- Initial tonal enhancement in Lightroom
- If necessary, noise reduction in Nik Define 2
- Further tonal enhancements and sharpening with Lumenzia
- Monochrome conversion in Nik Silver Efex 2
- Final touches in Lightroom
Step 1: Initial tonal and perspective corrections in Lightroom
Step 2: Further image refinement before the monochrome conversion
In this phase of my workflow, I apply noise reduction for high ISO photographs, make some semi-automatic contrast corrections using Lumenzia and sharpen the image, again using Lumenzia’s interface for high pass sharpening. This particular image was shot at ISO 100, so it doesn’t need any noise reduction. We can move straight to enhancing the contrast. With Lumenzia, the luminosity masking panel by Greg Benz, you can (among other things) quickly make selections based on the luminance of each pixel.
For example, if I click on L for Light, Lumenzia will create a mask preview which selects all the brighter pixels, but not the darker ones. The brighter the mask, the more intense the selection will be. Gray areas are selected to a lesser degree and dark areas are not selected at all.
With this mask preview active, I click on Contrast in the Lumenzia panel. Lumenzia now analyzes the image, creates a custom tone curve, and then applies the active mask preview on the curve as a mask.
I then do the same with the D luminosity mask which selects all the darker pixels and then click on contrast again. Please note that the L and D curves look very different.
The beauty of this solution is that I retain full control. For instance, if I think that Lumenzia crushed the blacks too much, I can go to the curve adjust it accordingly.
As you can see, the difference is quite subtle. The processed photo definitely looks enhanced, but not overcooked.
The sharpening process is a standard high pass sharpening which is made easy by Lumenzia’s interface. All I have to do is select the area which I want to sharpen and then click on the corresponding button in the Lumenzia panel. In this image, I see no need to sharpen the sky. So, I make a selection of the building and click on Sharp in the Lumenzia panel.
I usually sharpen all tones and set a sharpening value of 1.5. Lumenzia creates the high pass sharpening layer for me. I usually go for the the “Vivid Light” blending mode to enhance the sharpening even further.
After this step, I flatten the image and convert it to a smart object which I then open in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2. Flattening the image keeps the file size small. After the working in Silver Efex, the layers are useless anyway.
Silver Efex greets us with its initial monochrome conversion.
Step 3: Monochrome conversion in Silver Efex Pro 2
Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 is a powerful application in its own right. I will not go into every detail here but only explain the features that I need for processing our photograph. A good starting point is, of course, the preset tab on the left. If you find a preset there that more or less approximates your vision for the photo, then, by all means, go for it. I usually do. As for our image here, the “High Contrast (harsh)” preset takes us pretty close to where we want to go, so I click on it. The preset gives us this:
The beauty of Silver Efex is that allows us to adjust the brightness and structure independently for the shadows, midtones, and highlights. This comes in really handy here. The bright part of the wall on the right is a bit too bright, so I move the Highlight Protection slider to about 50%. I also take down the Brightness (Shadows) slider to -32%. The bright part of the wall on the right still looks very bright, so I use some structure adjustments to see if there is any detail hidden in there. I set the Structure (Highlights) slider to 59%, and this indeed brings out quite a bit of detail. The structure in the darker parts of the image, however, is still too distracting for my taste, so I adjust the Structure (Midtones) slider to -99% and the Structure (Shadows) slider to -5%. Now the image looks like this:
The histogram tells me that there are no clipped highlights, so I am good to go here. Usually, I might turn down the highlights even further. But I know that I will apply a vignette later in Lightroom which will darken the picture. So I keep it as it is and click “Ok” to send the image back to Photoshop. Here, I save the image and go back to Lightroom.
Final touches in Lightroom
In addition to the vignette, I also apply a very subtle sepia toning. The vignette introduces a noticeable but still subtle gradient to the image. Together with the toning, this helps to create a much softer look. I quite like the contrast between this softness and the harsh linear shapes in the image. As the very last step, I use the Spot Removal tool in Lightroom to remove the sensor dust spots. And voila, here is the image we just created together.
This concludes the demonstration of my (almost) monochrome workflow. I don’t claim that it is the best way in every situation, but it is the workflow that usually works best for me. Your mileage may vary. There are many alternatives on the way. For example, you could just as well add the vignette and the toning in Silver Efex. I prefer to do it in Lightroom because I tend to experiment with the vignette quite a bit. Sometimes I create my custom vignettes with a combination of Graduated Filters in Lightroom.
All these things are much quicker and more intuitive in Lightroom. You may think and decide differently. Sometimes, I have to add additional steps in Photoshop, for example, to remove halos that might have crept into the image while sharpening. These things vary from image to image. But apart from a variation here or there, this article pretty much completely covers the workflow of my black & white conversions.
Any thoughts, opinions, critique? Don’t hold back and write it down in the comment section below.