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Digital Black & White Conversion

Original article:  Digital Black & White Conversion

Digital vs. Film
One overlooked difference between film photography and digital photography is in the post processing. Back in the day, when you dropped off your film, the processing took care of things like color correction. In the case of black and white photography, the processing took care of the tonal balance in the picture - the way that colors are converted into light, mid and dark grey tones. Actually, the post processing started with the photographer’s choice of film. Different films had different characteristics. Black and white film was manufactured with certain chemical sensitivities to the primary colors in order to render the color world into pleasing grey tones. Not to get too into the technical side, I'll leave it at that - more for my benefit than yours.

It's in the post processing
Today's digital cameras use the same sensor to capture color and black and white images. All the information that the sensor sees is stored. However, many neglect the post processing - that once took place at the film processing plant – to bring out the best in a digital black and white photograph. To convert a digital color (or even an image taken on the digital cameras black & white setting) image to black and white is a simple and straight forward process, but you will need some sort of photo processing software.
I'm a user of Photoshop, but I'll keep the instructions generic enough that you should be able to search the internet for the exact instructions for your software and version. There are many methods for the digital color to black and white conversion. The one that I tend to use most often involves de-saturating and adjusting the levels of the red, green and blue channels.

The Digital Black & White Conversion
  • To accomplish this open the photograph in the photo editor.
  • Create a Levels layer on top of the image.
  • Create a Hue/Saturation layer on top of the Levels layer (the order is important). Set the Saturation all the way to the left (de-saturating the picture). You'll end up with a black and white picture that seems to be flat and uninspiring. This is where many automatic black and white conversions stop.
  • Open the Levels layer.
  • In Photoshop there is a combo box that allows you to select the color channel (RGB, Red, Green or Blue). Think of Red as dark tones, Green as your mid tones and Blue as the light tones.
  • Each channel will have 3 adjustments representing the dark, mid and light tones within the channel. By fine tuning each channel individually you will be able to bring the "pop" back into your digital black and white photographs.

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