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Using a lookup table to refine the black-and-white effect in Photoshop

If you want to get better results with black and white images I suggest turning to lookup tables. Lookup tables are an excellent way to simulate traditional black and white film stocks. Now in this case I’m gonna show you how to simply use a lookup table, but later on in the course we’ll explore how to create them from scratch. One other way of working with an image is to take advantage of a lookup table to reassign the black and white photo. And that’s some of what’s been done here. Typically what I like to do is really finish an image. So a Curves adjustment to get the tonal balance right, followed by a little bit of a Hue Saturation adjustment.

Using a lookup table to refine the black-and-white effect from Photoshop: Advanced Adjustment Layer and Blend Modes by Richard Harrington

And that one is actually gonna come in later as a spot change. It’s very subtle. And then we have the ability here to finish that off with the black and white adjustment. So let me show you what that looks like. Now this black and white adjustment is a Color Lookup table, which essentially reassigns the value of the film stock. It tells the image how to behave, that this color equals this color or tone or shade of black. And it’s a very absolute and precise way to do really high-end black and white conversion.

So let’s start with this here. We’re gonna add the Curve layer first and with the on image tool here I’d like to do a little lift to the face of the rock and a little dip up there. That’s great, getting the sky back. And let’s just put a little lift in the clouds slightly. And that Curve has done a nice job of lifting the face of the rock while preserving good contrast up here in the sky. All right, now we’ll add the lookup table adjustment here, it’s called Color Lookup.

And it requires you to select a LUT. There are a series of LUTs that are built in that you can use, but I’ve given you a few of my favorite black and white ones that I’ve personally made. So you can choose Load here and this will be bring up a dialog box. Now just navigate to the Exercise Files that you’ve downloaded and you can step into the folder and you’ll see black and white LUTs. And I’ve given you five LUTs to choose from. You can just pick one there and see what it does.

And if you wanna try the next one choose Load LUT again and just choose the next one in the list. And what you’ll see there is that each lookup table gives a slightly different look and overall behavior. Now what you can still do with these is continue to try out all five and then just pick the one you like and use that one. Again, this is a matter of personal taste, so you can choose the one that works for you. I’m gonna go back to number two. In this particular image I think that worked best.

Now one thing you can also do is duplicate that layer, cmd or ctrl + j is gonna make another copy, and you see it applies a LUT a second time. Sometimes I’ll take a LUT like that and just place it into a blending mode. Let’s try Soft Light here and just lower the Opacity slightly. And you see that that’s just adding a nice little roll off to the contrast, giving us truly rich blacks. Now here’s where things get interesting. The lookup table is using the colors of the image to make an adjustment, so this means that I can add an adjustment here, like a Hue Saturation adjustment layer.

So what I’m gonna do is add another adjustment layer, I’m gonna click on the popup list here and choose Hue Saturation. And that puts this adjustment in there. Now using the on image tool here I’m gonna click on the sky. And what that just did is you’ll notice at the bottom in that color strip it made a selection for the turquoise of the sky through a little bit of green and blue. And now that area is being targeted. This means that I can adjust the intensity of the color there to affect the black and white conversion.

Or I can actually lower the Lightness value and get a darker, richer sky. So what I find is this ability to target a particular color and even roll it slightly means that the lookup table can be refined. Click on that on image tool again and go to a different area of the photo, for example the rock here, and now you see that it’s made a selection based on the reddish tones. This means that I can roll the hue of the rock to better define how it’s being converted with the lookup table.

I like that there. Let’s make that a little bit more intense with Saturation and a little lift in Lightness. And I really like how the rock is coming through. If I toggle this on and off you see that by using the Hue Saturation adjustment layer I can refine the results of the lookup table. Now if we look at the photo itself you would go wow, that’s really unusual. What I did there was extreme color manipulation, but it’s not about the actual colors that we’re seeing, rather it’s about how the lookup table is reading that and reassigning it based upon the recipe of the lookup table.

And a lot of times when doing a black and white conversion I find that having control over the different tonal areas or specific colors can really affect the perception of the black and white conversion. I like this quite a bit. Let’s just finish it out. Let’s click to add one more adjustment layer, in this case the Gradient overlay. And we’ll go from black to white. That’s good. What I wanna do here is change this a little bit though, so I’m gonna flip the direction from top to bottom. And I like that, let’s click OK for a moment.

And put this into a mode, like Multiple, to knock out the brighter area. Now what we can do is refine this. So I’m just gonna move this up every so subtly, and lower the Opacity a bit, and what I just did is created a digital equivalent of a graduated ND filter. And I used that to further knock down the sky a little bit at the top and lead the viewer’s eye into the mountain range as the subject.

All right, that looks great. And as you can see, a complex black and white adjustment really is quite possible, but just takes the combination of several effects. But now that you know the recipe you should really be able to unlock some powerful black and white workflows. All right, now that you understand black and white let’s go to the other end and start adding some adjustments to color. The Hue Saturation adjustment layer does a lot more than just hue and saturation. Let me show you what.

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