Thursday, November 14, 2013

A simple way to create a smooth B&W image

A quick tutorial on taking a fairly flat image and creating a smooth black and white from it using masks and gradients.

I was recently in Dorset and visited the old pier in Swanage. This is a real favourite with photographers, especially at sunrise and sunset. Using a long exposure to smooth out the waves, along with some warm tones in the sky always works a treat. Unfortunately the weather while I was there wasn’t very accommodating, so I had to settle for overcast shoot.

Because of the dull day, I had in mind to create a shot that would lend itself to a black and white conversion, so I pulled the angle fairly wide and placed the pier in the bottom right of the frame to get a minimalist look to the shot. Plus this enabled me to include a fair amount of cloud, as I knew I could pull out some detail in this during post processing.

I also used a long exposure to flatten out the sea, to try and get the shot as smooth and clean as possible. I wanted to use graduated tones throughout the image, and these work best on even surfaces.

Here is the original image, looking a bit sorry for itself, but the composition is there, which is the main thing. On the right hand side is the layers palette, which will build up as we add more adjustment layers to bring out what we can from the photo. 

First up is a levels adjustment layer to bring some light to the image. I'm dealing with the sea and the sky separately as they will need differing amounts of adjustment. So to that end, I've used a gradient on the layer mask, to hide the effect this layer has on the sky, as denoted by the black portion of the mask. 

Next is another levels layer, but this time I have hidden the sea (lower) portion of the layer, so the effect is only applied to the sky. This has also brought out some colour in the sky, so it could work as a colour image, but I'm happy to turn this into a black and white.

This is a basic black and white conversion using a black and white adjustment layer in Photoshop. I haven't strayed too far from the default settings as I want to keep it fairly neutral.

Now it's a black and white image I've added an overall levels layer to brighten the image up even more. Generally monochrome images can be pushed a bit further than colour ones, so it's worth making the B&W conversion earlier on in the process.

Dragging the midtone slider to the right
darkens the image, to the left, lightens.
I've added two new levels layers here to deal with the horizon, as I wanted to make it nice and crisp. The first of the two layers has been used to darken the sea at the horizon. This was done by creating a new levels layer and darkening the midtones only, by dragging the middle slider to the right.

Then selecting the mask and filling it with black, so hiding the effect across the entire image, meant I could use the  gradient tool, making sure the foreground colour was set to white, and drag down from the horizon. The adjustment was revealed by the white grad, so the darkening effect was applied from the horizon downwards. 

Then create another levels layer and drag the midtone slider to the left so it lightens the image. Again, fill the mask with black, so it hides the effect, then using the gradient tool on the mask, with white as the foreground, drag upwards from the horizon, so                                                                                        revealing the lightening adjustment from the horizon upwards.

This is a view of the mask on the levels layer that is used to darken the sea at the horizon.
The white portion is the only part that is allowing the darkening to effect to show through.

The blending mode and opacity of the 'framing' gradients.
Soft light generally works best on most images but the
opacity will vary from image to image.
Next were a couple of layers to darken the very top and bottom of the image respectively, so to help 'frame' the picture. Each one is a transparent layer with a black gradient applied, either from the top or base of the layer. the layer's blending mode is then changed to soft light and the opacity is adjusted until it looks right.

Finally is another overall levels layer to further brighten the image slightly, and then a final levels layer to darken the sky and give the clouds a bit more punch. Using the same technique as the original adjustment layers, with a grad on the layers mask to hide the effect on the sea.

And that's about it, so even though the original photo was pretty flat and dull, as long as the original composition and effects (in this case, long exposure) are carried out with a final image in mind, it doesn't take long to bring the picture to life in post processing.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, thank you! Learned something today! Kudos!