B&W, the order of things...


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Jun 4, 2010
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I often see many stunning B&W conversions, and I try and try, but can never get quite the same results. I guess my question relates to the order of Post Processing using specific features and in a specific order that as a whole give you the best results.

For example; Should I take the RAW file, and convert it to B&W right off the bat. Then make the remaining light, and other adjustments after the image has already been converted. OOOOOR, Do you make all your edits to the original color image all the way to the point of having a finished product. Then, as a last step, convert it to B&W.

I guess I'm looking for a "best practices" rule of thumb. Convert the photo first, then do the edits to the converted file. Or, do the edits to the color photo, then convert the finished product to B&W.

I could see how either method could have both advantages and disadvantages, so what do you guys do when converting to B&W?
Abobe site used to have some good actions for BW conversions, I tend to do my edit in colour before converting, whichever way I use. H
If something's wrong in the colored version, not much will change in B&W, so I'm also on the side of pre-editing. Only very simple flaws could be cleaned out only using the B&W color mix.
what method are you using to convert?
I'm inclined to process the color image first and then convert to B&W as a final step however I don't see it as an error to go the other way. The conversion method is of utmost importance. I prefer Photoshop's Channel mixer, but will also use the B&W converter on occasion.

Yep depends on program used? As I use Lightroom. And if I adjust image then add a B&W preset. The preset will change my settings to adhere to the preset adjustments.

So I try the presets and see if anything comes close to what I want. Then do my custom adj. to Sharpen and tweaking curves to my liking.
I do most of my B&W conversions using the Gradient Map feature,and selecting the black gradient....I then use the Curves tool to tweak the images...this method provides a pretty realistic B&W film-like look AND it prints very,very well.
Thanks for the replies!

ann, I use PS, and usually just use the B&W converter. Up until now I've sorta had the approach that whenever I get the though, "hey, this might look good in B&W" I just do it then and deal with the results. It's only been recently that I have realized the order of doing things, and not just B&W conversions but also editing as a whole, can have a drastic effect on the finished product. I will have to try using the Channel mixer and see what results I get with that, too.

When editing for B&W, do any of you change how you would edit the photo? For example, if you edit a photo which you know will be printed on metallic paper, you may edit the colors, contrast, lighting, ect, differently than if you were printing it on a mat finish paper. Does the same hold true for B&W conversions? If so, what might you do differently?
sorry i wasn't clearer, i meant, channel mixer , lab mixer, silver efex, etc.
sorry i wasn't clearer, i meant, channel mixer , lab mixer, silver efex, etc.

Ahh, I got it now, I think that was actually more my misunderstanding. I already use the channel mixer... I was using the wrong terminology.:er: I think part of my problem is I don't have a strong understanding of how the individual colors affect the B&W image. So I sort of end up moving the sliders around until I think it looks good. Though I probably couldn't replicate the results from photo to photo... I'm sure more practice is in order...
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Try this....

Create a gradiant map layer that changes the photo to black and white ( like Derrel said. ). Then add a channel mixer adjustment layer. Check the "monochrome" box. Then as a rough starting point, put Red at about 60, Green at 40 and Blue at 40. The luminosity slider at the bottom put at around 6-8. I set this as an action in photoshop to convert to B&W.
Channel mixing doesn't have to be trial and error if you look at the individual R, G and B channels on the layers palette, which display as bw images. Different images will look better or worse on different channels, so you can use more or less of each accordingly. Another thing to keep in mind is that the B channel is much noisier than the others and more contrasty, so depending on whether you want more of that "film look" you might use more or less B.
I primarily convert to B&W in Photoshop after capture edits in ACR, and use a B&W adjustment layer to do so. It offers a much broader range of adjustments compared to the channel mixer, and being an adjustment layer is non-destructive to boot.

I also use Curves and usually also add both dodge and burn layers.

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