You might think that the advent of digital photography would have spelled the end for black and white photos, but you’d be wrong. Sure, in the days of film, black and white was cheaper and easier to process, but, there’s also something special about the quality of monochromatic images. Removing colour makes things simpler and emphasises the tones and shapes in an scene revealing beauty that can’t be seen with the naked eye.
Many digital cameras on the market today provide black and white shooting modes and will even allow you to add special effects like sepia toning in the camera. What could be simpler? Just switch to black and white mode and fire away.
One problem with this approach is that it’s just like shooting with black and white film. If you subsequently decide the subject may have looked better in glorious colour, it’s too bad. Another drawback is that all of the processing is done in the camera and you have little or no control over it.
By shooting in full colour mode and converting to mono using Paint Shop Pro Photo XI you can decide which images will work in black and white and you have complete control over tonal rendition – how the colours in the photo are converted to grey tones. As we’ll see, this can make a huge difference to the final result. And Whether it turns out to be a monochromatic maspterpiece or not, you’ll always have the colour original to fall back on.
There’s one other big advantage to producing mono photos this way. You can re-introduce colour into the image – producing subtle desaturated hues, adding a colour wash or tint and creating split-toning effects.
In this workshop I’ll show you a number of different ways you can produce black and white photos in Paint Shop Pro Photo XI as well as some colouring and toning techniques.
Some of these techniques are covered in Chapter 3 of Paint Shop Pro Photo XI for Photographers.
Launch PSP and open up a photo that you want to convert to black and white. There’s one method of conversion that is straightforward and takes only a single step. Select Greyscale from the image menu. That’s it. Now press Ctrl-Z to undo and don’t bother with it again.
Image>Greyscale removes all of the colour information from your file, it throws it away and, once the file is saved you can never get it back. Not only is it a digital dead-end, it converts your colours to grey tones using an averaging ‘one size fits all’ process which often doesn’t produce the best results and over which you have no control.
Black And White Film Photo Effects
Now duplicate the Background layer by selecting Duplicate from the Layers menu. Rename the new layer mono (click the name in the Layers palette and overwrite it, or right-click it and select rename from the context menu) and select Effects>Photo Effect>Black And White Film. In the filter dialogue box select none for filter colour.
Check the Preview on Image box to see the effect in the main picture window. This is much the same result as you’d get if you used Image>Greyscale, except the colour info is still in the file. It looks OK, but it’s a wash of similar grey tones and the tulip doesn’t really stand out from the background.
Now choose Green from the filter colour pull-down menu. Things are already looking much better. The tulip petals are a rich dark grey and all the background is all light tones.
To understand what’s happening it helps to look at a practical technique from the world of film photography which is based on basic colour theory. This filter is called Black And White Film because it emulates coloured glass filters used in black and white film photography. Black and white film responds to light of certain colours in a predictable way, producing a range of tones. By placing coloured filters over the lens you can alter the composition of the light and thereby change the tones.
The rule of thumb is that filters lighten the tones of same coloured objects and darken the tones of complementary colours in the scene you are photographing. Complementary colours are those on opposite sides of the colour wheel. Red and cyan are complimentary colours as are blue/yellow and green/magenta.
In practical terms what this means is that if you want to lighten reds (or darken cyans) you add a red filter. Adding a yellow filter to the lens will make yellow objects in your scene lighter and blue things darker. Yellow and orange filters were frequently used in film photography to darken the tone of blue skies and emphasise cloud detail.
Paint Shop Pro Photo XI emulates the glass filters of film photography by altering the mix of red, green and blue channels in the colour image to produce the mono one. Select Red from the Filter Colour pull-down menu and see the difference. you can alter the filter strength using the slider to the right. Go back to green, at the default strength of 70 and click OK to apply the filter.
By duplicating the layer prior to applying the filter effect you still have the original full colour image in the layer below. You can use this to produce a quick-and-easy desaturation effect simply by lowering the opacity of the mono layer. Drag the layer opacity slider to the left to re-introduce a little colour from the lower layer. If you know how to use layer masks you can introduce colour back into the image selectively, colouring the flower and laeving the background black and white, for example.
The Channel Mixer
Now press Ctrl-Z to undo the filter and we’ll look at another way to create mono photos that provides you with more control over the finished result. Make sure the mono layer is selected and from the Adjust menu select Colour>Channel Mixer.
Check the Preview on image box in the Channel Mixer dialogue box and, if it’s not already checked, put a tick in the Monochrome box. The three sliders control the mix – each determines the percentage of the Red green and blue channels that is used to produce the monochrome image. The default setting uses 100% Red and no information from the green or blue channels. It produces the same effect as selecting the Red Black And White Film filter and, in this instance, doesn’t produce very useful results.
Drag the red slider to the left until the input field reads 0% (or just click in the input field and overwrite it). You’ll see the imge go black – that’s because there are currently no inputs, each channel is at 0%. Now drag the green slider to 100%. This is the same as applying the Green Black And White Film filter and produces a much better result.
If all the Channel mixer did was replicate the Black And White Film filters there wouldn’t be much point in using it. But there are only five Black and White Film filters, using the Channel Mixer’s three sliders you can create any colour filter you need. To create a yellow filter mix 50% red and 50% green.
If you’re thinking ‘How does red and green make yellow?’ you need to take another look at the colour wheel, but the beauty of live preview is that you don’t have to. You can immediately see the exact result of moving the Channel mixer sliders to create your own bespoke Black And White Film filters.
One thing you need to take care of with the Channel Mixer is that the total of the source channels adds up to around 100%. It doesn’t have to be spot on, but if it’s more than 100% the overall image brightness will increase and if it’s under, your image will get darker. Click the OK button to commit your channel Mixer settings.