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Creating Perfect Black and White Photographs with onOne

Editor’s Note: This week, we’re focussing on onOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite. We’ve asked several Photofocus writers to each make a tutorial. We’ll also have a free preset pack at the end of the week for you.

Black and white photographs let me express my vision. I often prefer then to color (here are three articles about making great black and whites both in camera and in post), and I make them in my camera as well as on the computer–heck, I even shoot black and white film. I often set my camera to monochrome and shoot RAW+JPEG, but any of my images which I feel are good, I always end up finishing manually. Lightroom does a fair job, but I’ve always gone to Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 for my best works. Now, with the new Perfect Photo Suite 9, I’ve got a tool that’s helping to liberate my vision in a few new ways and make my overall workflow faster. In this post, I’ll show you how I approach that workflow and how Perfect Photo Suite 9’s Black and White fits in.

onOne is Fast

The first thing I love about onOne’s Perfect Photo Suite 9 (PPS9) is that it handles lots of images quickly without crashing. I should clarify–I have the whole suite, but you can buy the Perfect Black and White 9 on it’s own, and it’s quite affordable at just $59.95. Anyway, with Nik Silver Efex, I’m lucky to open three images at once and not have it crash several times. With PPS9, I’ve opened 25 images all at once and it’s handled them all like a champ. This makes me faster overall, especially since those 25 were put through at least two different modules each within the suite.

Professional Black and White Tools

There are certain tools I always look for when making black and whites, whether in the camera or on the computer, and the first one I require is colored filters. I usually have a yellow, orange, or red filter activated in the camera when I shoot because it really sets my monochrome images apart. Plain old monochrome/black and white settings are pretty bland. Colored filters affect the tones of gray that replace the colors of the world. Using a red filter makes reds a brighter tone, and it makes blues a darker tone, making instant contrast that really looks great. I use red for street photography, orange for portraits, and sometimes green for landscapes. (I would like to see a preset for a blue filter in future versions)

Levi_Sim_onOneBW-3For this conversion, I used a green filter to start with and made some further contrast and detail adjustments. I like the light handed affect the detail slider has–it’s not so destructive as Clarity in Lightroom, nor as grainy as the structure slider in Nik. I also used the brightening brush to lighten the boardwalk with progressive strokes. The local adjustments are quite powerful.

The vignette tools are also terrific. I used the soft setting here for a gently blended bit of darkening at the edges. The toning settings are my favorite, though. They’ve got excellent presets, and I think Black Tea 1 is my new favorite for a touch of warmth. I’m also using a touch of glow, which isn’t possible to apply in Lightroom, nor in Silver Efex. Click here to download my Landscape preset for Perfect Black and White, free of charge. And here’s a link to instructions for installing the presets from this article.

Panasonic GH4, LensBaby 35mm f/2.8 lens, f/5ish, 1/100s, ISO 400.
Panasonic GH4, LensBaby 35mm f/2.8 lens, f/5ish, 1/100s, ISO 400.

Colorless is Not Lifeless

Levi_Sim_onOneBW-10I know many people who would never thing of creating a black and white photograph of a beautiful landscape. They may feel that color is one of the primary features and without it, the image looks lifeless. I just gotta disagree with that. I feel that many times removing the colors from a scene allows us to see the beauty of simplicity in the natural world. Using tones of grey to feature important compositional elements is an art form all it’s own. Ask anyone you know and they’ll heartily agree that landscapes look amazing in black and white: just ask them to think of a famous photographer–the only answer for non photogs is usually Ansel Adams (who’s work we mostly know as black and white). I’m no Adams…but I’m trying to learn to be.

Here again is that landscape preset. I enjoy the glow settings because they soften the features without reducing sharpness. Oh, the preset also includes a little added grain. Remember, a preset is just a launching point; you’re supposed to make adjustments to the sliders to custom fit your photograph.

Levi_Sim_onOneBW-11
Panasonic GH4, Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, f/5.6, 1/15s, ISO 200.

For Portraits

Levi_Sim_onOneBW-5I told you I like the yellow and orange filters for portraits. They affect skin in a very nice way–smoothing blemishes and brightening the face against the background. I love that. I used my Steve Jobs Portrait Project preset here, plus the Black Tea toning, and finished it with the cool borders available right inside the module (Click here to download the Steve Jobs portrait preset).

