Friday, November 9, 2012

Creating a Black and white image with contrast from a colour image with none

To see the entire layer palette scroll to the bottom of the screen. 

Black and white image of cotswold village of Bibury

Here is a picture of Arlington Row, a collection of 17th century weavers’ cottages that sits next to the banks of the river Coln in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. Originally built as a monastic wool store in 1380 before being converted, these cottages are the very epitome of picturesque, especially when you consider that they are not just the most photographed dwellings in the Cotswolds, but the most photographed anything in the Cotswolds.

Henry Ford was so taken with them in fact that whilst on a trip to the Cotswolds, he tried to buy the entire row of houses to ship back to Michigan so that he could include them in Greenfield Village. I on the other hand will just settle for a photograph.

Having driven past these cottages many times I have not actually stopped to photograph them that often, either the light is in the wrong place, (thanks to the surrounding topography they tend to spend quite a bit of time in the shade) or more usually because the village resembles a scene from some kind of automotive purgatory, to say it’s a popular spot on the tourist trail is somewhat of an understatement. 

But the good thing about tourists is that they do like a good lay in, meaning this early in the morning it was pretty deserted, so I thought I’d stop and get a picture of the cottages in the mist, you don’t see many pictures of them in the mist so I wanted to get something a bit different. But as you can see from the image below, that came straight off the camera, they are pretty indistinct and slightly lost in the haze.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
The original image
So the challenge here was to keep the atmosphere in the shot, but bring out the cottages so it was obvious where the shot was taken. I knew seeing the image preview on the back of the camera I wanted to change it to black and white for two reasons, one, I thought the ambiance of the scene would render better in monochrome and secondly, I could push the processing further if it was black and white.

Obviously with colour images there is that extra parameter to deal with i.e. the colour, that can turn a picture into a mess, make it unrealistic, or any number of things when pushing the processing, by getting rid of that factor it freed up the limits of what was possible.

First thing to do was to crop the image from the top, there is too much of the bright, white sky in the frame and it can afford to lose some of that.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
With some of the sky trimmed away for starters
Next it was on to the basic adjustments, so I created a new Levels layer using the shortcut keys Ctrl+L (Cmd+E for Mac) to bring in some darker tones and beef up the upper half of the image a bit, I then used a gradient on the mask to remove the effects from the bottom half of the image, as what I had done was far too dark for that portion of the picture.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
Just the upper half of the image has been affected. Too see the entire Layers palette scroll
to the bottom of the screen
Then I created a new Levels layer for the lower part of the image, which wasn’t quite so boisterous as the first, then masked out the upper portion of the image and some shadow areas of the lower half the where the adjustment was slightly too strong.

Using two separate adjustment layers is usually the best way to work on a landscape image, as the sky and land will generally require different treatments, and one layer just won’t be able to do the job.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
Now the with the addition of an adjustment layer on the lower half of the image
Sometimes with an image I will use a plugin or two, these are pieces of specialised software developed by a third party that are compatible with Photoshop. They might create effects that Photoshop cannot do, or do them quicker etc, basically where Photoshop is an all rounder, these programmes are tailored for specific functions and can be a very useful addition to the workflow.

For this image I used a couple of plugins from Topaz which I’ve found to be pretty handy. First of all I wanted to generate a merged copy of all the layers I’ve created so far, or Stamp Visible, so using the Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E (Cmd+Shift+Opt+E) keys I placed a new layer at the top of the stack which combined all the changes I’d made so far. This gave me an image to take into the plugin to work on, and also protects the layers underneath from permanent change. In case I decide further on down the line that I don’t need this step, I can delete it and all the processing I’ve done beforehand is kept safe and sound.

