Imagine the scene - there is a empty shop in a market which is being gutted and renovated. There is a one ceiling light in the shop, but it is being overpowered with light from a single window which backlights the scene. Inside are two workers with hand tools, plenty of rubble and texture on the walls and floor and a wooden beamed ceiling.
This is a perfect example of why I like to convert images to black and white. There is character in the scene, texture everywhere and great light. The first challenge with limited time before I'm spotted by the workers is to nail the exposure. My camera is set up to one of my defaults for street photography - Auto ISO set to a maximum of 6400, minimum shutter speed of 1/100th second. No time to change custom banks in camera so I spot meter and take the shot, letting the bright window completely blow out.
A quick check of my histogram reveals that the highlights are blown in the window area, but the shadow detail is not too far to the left of the histogram. Happy, I move on.
Here is the original shot straight out of the camera:
35mm @ f4, 1/100th, ISO800
Later on at the processing stage I decided to use my standard means of processing the shot. It is a simple conversion which I will make with two plug-ins for Photoshop. Nik Software's Color Efex and then Silver Efex.
After opening the image, I moved into the Color Efex interface, and selected the Tonal Contrast preset. Below is a screenshot of the interface for this conversion:
By default, there is a red line splitting the preview image into two. The left of the line is the original image and the right is the image after the preset has been applied. The view can be changed on the menu bar to other options but this is what I prefer to use. The line can be moved, and using the same shortcuts as Photoshop (Ctrl - or Ctrl + to zoom in and out) you have good control of seeing the effect of your preset on your image.
Tonal Contrast in Color Efex by default is quite heavy handed for my tastes. The default values for the sliders on the top right are:
Highlight Contrast, Midtone Contrast, Shadow Contrast all +30
Generally I want a slightly more subtle adjustment, so I will reduce the Saturation right down, and move the contrast sliders to between +10 and +20 to taste. Once I'm happy with the adjustment, I'll click on the OK button on the bottom right of the Color Efex screen. This will return me to Photoshop with an additional Color Efex Layer. The result of my first adjustment can be seen below:
After the Color Efex adjustment the texture really pops, which is just what I'm looking for. I then open the Silver Efex plug-in and the interface opens as in the screenshot below:
Silver Efex has many presets which run down the left of the interface, and sliders and controls on the right of the interface. I typically only use 4-5 presets as a base, and then customize with the sliders to hone the effect that I want. As in Color Efex, there is a red line splitting the image, with before on the left and after on the right.
For this image I wanted to highlight the gritty feel of the textures and conditions in the shop so I chose the High Structure (Harsh) preset. Then I changed a few sliders on the right as a matter of habit which helps to standardize the look of my images. A border was set to type 14, with size at -85%. This creates a simple white border. I always change the Grain per Pixel to soft in the Film Types slider. If need be, I then add a vignette. In this example is helps to draw the viewer's eye into the image. If need be I'll amplify the Whites and Blacks to tweak the image further until I'm happy with the results. This first blog example is a pretty simple conversion so very quickly I'm done. Clicking on OK on the bottom right of the window takes me back to Photoshop, adding a Silver Efex layer to my original image.
So here, very quickly using 1 preset in Color Efex and 1 preset in Silver Efex, we have a gritty monochrome image with nice light, tone and microcontrast. If you haven't got a copy of Silver Efex or Color Efex I highly recommend visiting Nik Software's website and trying our their free demos with the link below:
And the final conversion to black and white - here it is: