Monochrome Conversion with Plug-ins

One of the reasons photographic purists refer to black and white prints as “monochrome” is that it’s a more precise term that also covers images produced in sepia and other tones. One of the advantages of working with monochromatic digital photographs is the original image can come from many sources. Some digital cameras have black & white or sepia capture modes but more often than not they’re captured in RGB. Yup, it’s a color file without any color!

One of my favorite ways to convert a color image into monochrome is to use Photoshop-compatible plug-ins. You can use always use Adobe Photoshop’s Black and White command (Image >Adjustments>Black & White) and it’s pretty good as far as it goes. Plug-ins are not applications and must cling, remora-like to a host application in order to survive. Curious readers should pick of a copy of my long out-of-print book, Plug-in Smart, and read about the plug-in’s origins in a Forward written by Ed Bomke, who created the first plug-in for a program called, interestingly enough, Digital Darkroom.

Topaz Labs B&W Effects is a monochrome converter and image enhancer that offers lots of tools providing flexibility for a diverse range of looks. It includes eight Effect Collections with over 120 presets (more are coming I’m told) that emulate traditional and alternative BW processes. Each effect suite features its own set of presets that can be applied to your image. During workflow you can select the type of effect that you want and then choose from one of the included presets. The Effects category breaks all of the included presets down into suite, each offering a different style. Included are the Van Dyke Brown Collection, Cyanotype Collection, Opalotype Collection and the Albumen Collection which all simulate historical printing processes. B&W Effects features a simple interface that offers a Selective Brush that lets you make selective adjustments for burning, dodging and color.

Tip: When working with any Photoshop-compatible plug-in it’s important to remember one of Farace’s Laws of digital imaging that monochrome conversion, like all digital effects, is subject dependent. One effect may look great for portraits while another may work best with landscapes, so you may need more than one plug-in.

Author: Joe Farace

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