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Saturday, February 9, 2013

How To: Create punchy black & white photos

Black and white photos have a charm of their own. Drama, emotions and actions get highly intensified in black and white. The easiest way to convert a colour photo to black and white is to use the ‘convert to greyscale’ option, which is available in most image viewing and photo editing applications. Here, the application simply desaturates the RGB colour channels to yield shades of grey. It’s the quickest method and you get good-looking results in less than five seconds. Put in a little more effort and your black and white photos will look punchier with good contrast across the entire frame. This process takes a little more than a minute, but rest assured the results will be far more impressive than what you’ll get by using a single command...
How To: Create punchy black & white photos

This process involves using a free Photoshop plug-in that gives good flexibility over what you want black, white or anything in between. You can either use this plug-in via Photoshop or an image viewer/editor that supports Photoshop plug-ins. In this How To session, we will use IrfanView, which is one of the best freeware image viewers.

Step 1: Getting Ready
Get IrfanView and the B/W Conversion plug-in
Get IrfanView and the B/W Conversion plug-in

Download and install IrfanView and get the B/W Conversion plug-in from the Downloads section of Photo-Plugins website. The ZIP archive ( contains the plug-in file called ‘ppc2bw.8bf’. Extract this file to the ‘Plugins | Adobe 8bf’ folder in IrfanView’s installation folder.

Step 2: Let’s begin!
Open the image and fire up the plug-in
Open the image and fire up the plug-in

Open the photo you wish to convert to black and white in IrfanView. Go to the Image menu and navigate to ‘Effects | Adobe 8BF filters’ or simply press [Ctrl]+K, which will bring up a dialog box. Click on the ‘Add 8BF filters’ button and specify the path in which you extracted the plug-in. The filter should now appear in the list. On our test PC, for some reason, it showed up as ‘Â/W Conversion’. Double-click on it and you’ll arrive at the plug-in’s dialog box wherein all the actions lie.

Step 3: Getting the right tones
Carefully observe the effect of the sliders
Observe the effect of the sliders on the colour tones

Carefully observe how the sliders affect the colour tones in the frame. For example, dragging the Red slider will affect the red tones in the entire frame without affecting the other tones. Dragging it to the left will darken all shades of red and values to the right will lighten them. The trick is to get contrasting levels of blacks and whites without losing out on details.There isn’t any formula to get precise values – it’s completely subjective and the tonal values depend on the colours in the frame. You may want to play with the blue (sky) and green (foliage) tones in the case of a landscape, or with the red tone in the case of portraits.

Additionally, you can use Color Filters. These mimic colour filters attached on lenses to enhance the contrast of the desired tones. For this you need to understand the colour wheel. In short, to bring contrast in objects of a particular shade, set the colour of the filter that’s opposite to the shade. For example, the red filter will enhance the details in the sky, which is close to cyan in colour.
The Color Wheel
The Colour Wheel

Yellow vs Green filter
Yellow vs Green filter

Use the Gamma slider to adjust the overall brightness and contrast, and finally you have the Toning slider to add tint. For example, select the orange tone and adjust the intensity to get sepia tone. Tones of blue and purple also yield pleasing results.

Step 4: Film grain
Want film grain?
Want film grain?

This is optional. Check the grain option and use the Density and Strength sliders to add film grain. Increasing the strength will boost the coarseness of grains and increasing the density will boost the amount.

Step 5: Export it!
After you’re satisfied with what you’ve achieved, click OK and you shall have the final result. Save it in the desired format. Note that IrfanView won’t affect the original image unless you overwrite it while saving.

Happy black and white memories!

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