My Monochrome Workflow
I post my images on quite a few Facebook groups and I've been asked a few times about how I do my monochrome conversions. Rather than explaining in depth on Facebook, I thought I'd take the opportunity to write my first blog post on this subject.
Please bear in mind I'm not a trained expert in any of the technologies I discuss, I've just developed my own workflow over the last few years and this seems to work for me. Normally, I don't do any complex selections or employ huge amounts of layers, I tend to stick to using the power of Silver Efex Pro with a few simple further adjustments in Photoshop.
My background is that I'm a keen photographer and back in the day I used to develop and print my own black and white images. Then I used filters, different papers and plenty of dodging and burning with card with holes in and blobs of plasticene on wire. Only with the advent of Silver Efex Pro have I been happy with the conversions I'm achieving in the digital world. I've always leaned a bit to the 'dark side' so as you'll see from my portfolio most of my images have a lot of dark areas, but I usually try to include the full range of tones.
I've shown my workflow in the step by step image below. It's not meant to be a tutorial about Photoshop or Silver Efex - there are plenty of those on You Tube if you need them. It's a reference for anyone interested in how I use those tools to achieve my images. Feel free to comment and check-out my Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/stevecheethamphotography
Step 1 - Starting point
An image of Spurn Point Lighthouse taken with a Canon 6d and the 16-35mm F4 lens. 1/800 @ f8, ISO800 (windy day)
Step 2 - Raw conversion
Sometimes alter things at this stage, to bring up shadows, lose highlights, etc, but no need with this image.
Step 3 - In Photoshop
Image loaded in Photoshop ready to play.
Step 4 - Pre-sharpener
Do some light pre-sharpening at this point as recommended by Nik.
Step 5 - Level horizon & crop
If needed do levelling, cropping, re-sizing at this point.
Step 6 - Load into Silver Efex
Love this tool, obviously designed by 'proper' photographers. If you don't have it and you do black and white you need to get it! Starting point is flat and grey but don't worry we'll soon fix that.
Step 7 - Choose a good pre-set
Depends on the image and what I'm trying to achieve, often start from 'Full Dynamic (harsh)'. Looking better already.
Step 8 - Red filter
Back in the day I always had a Red filter welded to the front of my lens. Always add it here for old times sake.
Step 9 - Add vignette
Nearly always add a vignette, usually 'Lens Falloff 2' or 3. This doesn't always look good in all scenes, if you can see the curve of the vignette then you've probably overdone it.
Step 10 - Burn bottom edge
Nearly always burn the bottom edge, normally with full transition and strength and size dependant on the scene.
Step 11 - Add control points
Having made the general changes it's now time to look at the subject. Will use one or more control points to adjust the subject as needed. In this case I've added some contrast and structure to the lighthouse to really make it stand out.
Step 12 - Check highlights
Using the Zone tool, I check that I have some zone 9 (white) and no zone 10 (burnt out). If so, I'll adjust highlights, whites, brightness, etc.
Step 13 - Check shadows
Use the zone tool again to check for amount of Zone 10. Adjust shadows, blacks and brightness to get some, but not too much.
Step 14 - Photoshop dodging and burning
Will add a new Overlay layer to do final dodging and burning.
Overlay layer dialog.
Choose a grey darker than mid-grey for burning. Choose lighter for dodging.
Choose an appropriate brush. Normally larger and soft edges.
For this one I've burned in the lighter area in the sky.
Step 15 - Final re-touching
At this point, will look at removing dust spots with the Spot Healing Brush and cloning out any unwanted details. If the image was particularly good, I might have cloned out the telegraph poles and wires, but probably not worth it in this case. I did though clone out the traffic signs at the far left.
Step 16 - Output Sharpening
I use the Nik output sharpener for final sharpening. Being careful not to overdo it and introduce halo's, etc.
Step 17 - Finished
The finished image, It might not be to everyone's taste, but I love the drama of black and white and I think this process really emphasises that. If you found this useful, please let me know, or head over to my facebook page and give it a like. https://www.facebook.com/stevecheethamphotography
Great article, easy to understand and follow. I come from your era too, and used to love messing about in the darkroom! I use photoshop a lot now, but I think for great monochrome silver fx pro looks great. I'll have to invest in it me thinks! Thanks for sharing this post!
Finally got round to reading your first blog, Steve and found it very interesting. Looking forward to more.
great little article, and nice to see what goes into producing your superb black and images. Thank you.
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