When I started shooting concerts, the highest ISO film available was black and white, and I really enjoyed using it. With the advent of digital photography, the line between color and black and white blurred, because a digital capture in color can be converted easily to a black and white image. You can set the camera to capture in black and white, but I prefer converting a color image to black and white in post production.
Black and white can also help save an image that has bad color, but it’s best to start with a good color photograph before the conversion … and not rely on the conversion as a crutch. I find that the best way to convert images to black and white is to use a specialized application, like Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2. This application works with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, Apple Aperture, and Adobe Photoshop Elements.
When you edit an image in Silver Efex Pro 2, the image is opened in the Silver Efex Pro 2 interface. On the left is a menu of presets, the middle of the screen is where you can see the effect of a conversion, and the individual controls are on the right. There are five different adjustments tabs on the right. The order of the tabs matches the suggested order that each is used.
The five adjustment tabs are:
Global Adjustments is where you can adjust the Brightness, Contrast, and Structure of an image, and you can protect the tonality of the shadows and highlights.
Nik software uses Control Points to make Selective Adjustments. Just add a Control Point on the image to control the Brightness, Contrast, and Structure, to Amplify White or Amplify Black, or to apply Fine Structure and Selective Colorization to a specific area. These Control Points can also be combined into groups and adjusted together.
Color Filters allow you to adjust the different colors in an image. You can pick a color or adjust the hue slider. Then you can manipulate the strength of the color.
Film Types matches up to black and white film types with eighteen different kinds of film, including selections from Agfa, Kodak, Illford, and Fuji. You can also increase the grain and sensitivity, and adjust the levels and curves in your image.
Finishing Adjustments is my favorite panel, because it offers some of the extras that can create great images. Here, you can adjust the Toning, add a Vignette effect, or Burn Edges, and you can add natural-looking borders, too.
My workflow usually starts in Adobe Lightroom where I do all my sorting and most of my editing. When I find a photo that I think would look good as a black and white, I do a quick test by sliding the Saturation to -100. This gives me a quick look at a black and white version of the image and helps me decide if I want to proceed with the conversion.
If I do, then I return the saturation to the previous level and Click Photo> Edit in > Silver Efex Pro 2. I then select the Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments and click Edit to open Silver Efex Pro 2.
Now, I like to start with one of the supplied presets since I find it is usually a good starting point for whatever conversion look I am going for. In this case, I am looking to make this image look like an older aged shot with a matching border. I start with selecting the Soft Sepia preset on the left, then move over to the adjustments panel on the right.
The order that the adjustments are laid out is the same order I use them in, starting with the Global Adjustments. I hide the presets panel so that I can use more of the screen to see the actual images, then I adjust the Brightness, Contrast, and Structure. At this point I am just tweaking the settings from the preset to more closely match the idea in my head.
Next I add any Control Points and in this case, I used a few to darken the face of the bass player that was behind and to the right of the main subject. I want to keep the attention on the subject and not on someone else. The next adjustment is the Color Filter and this is not one I use a lot. So usually I am right on to the Film Types where you can start by picking a Film Type from the drop down list. I am a fan of the Fuji Neopan Pro 1600 look but I increase the grain per pixel and go even softer than the preset.
Next up is the Finishing Adjustments and this is where the overall look to the image gets colored with the Toning adjustment. For this image I am going with a 13 Coffee, then I add some vignetting, and since I want the attention to stay on the middle of the image I go with a Lens Falloff 2.
Now I zoom out to make sure I can see the whole image before adding Burn Edges and Image Borders. I look around the edge of the frame and make sure that there is nothing that will draw my eye away from the main subject. If the edges need a little darkening, then I will add Burn Edges but in this case it is not needed. I now pick a border for the image, and I have always been partial to number 12. Once the border is selected, I adjust the size, spread and usually increase the roughness. The next thing I do is click on the Vary Border button until I see a version I like.
I now sit back and look at the whole image to see what, if anything, needs adjustments, and in this case I want to lighten the overall image up a bit so I go back to the Global Effects and increase the Brightness a little. When I am satisfied with how the image looks, I open the presets panel and tap Add Preset and name the preset after the musician and date. This allows me to process other images from the same show with these presets, giving the images a continuity that would otherwise not be possible. Then I hit Save and the image is back in Lighroom as a Black and White.
As I mentioned, I can now take another shot from the same show and open it in Lightroom, apply the saved preset, click on the Vary Border button and click Save. I now have two images from the same show processed the same way with slightly different variations of the same border. How awesome is that?