Looking under the filter menu reveals the Topaz sub menu, and from that I’m choosing Topaz Adjust, this can be used to give images an HDR look if that floats your boat, among many other things, but it’s also great at quickly giving a bit of pop to an image, in fact I used the Photo Pop preset to do just that. After accepting the changes I returned back Photoshop with an image that’s had its contrast, colour and detail boosted. This can of course be achieved in the Photoshop itself, but it would take a bit longer, and anything that cuts down on processing time, while still giving good results is always a bonus in my book.

User interface of Photoshop plugin Topaz Adjust
Here is the Topaz Adjust interface

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
The image after the Adjust filter is applied, note the boosting of the inherent blue in the scene
which will be dealt with later and is of no concern
Next I duplicated the Adjust layer (Ctrl+J / Cmd+J) and ran the Adjust plugin again by pressing Ctrl+F (Cmd+F), this shortcut will just run the last filter you used in the background, so there is no need to actually go into the filter itself.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
Pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable somewhat
As you can see this has over cooked the image by quite a lot, but that’s OK as all I wanted from this layer is the effect it’s had on the cottages, so I created an inverted mask by holding down the Alt (Opt) key while hitting the new mask button. This created a mask filled with black and hides the effects of the layer from view, then with a soft edge white brush I painted back in the cottages. The effects are subtle but it helps define the buildings in the image.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
The change is subtle but when I turned the layer on and off i could see it had done the job
Next up I added some darkness to the top and bottom of the image by creating a new layer Ctrl+Shift+N (Cmd+Shift+N), and using the gradient tool I dragged up from the base, over the area I wanted to darken, changed the blend of the layer to soft light then reduced the opacity until I was happy with the result, repeating this process for the top of the image. This just helps bring in a bit more atmosphere and made the centre of the image stand out a bit better.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
With the addition of some graduated layers
Before I made the picture black & white I wanted to remove the blue colour cast that had developed, so the B&W filter didn’t factor it in too much when making the conversion. If this was going to end up a colour image then this would have been dealt with well before now, but as it stands it wasn’t a priority, which is why B&W conversions do allow a certain freedom when it comes to overt or unnatural shifts in colour during the processing.

Just a quick Hue/Saturation adjustment layer with a desaturation on the cyan and blue sliders did the trick.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
The blue has been very quickly reduced
Once done it was time to take another visit to Topaz, this time in the form of their Black & White Effects plugin, so once again, I created a merged copy of my layers and took this into the Topaz filter. Again, I didn’t spend long in there, just using one of the presets, this one being ‘Classic’ which as you can probably guess, gives us the basic B&W conversion, I accepted the changes and was back into PS before I knew it. The B&W adjustment layer in Photoshop also does a good job and can be used in place of this, but I just prefer the effect I get from B&W Effects.

I’m not on a retainer or anything from Topaz, I just find them really useful!

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
B&W Effects control screen, with a very similar layout to Adjust

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
After the black and white conversion
Once that was done, all that was needed was another Levels layer to brighten up the image and give it a bit more contrast.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
Contrast and brightness handled with a quick Levels adjustment
Almost there, but I thought the left hand edge of the photo was a bit too light so I added a slight gradient to that side of the frame, as per the previous upper and lower ones.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
With the addition of a simple gradient on the left it just brings that side of the image into the frame a bit better
And to finish off I added a lower bar to put the image title in, not sure why, I just thought it might look nice. And if that isn’t reason enough I don’t know what is.

After making sure the colours were set to the black and white default by pressing D, then pressing X to flip the colours around, so white is the background. I selected the Crop tool by pressing C then ran it from the top left of the image to the bottom right, so the whole canvas was selected, then using the bottom middle handle, pulled it down by a couple of millimetres, then pressed return to accept the change.

What this does is extend the canvas downwards and fill it with white, next I flipped the colours so black was the background and did exactly the same, but pulled it further down this time so there was a thicker band of background colour.

I pressed T to select the Type tool and then added in the title.

Arlington Row Bibury Cotswolds
Final Image
Job done.

Please click on the layers 
image to the left to see a 
larger version.

No comments:

Post a Comment