Magical Monochrome Manipulations

by | Feb 24, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Proving that you can, in fact, change your tune, Paul Simon altered the lyrics of his 1973 hit song Kodachrome from the original “…everything looks worse in black and white.” When he performed the song at a concert in Central Park on August 15, 1991 everything looked “better.” I happen to agree with him.

There are lots of ways to create monochrome digital images but the easiest way to create a black and white digital image is in the camera at the time of capture. Many digital SLRs have built-in monochrome modes and some even have modes that enhance gray tones while making the rest of the colors look less vibrant producing an old-fashioned even hand-colored look. If you’re worried about losing that color original, shoot in RAW+JPEG mode wit the camera set in Monochrome mode. That way  you’ll simultaneously capture two files: A color RAW file and a black & white JPEG. If you originally captured a color image file, there is lots of software available to convert that image if you change your mind later.

How I made the original shot: The beautiful classic Buick shown above in the illustration was customized for the Shah of Iran and now resides in a private collection in Colorado. It was originally photographed in color using a Canon EOS 50D and Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM lens at 19mm with an exposure of 1/40 sec at f/3.2 and ISO 800.

To convert it to monochrome I used Exposure Software’s (formerly Alien Skin Software) Exposure X5 that is lots more than just a black and white (and color) enhancement tool. It enables photographers to control where an image—including hue, saturation, and luminance—is applied. You can target foreground or background areas, skies, skin tones, and specific color ranges. Its masking tools integrate with the plug-in’s brushes and gradients.

In addition to support for grayscale TIFF and JPEG files, Exposure X5 improves the plug-in’s lens correction capabilities. Vignette correction counteracts unwanted darkening around the edges of photos and chromatic aberration correction addresses color fringing caused by lens refraction. Both corrections can be applied via lens profile or through manual adjustment. The new chromatic aberration correction, for example, includes a fringe removal tool. Exposure’s existing lens distortion correction is improved with new manual correction controls that enables the removal of barrel and pincushion distortion.

Photographers can now assign custom camera profiles, enabling them to control the interpretation of color from RAW data for a particular camera. This makes it possible to achieve even more accurate colors. It also has more black & white film emulations including Ilford FP4 Plus, Ilford Pan F Plus, Kodak Recording 2475,and Polaroid Chocolate.


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