Enhancing a Color Image with Black and White

March 10, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Monochrome Blend with Color35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200 Monochrome Image Blended with Color
35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

I've been working on black and white processing quite a lot lately because I recently had my older camera converted to infrared, but since I don't yet have many infrared images to work with I've been re-processing some older images from my library. Through this process, I've re-discovered some of my early images. Of course, most of them are terrible, but even the photos that have a strong composition or subject look absolutely awful the way they were originally processed. This morning I came across this image of the southern Colorado countryside just after a midsummer thunderstorm and thought it could make a strong monochrome because of the dramatic clouds, strong light, foreground and background contrast, and the old house as a subject.

I processed the image several times. I started with created a relatively flat color image in Lightroom that was then converted to monochrome and finished in Photoshop. I was trying to mimic a Photoshop tutorial from Jim Welninski using a gradient map conversion, but my Photoshop skills really let me down and the final result was not good. But I really like this photo in color also, so I re-processed it from scratch in Lightroom using my current workflow. And then I tried another attempt at black and white in Lightroom which I think turned out really well.

Color Image Processed in Lightroom35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

Color Image Processed in Lightroom
35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

However, when I finished both versions, I could not decide which one I liked better. I compared both side by side, flipped back and forth between the two, and realized that I preferred the color image but love the contrasts of the monochrome. So what if I combined them in Photoshop using the monochrome image as a base and introducing some of the color?

Monochrome Processed in Lightroom35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

Monochrome Image Processed in Lightroom
35 mm, 1/200 sec, f/10, ISO 200

I layered up the images in Photoshop, lowered the opacity of the color image, and it was blah. But one of the techniques I had seen in a tutorial video made use of the Multiply blend mode, so I switched the blend mode to Multiply and Dang! I liked it, but it was dark and needed a little more something. I had an idea from the black and white conversion process that I had been practicing earlier. One of the techniques in Jim's tutorial is to add a blurred stamp layer using the Multiply blend mode to create a moody look, so I experimented with using that technique to blend in my color image. It worked really well and only a few additional adjustment were needed to create the look I was going for. The end result is a color image that has some elements of the underlying monochrome like the strong contrasts in the clouds and really deep colors. (If there's a name for this technique, I'd love to hear it! I guess it is a variation of the Orton effect.)

Here's the recipe for Photoshop:

  1. Layer the monochrome image on bottom and the color image above.
  2. Add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer above the monochrome. Use a strong brightness value (~85) and moderate contrast (~15) to really lighten up the image.
  3. Duplicate the color layer, then blur the lower color layer using Gaussian Blur with a radius of around 20 to 30. Set the blend mode of the blurred layer to Multiply and lower the opacity slightly (I used 85%).
  4. Leave the top (unblurred) color layer set to Normal and lower the opacity to about 50%.

PS: This image was captured with my first "real" camera, a Sony a58 with 18-55mm kit lens. I can definitely see the shortcoming of the lens when I zoom in, and the image does not seem to be as flexible with heavy processing as what I am now used to from my a6500 or a6000. I can also tell that I was struggling to find the right settings-I mean, f/10 and ISO 200! But despite those technical shortcomings, I still like this photograph and have really enjoyed revisiting some of these older images.


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