white simulation settings in your digital camera. Another way is to convert your color images into black and white during post processing. The drawback to converting color to black and white is many times your images come out looking dull and flat.
Don’t worry, there is help to get the exact look and feel that you want for your images, B&W Effects by Topaz will help you create better black and white photos. Topaz B&W Effects is a software plug-in that helps you convert color photos into beautiful monochrome images. This is NOT stand-alone software; you DO need a host program, like Photoshop or Lightroom. To check which programs are compatible go to the B&W Effects website and click on the “compatibility” tab at the top of the page.
I started using Topaz products when I first needed help to reduce noise in my HDR (high dynamic range) images particularly the HDR images taken at night. I discovered Topaz DeNoise as by far the best plug in that eliminated the noise but also kept my shots sharp. So when I wanted to create better black and white images I naturally wanted to try Topaz’s B&W Effects.
I have had the pleasure of using Topaz B&W Effects over the last several weeks and I must say I was not let down. The software is amazing, very easy to use and it delivers incredibly diverse results. Their “conversion engine” emphasizes tone and texture to help you create compelling and dynamic images.
If you have used Topaz’s products before then the interface will be very familiar as it is similar to the other modules.
B&W Effects Interface
Down the left hand side, you will find the Effects Panel. The effects are grouped into collections, Traditional, Toned, Stylized, Cyanotype, Albumen, Opalotype, Platinum, My Collection, Favorites and Snapshots.
Below that is the Preset Panel. The row of icons at the top of this section allow you to set/reset presets, add a preset to favorites, delete, import, export and capture a snapshot of the current settings.
Next is the list of presets for each collection.
Along the top bar are icons that allow you to compare the adjusted image to the original, zoom in and out and change the display mode.
Finally down the right side is the adjustment panel, this is where you can customize the look and feel of each of the presets or create your own.
Once you choose a collection from the Effects panel, you will want to look at each of the presets for that collection.
There are literally hundreds of presets. This is where you must experiment to find a starting point for your vision. Let B&W Effects do the heavy lifting and get you close to the look that you want to achieve and then later you can fine-tune the image to get the exact look. When you hover over each preset a window will pop up allowing you to preview what the effect looks like.
Clicking the menu button at the bottom will bring up options like preferences, check for updates, tutorials, user guide, tech support etc.
The adjustment panel is down the right hand side of the window. The top defaults to the preview navigator. To change this to Zone Mode, click on the stylized “Z” along the top navigation bar.
Zone display mode uses the Zone System, which is a photographic technique for determining optimal film exposure and development, originally designed by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer.
I prefer zone mode as it is a visual aid that recognizes the various tonal values in your image on a scale of 0 (pure black) to 10 (pure white). The digital zone display mode detects shadows (0-3), mid-tones (4-7) and highlights (8-10) in your image. This is especially helpful for determining where the image is over or underexposed.
Next are the quick buttons. These are great for immediate enhancements. You have the ability to apply a range of color filters (the colored circles), change contrast, exposure (brightness), adaptive exposure, and get access to the dodge and burn brushes. The droplets are quick toning, to change the overall tone with options for selenium, gold (blue), copper (red), sepia and antique dye.
I call the last section the main adjustment panel, this is where you truly have the tools to create an outstanding image. There are 4 tabs:
- Conversion – tools for basic and adaptive adjustments as well as contrast and tonal control
- Creative Effects – creative stylized tools including realistic, graphic and artistic effects
- Local Adjustments – selectively apply image adjustments (burning, dodging and selective color) using smart brushes
- Finishing Touches – apply finishing touches such as vignettes, grain and toning
Ultimate control over your black and white conversion comes from the conversion tab. Here you will find basic exposure, adaptive exposure, color sensitivity, color filter, and the curve tool.
Basic exposure is what it is…basically brightness with control over blacks and whites. Then there is adaptive exposure that changes the highlights, low lights and mid-tones of your image. It allows you to enhance both detail and depth and can create HDR-style looks. By increasing the regions slider, you are changing the way exposure is distributed across your image.
Color Sensitivity changes the luminosity of each color so that areas that contains the color will be brighter or darker.
Color Filter applies a colored filter to your image.
Don’t forget to check “Process Details Independently” at the bottom, which allows you to adjust exposure and details separately.
I do not use these very much; you have 4 choices under this tab:
- Simplify – removes details under a certain size.
- Diffusion – softens and diffuses the light
- Posterize – give your image a poster effect
- Camera Shake – self-explanatory, can be used to introduce motion
Under this tab you use the brush to dodge, burn, smooth, enhance detail or bring color back to your image.
The edge aware slider works well with enhancing detail on certain areas of the image but not on others. It also works with the dodge and burn brush, and with smoothing a region. If you really want selective color (bringing color back to a specific area of a black and white image), it works wonders with color control. I am not a fan of selective color so it is not a feature that I will use.
In finishing touches you can add film grain, frame borders, vignettes and more. You also have the ability to adjust silver and paper tone. This adds toning to either your paper (white tones) or the silver (grey or dark tones). Alternatively, you can use quad tones a powerful adjustment that allows for 4 different tones to be selected and applied to different tonal regions with in your image. With 4 grey tones you can enhance contrast and details or choose 1 color or 4 and artistic effects will be applied.
If you are looking to create better black and white photos, B&W Effects is great and I highly recommend it. It is easy to use and yet very powerful. It provides almost unlimited adjustments to enable you to create your perfect vision.
If you decide to give Topaz B&W Effects a shot please use discount code bestphotohdr for a 15% discount.