Panasonic GH4, Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, f/1.2, 1/160s, ISO 200.
Panasonic GH4, Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, f/1.2, 1/160s, ISO 200.

For this image, however, I used the infrared color filter, and reset the reds to zero. You can manually adjust the sliders for thLevi_Sim_onOneBW-1e color filters, which has the affect of brightening or darkening the tones of whichever color you slide. Kinsey’s lips were very red in this image, and I liked the contrast with her skin, so I set the red slider at zero, while the infrared preset brightened the yellow and green sliders, and nudged the blues a little darker. This made a great play of contrast in the scarf, and kept her lips rich, as well. See how much simpler the black and white image is? In the color, the scarf really rules the frame by color dominance alone. In BW, the zigzag pattern of the scarf is a contrast to the smooth roundness of the face and eyes, and I feel drawn more to her eyes in the black and white. Click here to download my Lips preset.

I finished this one with a gentle vignette and another of the excellent border options.

Nikon D800, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3, 1/125s, ISO 800.
Nikon D800, 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR lens, f/3, 1/125s, ISO 800.

This photograph is a portrait, but it’s also a landscape. I used my Landscape preset and darkened the aqua slider a little to enrich Abbie’sLevi_Sim_onOneBW-12 t-shirt against the background and also to darken the sky a little. That dark sky is one of my favorite things about a colored filter for black and whites. If I’d had time while shooting, I would have used a polarizer to enrich and darken the sky a bit more, and I would have loved the look of that in black and white.

Panasonic GH4, Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, f/1.6, 1/8000s, ISO 200.
Panasonic GH4, Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, f/1.6, 1/8000s, ISO 200.

The Real Advantage to onOne

So far, PPS9’s only real advantage over my Lightroom/Nik workflow for black and white is that it handles lots of files at once better than Levi_Sim_onOneBW-7Nik. Probably not worth changing just for that for most people. However, since I’m using the whole PPS9 suite, I’ve got all the other features at my fingertips, and I don’t have to reopen my files to use them, as I would if I wanted to use more than one plugin from my Nik suite. In onOne, I’ve got a layers based module as my home base (like Photoshop) and I can skip around and use all the other modules and come back to Perfect Layers to blend them in various ways, or add an effect. If I choose to use the Smart Photo feature, I can even re-edit the effects applied in one module or another.

For this portrait of the Levi_Sim_onOneBW-1-2Sheriff of Emery County, I used my landscape preset and brightened the red slider to lighten his skin a little. You can see all the adjustments I’ve made in the screen capture here. (Click to make it larger)

This is the black and white photograph I settled on (I think the whole thing came together well–especially the smooth gunmetal look of the car!)

Levi_Sim_onOneBW-9
Panasonic GH4, Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 200.

After I applied the black and white settings, I was brought back to the layers module with the original color image layer underneath the black and white layer. I then remembered a technique I learned from Vincent Versace about blending a black and white layer into a color layer using various layer blending modes and varied layer opacity, so I fooled around with those and settled on a slightly saturated version of my original color (and I gotta add that it is so cool to see a live preview on my image of what all the layer blending modes will look like). Then, I clicked the Effects module and found a terrific wet plate imitation to use as a border, and then it brought me back to the Layers again where I could launch more possibilities! I find this flexile workflow very satisfying and empowering.

Levi_Sim_onOneBW-8
I shot the Sheriff. Sorry, I couldn’t resist :)

Conclusion

I’ve been getting along well enough with my Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex workflow for years, but now I’m happy to mix it up. onOne’s new Perfect Black and White 9 and the whole Perfect Photo Suite give me the professional tools I need to make my style of black and whites. On top of this, though, they’ve given me an excellent layered workflow with a whole quiver full of new effects and tools, plus the stability to handle many photographs all at once. These things alone make it more than worth the $150 for the whole suite. But this article didn’t even touch on the excellent selection tools I wrote about the other day. Combining the selection tools with Perfect Black and White has made my Steve Jobs Portrait Project so much faster to finish and it’s honestly renewed my vigor for the project since I now have less work to do to make each portrait perfect. It’s a great tool for me, so I suggest you download the free 30 day trial and give it a shot. I think you won’t be disappointed (although, if you buy it an you are disappointed, they’ll give you your money back!)

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