My Monochrome Workflow

December 22, 2014  •  5 Comments

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)

Starting pointStarting pointThis is my starting point, a shot of Spurn Lighthouse taken with a Canon 6d and 16-35f4 lens.

 

Step 2 - Raw conversion

Sometimes alter things at this stage, to bring up shadows, lose highlights, etc, but no need with this image.

Raw Conversion - often don't need to make any alterations hereRaw Conversion - often don't need to make any alterations here

 

Step 3 - In Photoshop

Image loaded in Photoshop ready to play.

Opened in PhotoshopOpened in Photoshop

 

Step 4 - Pre-sharpener

Do some light pre-sharpening at this point as recommended by Nik.

Silver Efex Raw Pre-Sharpener - apply limited sharpening hereSilver Efex Raw Pre-Sharpener - apply limited sharpening here

 

Step 5 - Level horizon & crop

If needed do levelling, cropping, re-sizing at this point.

Levelling the horizon using the measure toolLevelling the horizon using the measure tool

 

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.

Opening in Silver Efex Pro - neutral selection looks very flatOpening in Silver Efex Pro - neutral selection looks very flat

 

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.

Choosing a pre-set starting point - depends on the image but often something like 'Full Dynamic (Harsh)'Choosing a pre-set starting point - depends on the image but often something like 'Full Dynamic (Harsh)'

 

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.

Often apply the Red filter effect too, as I would have used in the film days.Often apply the Red filter effect too, as I would have used in the film days.

 

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.

More often than not I will then apply a vignette - usually Lens Fall Off 2 or 3.More often than not I will then apply a vignette - usually Lens Fall Off 2 or 3.

 

Step 10 - Burn bottom edge

Nearly always burn the bottom edge, normally with full transition and strength and size dependant on the scene.

Then I will burn the bottom edge to make it even darker.  Normally with a full transition.Then I will burn the bottom edge to make it even darker. Normally with a full transition.

 

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.

Next I apply some control points to the main subject, in this case to make the lighthouse stand out more I have increased the contrast and added a little structure.Next I apply some control points to the main subject, in this case to make the lighthouse stand out more I have increased the contrast and added a little structure.

 

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.

Next I check zone 9 to see if I have retained some whites.  I'd adjust overall brightness if not.Next I check zone 9 to see if I have retained some whites. I'd adjust overall brightness if not.

 

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.

Next check zone 0 blacks to make sure I have some!Next check zone 0 blacks to make sure I have some!

 

Step 14 - Photoshop dodging and burning

Will add a new Overlay layer to do final dodging and burning.

Then it's back in Photoshop for some final touch upsThen it's back in Photoshop for some final touch ups

Overlay layer dialog.

Add an overlay layer and call it dodge and burn.Add an overlay layer and call it dodge and burn.

Choose a grey darker than mid-grey for burning.  Choose lighter for dodging.

Select a grey darker than mid grey if we're burning.Select a grey darker than mid grey if we're burning.

Choose an appropriate brush.  Normally larger and soft edges.

Select a soft edged brushSelect a soft edged brush

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.

and burn to your heart's content.and burn to your heart's content.

 

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

 

 


Comments

Dave Trowsdale(non-registered)
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!
John Cummings(non-registered)
Great article. I have just come across your website. Your photographs are amazing. I enjoy monochrome as well. I use Silver Efex Pro but tend to use Lightroom first and pre sharpen there. Might try Photoshop for a change.
David Drasdo(non-registered)
Finally got round to reading your first blog, Steve and found it very interesting. Looking forward to more.
Paul Henni(non-registered)
Interesting and well written article Steve. Similar to my workflow, but I've never done pre-sharpening, so will have a look at that.
Andi Campbell-Jones(non-registered)
great little article, and nice to see what goes into producing your superb black and images. Thank you.
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